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Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 2 April 2019

1. What discussions he has had with his French counterpart on the reported increase in violence in Cameroon. (910160)

The UK regularly discusses the violence in Cameroon with international partners, including France and the United States, and I welcome French support for the recent UK-Austria joint UN Human Rights Council statement about the deteriorating situation in Cameroon.

Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroon on the basis that they would be federated states equal in status, but this is clearly not what has happened. It is treated as a region made up of second-class citizens. The UK has a duty to Southern Cameroons to use all available instruments to find a solution to the growing crisis that takes into account the wishes of the people. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a delegation of Southern Cameroons to discuss possible solutions?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the first question on the Order Paper, because this is a worsening crisis. The UK has been strongly engaged with our international partners to find a way forward. Of course, the UK respects the territorial integrity of Cameroon, but we also believe that, where there are calls for more autonomy in the south-west and north-west, the Government of Cameroon need to engage in an inclusive political dialogue, because the violence from both sides is creating a serious situation for civilians on the ground.

In her discussions with her US counterparts about the worrying situation in Cameroon, has the Minister asked them about suggestions made that resources they have given to help the Cameroonian Government in the fight against terror and Boko Haram are being diverted, misused and used in attacks on some of the communities in Cameroon?

As I often find myself saying during questions, I am happy to be accountable for what the UK Government have been doing, and I can confirm that we have extensive discussions with the Government of Cameroon, who, as my right hon. Friend will know, are a partner with the international community in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the north of the country. We also have discussions with international partners to find a way forward on the views expressed with increasing violence by those of a separatist tendency in the south-west and north-west provinces.

One of my constituents is a member of the South Cameroonian diaspora and is deeply concerned about what is going on. A recent Amnesty report noted the presence of arbitrary arrest, torture in detention and the existence of secret and illegal detention facilities in Cameroon. Does the Minister agree that such activities are in stark violation of the Commonwealth Charter, and if so what efforts has she made to engage with Cameroon through the Commonwealth?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the range of different human rights violations and abuses noted in the statement which we were pleased to see 39 countries sign at the most recent UN Human Rights Council. Specifically on the Commonwealth, I can tell the House that Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Commonwealth, wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General recently to share UK concerns about Cameroon and press for further Commonwealth engagement on the matter.

The UK’s aim is to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. Will any of that investment be going to Cameroon?

My hon. Friend states the UK’s policy aim to be an ambitious investor in African economies, and I can confirm that there are UK companies that invest in Cameroon; businesses are absolutely free to choose to do so. In terms of the political track, though, we are trying to engage with the Government of Cameroon—I spoke to the Prime Minister there recently—to encourage them to find a way forward in a political and inclusive dialogue that can address some of the concerns being raised.

I spent time in Cameroon in 2013 as a political volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas, and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to that beautiful country today. It seems to me that there is a potent mix of contemporary challenges and the long tail of our own and, indeed, French colonial history. Can we take a two-pronged approach? Will our colleagues in the Department for International Development tackle the urgent crises involving displaced peoples and conflict, and will the Minister’s own office make a proper effort to secure a diplomatic solution?

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year I authorised work by us, through UNICEF, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in the crisis, and more than 30,000 have fled to Nigeria. DFID is doing programming work, and we are urging the Cameroon Government to allow humanitarian actors access to all parts of the country.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said:

“Government forces in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians…and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months.”

How many more innocent victims need to be slaughtered for Cameroon to be suspended by the Commonwealth?

The hon. Lady is right: there have been human rights abuses and human rights violations on all sides in the conflict. Hospitals have been burnt and villages torched. We drew attention to a range of issues in a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the UK sponsored. Obviously the UK is a member of the Commonwealth, and our Commonwealth Minister has written to the Commonwealth Secretariat suggesting that it encourage discussions on this topic in future meetings.

Before we move to Question 2 and I call the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I hope that the whole House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome to Gareth Evans, QC, who served with great distinction as a Cabinet Minister in Australia from 1983 until 1996 under—if memory serves me—the Hawke and Keating Governments. As we have just been talking about human rights, let us not forget that he was a key architect of the United Nations’ responsibility to protect. We celebrate that achievement, and many people around the world, sir, will be thankful to you for your leadership on that front.