News November 04, 2019 at 08:00 am

After lobbying to strip Cameroon of AFCON rights, US cancels trade pact with the country over human rights abuses

Kent Mensah November 04, 2019 at 08:00 am

November 04, 2019 at 08:00 am | News

US President Donald Trump and Cameroon President Paul Biya Photo: CNN

The U.S. has announced that it has severed trade ties with Cameroon over allegations of human rights abuses in the West African country.

The decision could mar the 59 years of existing relationship between the two countries.

“Cameroon is currently the United States’ 124th largest goods trading partner with $341 million in total (two way) goods trade during 2016. U.S. goods exports to Cameroon totaled $190 million; goods imports totaled $151 million,” according to US state government website.

Per a U.S. government statement, Cameroon has failed to look into concerns over its “persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” being allegedly committed by its security forces.

The sanction also affects the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) arrangement between America and Cameroon. The West African country has a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in 1986 that came into force in 1989. AGOA helps sub-Saharan countries improve trade ties with the US. Eligible countries must meet criteria including a good human rights record to benefit from the trade.

The trade sanctions, according to the Trump administration, will take effect January 1, 2020.

The US said it is unhappy with accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings of citizens by the country’s military as reasons for removing Cameroon from the AGOA, the CNN reported.

“Based on the results of the required annual AGOA eligibility review, the President determined that Cameroon does engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. Consequently, Cameroon is out of compliance with eligibility requirements of AGOA.  Specifically, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces. These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.

“The US government remains deeply concerned about persistent gross violations of human rights being committed by the Cameroonian government against its own citizens,” Deputy US Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said in a statement.

“This action underscores the Administration’s commitment to upholding the human rights criteria as required in the AGOA legislation.  We urge the government of Cameroon to work with the United States and the international community to strengthen protection of human rights under the law and to publicly hold to account those who engage in human rights violations.

“The United States will continue to monitor whether Cameroon continues to engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights in accordance with the AGOA eligibility requirements,” the statement added.

However, Cameroonian officials are unperturbed, claiming the U.S. is just not happy with the country’s growing and strong relationship with China.

A Minister at the Ministry of External Relations Felix Mbayu said: “The simple truth is that the US is unhappy with a certain stance we take with China.”

China wrote off some of Cameroon’s debt in February, and it is also carrying out projects aimed at boosting relationship with the West African side.

“The government has no move to make; we have other partners like China, Russia and Singapore who are ready to do business with us… We have no reaction to the US,” Mbayu told CNN.

“The least of our worry now is about the AGOA issue. By the way, it is a very small part of Cameroon’s relationship with the United States,” he added.

The US has been hard on Cameroon over human rights issues. In 2018, a member of Congress Dana Tyrone Rohrabacher wrote to world’s football governing body – FIFA – to consider moving the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations from Cameroon.  At that time, Amnesty International described the situation in Cameroon as “escalating violence” and a “deadly cycle of violence.”

CAF eventually stripped Cameroon of the rights to host the continental showpiece and handed it over to Egypt. It is, however, unclear whether Rohrabacher’s letter influenced CAF’s decision.

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