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Hate Speech, Xenophobia: An Aberration In Cameroon

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The world is moving spherically to curb some immorality in its society, especially in the case of racism, xenophobia, and hate speech. These habits are not limited to a region, but it is becoming challenging to countries that failed to deal with it lawfully. The Republic of Cameroon has taken drastic action to overturn hate speech, xenophobia, and racism as an aberration in the country.

In common language, “hate speech” refers to offensive discourse targeting a group or an individual based on inherent characteristics (such as race, religion or gender) and that may threaten social peace. Hate speech is “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factors.”

It is often employed in the promulgation of conspiracy theories, disinformation and denial and distortion of historical events such as genocide. Countries all over the world are required to prohibit the most severe forms of hate speech that constitute incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination, or incitement to genocide or other violations of international law.

In joining the force to prohibit hate speech and xenophobia, Cameroon’s Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the President of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, Peter Mafany Musonge, and the Minister of Territorial Administrations, Paul Atanga Nji, had declared priority measures whereby such individual threats would be restricted in Cameroon.

A mounting number of attacks on immigrants and other minorities have raised major concerns about the connection between inflammatory speech online and violent acts, as well as the role of corporations and the state in policing speech. Analysts say trends in hate crimes around the world echo changes in the political climate, and that social media can magnify discord. At their most extreme, rumors and invective disseminated online have contributed to violence ranging from lynching to ethnic cleansing.

Violence in “the name of religion” is often manifested through targeted attacks on individuals or communities, acts of extremism or terrorism, communal violence, State repression, discriminative policies or legislation and other types of embedded structural violence. Incidents involving hate speech, negative stereotyping, and advocacy of religious or national hatred have resulted in killings of innocent people, attacks on places of worship and calls for reprisals. Such violence also disproportionately targets religious dissidents, members of religious minorities, converts or non-believers.

The response has been uneven, and the task of deciding what to censor, and how, has largely fallen to the handful of corporations that control the platforms on which much of the world now communicates. But these companies are constrained by domestic laws. In liberal democracies, these laws can serve to defuse discrimination and head off violence against minorities. But such laws can also be used to suppress minorities and dissidents.

The Cameroon government has not only read the riot act on the prohibition of hate speech but also discussed the impact of the individual threat on society and emphasised the need for immediate action to combat it during a press conference in the country’s capital, Yaounde recently.

In backing the recent measures of the Cameroonian government, social scientists and others have observed how social media posts, and other online speech, had inspired acts of violence:

  • In Germany a correlation was found between anti-refugee Facebook posts by the far-right Alternative for Germany party and attacks on refugees. Scholars Karsten Muller and Carlo Schwarz observed that upticks in attacks, such as arson and assault, followed spikes in hate-mongering posts.
  • In the United States, perpetrators of recent white supremacist attacks have circulated among racist communities online, and also embraced social media to publicize their acts. Prosecutors said the Charleston church shooter, who killed nine black clergy and worshippers in June 2015, engaged in a “self-learning process” online that led him to believe that the goal of white supremacy required violent action.
  • The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was a participant in the social media network Gab, whose lax rules have attracted extremists banned by larger platforms. There, he espoused the conspiracy that Jews sought to bring immigrants into the United States, and render whites a minority, before killing eleven worshippers at a refugee-themed Shabbat service. This “great replacement” trope, which was heard at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a year prior and originates with the French far right, expresses demographic anxieties about nonwhite immigration and birth rates.

The great replacement trope was in turn espoused by the perpetrator of the 2019 New Zealand mosque shootings who killed forty-nine Muslims at prayer and sought to broadcast the attack on YouTube.

  • In Myanmar, military leaders and Buddhist nationalists used social media to slur and demonize the Rohingya Muslim minority ahead of and during a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Though Rohingya comprised perhaps 2 per cent of the population, ethno nationalists claimed that Rohingya would soon supplant the Buddhist majority. The UN fact-finding mission said, “Facebook has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate, in a context where, for most users, Facebook is the Internet.”
  • In India, lynch mobs and other types of communal violence, in many cases originating with rumors on WhatsApp groups, have been on the rise since the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
  • Sri Lanka has similarly seen vigilantism inspired by rumors spread online, targeting the Tamil Muslim minority. During a spate of violence in March 2018, the government blocked access to Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as the messaging app Viber, for a week, saying that Facebook had not been sufficiently responsive during the emergency.

In educating its citizens and migrants, Cameroon officials highlighted the importance of freedom of expression and the responsibility that comes with it. Hate speech, they emphasized, is not only harmful to the targeted individuals or groups but also to society as a whole.

Cameroon’s Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi said : “From this perspective, it goes without saying that the fight against hate speech must be perceived as an absolute priority towards safeguarding democracy and the Rule of Law, and preserving the values of peace, unity and living together. »

He went on: “That is the reason why the International Community has made it a common cause and is calling for an all-round mobilisation against hate speech on a global scale.”

 

The effects of hate speech

Hate speech not only causes harm at the personal level and can incite violence, it is an attack on inclusion, diversity and human rights. It undermines social cohesion and erodes shared values, setting back peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfillment of human rights for all.

The West African country also noted that hate speech can take many forms, including verbal and written communication, as well as actions and symbols that promote hatred or discrimination, which they had noticed to have become rampant, especially amongst various tribes and communities in the country.

In the same vein, Peter Mafany Musonge of the bilingualism commission reinvigorated Cameroonians to embrace living together, as prescribed by the Head of state, President Paul Biya.

In May 2019, the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech was launched highlighting that a disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance is being observed around the world. Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry. Public discourse is being weaponised for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatises and dehumanises minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so-called “other”.

This is a bigotry act that occurs in all societies, whether offline or online. It can sometimes be hard to assess when a comment is meant as hate speech – especially when expressed in the virtual world. It can also feel overwhelming to try to deal with obviously hateful content.

However, there are many ways you can take a stand, even if you are not personally the victim of hate speech. And you can make a difference.

  • Pause: Refrain from making any hateful comments yourself and/or relaying such content. Whether online or offline, we should all act responsibly to stop the spread of hate and misinformation. Check out the United Nations #PledgetoPause campaign to find out why it’s important to take a moment to pause before you share content online. Learn how to do this responsibly – whether you’re forwarding a message, retweeting a story or watching a video in your feed
  • Fact-check: In the digital world, it’s common to come across misinformation and harmful content, but it’s relatively easy to verify content you find is reliable. To detect false and biased information, including hate speech propaganda, be sure to check the content’s origin with the help of search engines, fact-checking tools and other reliable sources. You can also download images and run them through image search tools to find out where they appeared first.
  • Challenge: One way to tackle hate speech is to spread your own counter-speech to make sure hate is not the dominant narrative. You can undermine hateful content with positive messages that spread tolerance, equality and truth in defense of those being targeted by hate.
  • Support: Taking a public stand for, and extending solidarity to, people who are the targets of hate speech demonstrates that rejecting hate is the responsibility of every individual.
  • Report: Most online platforms and communities have rules to keep user discussions respectful and will let you easily report hate messages to administrators or moderators. Read social media platform guidelines and tips to protect users from harassment and hate speech. For more serious cases – which may constitute incitement to violence, harassment and/or threats prohibited by law – notify organisations fighting hate speech and/or file a complaint with police (or the public prosecutor). Some countries have online tools to make reporting hate speech easier.
  • Educate: You can help raise awareness of hate speech – online or offline – simply by engaging with your family and friends in conversations about how hateful content can harm societies. Advocate for responsible behaviour and share public campaigns and educational resources.

Minister Sadi on his part outlined several measures that the government intends to take to combat hate speech. These include strengthening existing laws and regulations related to hate speech, increasing public awareness about the harms of hate speech, and promoting positive values such as tolerance and respect.

Taking the floor, Territorial Administration Minister, Paul Atanga Nji, emphasised the importance of holding perpetrators of hate speech accountable for their actions, and announced that the government would be taking legal action against individuals and organisations found to be engaging in hate speech.

Further highlighted by the Francophone country, was the important role that the media can play in combating hate speech. They called on media organisations to promote responsible journalism and to avoid sensationalising stories that could inflame tensions, if not face the consequences as stated in the constitutional law.

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3 million children at risk in Sudan as civil war engulfs – U.N

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The war between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has killed 12,190 people, according to conservative estimates by the Armed Conflict Locations and Events Data project. It has displaced 5.4 million people inside the country, according to the UN, and sent over 1.3 million fleeing abroad.

Sudan’s raging civil war threatens the lives of almost 3 million children, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Thursday, as fighting imperils what had become a haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Fighting in the huge northeastern African nation has now reached Jazeera state, the country’s breadbasket with a population of 5.9 million people — half of whom are children, UNICEF said.

« This new wave of violence could leave children and families trapped between fighting lines or caught in the crossfire, with fatal consequences, » the organization’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said in a statement Thursday.

The latest about of violence broke out on April 15, as Sudan’s military and a powerful paramilitary force vied for power. Since then, heavy fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people facing the agonizing decision of whether to flee their homes or stay and risk injury or death in the violence. Cease-fires have failed to halt the power struggle and fueled the growing humanitarian crisis.

Civilians are often caught up in the crossfire as neighborhoods are divided between the armed forces, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.

Some 9,000 people have been killed in the violence, according to the U.N., but local doctors groups and activists say the death toll is likely far higher.

Almost 300,000 people have fled Jazeera state, moving to the nearby Sennar state, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday.

 

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‘Nothing for me in Cameroon’: Waiting in Tunisia, one eye on Europe

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Having lost everything and everyone precious to him, Joseph tries to hold things together, waiting to leave Africa.

Joseph Afumbom is a big man who has faced unimaginable tragedy.

The conflict in Cameroon between Anglophone separatists and the government killed the 27-year-old’s mother, father and siblings. It also took his home in Bamenda in the country’s northwest.

“I was there when the war started. The war took everyone,” he said, “It was three years ago. My brothers and sisters are all gone.”

With his home and family destroyed and no jobs available, Joseph felt he had no option but to gather his fiancee, Esther, and their three-year-old daughter and travel the 5,000km (more than 3,000 miles) overland to the Mediterranean coast. They arrived in Algeria, where they considered crossing into Tunisia and from there to Europe.

However, both Joseph’s fiancee and daughter died in El Menia. “They are all gone because of the cold,” he says. “That was last month.”

“I’m just trying to act normal, you know,” he tells Al Jazeera. “See, I’m smoking. I’m whiling away my thinking, trying to act like a normal person, but I’m not.”

He paused, allowing his thoughts to drift back. “We had been together for years. My daughter was three. I called her ‘Little Joy’.”

Eventually, Joseph crossed into Tunisia, making his way to the coastal city of Sfax before travelling by shared taxis to the capital, Tunis. He didn’t eat for two days.

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“There is nothing left for me in Cameroon,” he says. “I will continue to Europe if I have the opportunity.”

This article is the third of a five-part series of portraits of refugees from different countries, with diverse backgrounds, bound by shared fears and hopes as they enter 2024. Read the first and second parts here.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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Chad: Supreme court approves ‘yes’ referendum vote

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Chad’s Supreme Court definitively validated the results of the referendum for a new constitution organized by the military junta that has been in power for the past two and a half years, a key step intended to pave the way for elections in the country at the end of 2024.

According to the final results, the « yes » side won with 85.90% of the vote, while the « no » side won 14.10%, with a turnout of 62.8%, the president of the Supreme Court told a press conference.

For some members of the opposition and civil society, the result of this ballots a plebiscite resembles designed to pave the way for the election of the transitional president, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Bloc Fédéral, an opposition coalition which had called for the results to be annulled on the grounds of several irregularities in the voting process.

The opposition, which had widely called for a boycott, denounced, in the words of Max Kemkoye, president of the Groupe de concertation des actors politiques (GCAP), « a second coup d’état by Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno », in the face of results which, in his view, were not credible.

The new constitutional text is not very different from the one already in force, and still gives great power to the Head of State.

Mahamat Déby, 37, was proclaimed transitional president by the army on April 20, 2021, at the head of a junta of 15 generals, following the death of his father Idriss Déby Itno, who was killed by rebels on his way to the front. Idriss Déby Itno had ruled the country with an iron fist for over 30 years.

The young general immediately promised elections after an 18-month transition period, and made a commitment to the African Union not to run. Eighteen months later, his regime extended the transition by two years and authorized him to stand in the presidential elections scheduled for late 2024.

On the anniversary of the 18-month transition, October 20, 2022, between 100 and more than 300 young men and teenagers were shot dead in N’Djamena by police and military, according to the opposition and national and international NGOs.

They were demonstrating against the two-year extension of the presidential term.

More than a thousand were imprisoned before being pardoned, but dozens were tortured or disappeared, according to NGOs and the opposition.

 

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