Amnesty International on Friday urged Cameroonian authorities to immediately investigate the use of force by security agencies that led to the deaths of protesters in the north western city of Bamenda.
Protests begun in Cameroon’s English-speaking provinces of the North West and South West in October over objections to the use of French in schools and courts.
The protests have been ongoing for weeks now with lawyers, students and teachers opposing what they view as marginalization of the Anglophone minority.
On Thursday, clashes erupted in Bamenda city between police and protesters who were attempting to block a ruling party meeting.
In a statement, Amnesty international said eyewitnesses had recounted to them seeing security forces firing live rounds and tear gas in crowds.
“Security forces were also seen launching tear gas into an area apparently unrelated to the protests, as well as firing live ammunition in the air,” the watchdog said.
The rights group further said it had confirmed two deaths from the incidents in Bamenda but media reports quoting police sources put the death toll at four.
“We call on the Cameroonian authorities to refrain from the use of unlawful force in its response to the protests,” it said.
Amnesty said responding to incidents of violence during protests with unnecessary or excessive force threatens to further enflame an already tense situation and could put more lives at risk.
The rights watchdog also called on authorities to immediately conduct thorough, impartial and effective investigations to shed light on circumstances of the killings and bring those responsible to justice.
English-speakers in Cameroon frequently complain of exclusion from top civil service jobs and the use of French in government publications.
Lawyers in the English-speaking regions are also opposed to the hiring of court workers who do not understand the British common law.
The Central African country has 10 semi-autonomous administrative regions of which eight are Francophone and use French as a medium of communication, including the French common law in courts.
According to Amnesty, security forces have arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters and used excessive force in the past one month to disperse gatherings in Bamenda and Buea, leading to several injuries and one civilian death.
Efforts to get a comment from Cameroonian authorities remained fruitless.
*Anadolu Agency’s Felix Nkambeh Tih contributed to this report from Ankara