By Tata Mbunwe
A Human Rights Watch release published on February 14 has frowned at the Cameroon military court system for slowing proceedings aimed to attain justice for at least 21 civilians killed by the military and Fulani vigilante men three years ago in Ngarbuh, Northwest Region.
What is now known as the Ngarbuh massacre included the killing of 13 children and a pregnant woman Ngarbuh, a small village in Ndu Subdivision of the Northwest Region, on February 14, 2020.
Three years later, justice is still far-fetched, HRW said, although the government announced the arrest of two military officers and a gendarme who were accused of working with about 17 Fulani vigilante men to carryout the attack.
Apart from the indiscriminate shooting and killing of civilians, they burnt down several houses, looted properties from some, as well as molested and beat villagers who were being accused of working with Ambazonia separatist fighters.
Trial for the accused began at the Yaounde Military Court on December 17, 2020, but there has been very little progress since then, said Lewis Mudge, HRW’s Director for Central Africa.
“The trial meant to start last November is now slated to resume February 16, just two days after the 3rd anniversary of the massacre. The continued slow pace raises real concerns about whether the military justice system can deliver justice, and if so, when?” Mudge wondered.
The organisation, which has been monitoring key developments in the six-year armed conflict in the Anglophone regions, is also concerned about the likelihood of victims’ families and potential witnesses not having access to the hearings, given that the court room is 450 kilometres from Ngarbuh, the incident scene.
“The resumption of the trial this week offers another opportunity to demonstrate that the military system can deliver accountability and send a signal to would-be violators that these types of crimes are taken seriously. If it doesn’t, the message to the victims’ families will be that the military has little interest in justice,” HRW said.
The Ngarbuh incident is among several cases of human rights abuses the Cameroon military and separatist fighters are accused of having committed in the English-speaking regions.
After the massacre, several other attacks on civilians have occurred.
Prominent among them are the killing of seven school children in Kumba in October 2020, the killing of four students and a teacher in Ekondo Tito in 2022 and most recently five CDC plantation workers in Tiko this February 10.
These attacks have been condemned, not only as crimes against humanity, but also as having gone against combat rules.
Mimi Mefo Info