ICC makes first response on war crimes case against President Paul Biya

The International Criminal Court, ICC on Thursday made a formal response to a case filed against Cameroon’s 87-year-old president, Paul Biya on May 21 last year.

On the strength of the untold atrocities being committed by state forces in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions as it battles armed separatists, a concerned Cameroonian seized the ICC to seek redress.

Writing from The Hague, Thursday, 16 July 2020, Mark P. Dillon, Head of the Information & Evidence Unit, Office of the Prosecutor, said the complaint against president Biya and his regime was filed by Leonel Beteck Kome.

Given the defined jurisdiction of the Court, the offıce of the Prosecutor submits after over a year of deliberation that serious allegations will be beyond its reach to address.

“I note in this regard that the ICC is designed to complement, not replace national jurisdictions. Thus, if you wish to pursue this matter further, you may consider raising it with appropriate national or international authorities,” said the ICC Prosecutor in a dispatch from the Information & Evidence Unit.

The preliminary decision in case number OTP-CR-218/19) read: “As you may know, the International Criminal Court (“the ICC” or “the Court”) is governed by the Rome Statute, which entrusts the Court with a very specific and carefully defined jurisdiction and mandate. A fundamental feature of the Rome Statute (Articles 12 and 13) is that the Court may only exercise jurisdiction over international crimes if (i) its jurisdiction has been accepted by the State on the territory of which the crime was committed, (ii) its jurisdiction has been accepted by the State of which the person accused is a national, or (iii) the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. 

“Based on the information currently available, it appears that none of these preconditions are satisfied concerning the conduct described. Accordingly, as the allegations appear to fall outside the jurisdiction of the Court, the Prosecutor has confirmed that there is not a basis at this time to proceed with further analysis. The information you have submitted will be maintained in our archives, and the decision not to proceed may be reconsidered if new facts or evidence provide a reasonable basis to believe that the allegations fall within the jurisdiction of the Court. The decision may also be reviewed if there is an acceptance of jurisdiction by the relevant States or a referral from the Security Council. I filed with the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC on May 21, 2019, had taken over a year of deliberation for the ICC to come to this decision.”

Letter from ICC regarding Biya’s case (MMI)

Case halted, but hopes remain alive!

The complainant, Leonel Beteck Kome tells Mimi Mefo Info that Thursday’s decision of the ICC is only preliminary as the case remains open with a possible review depending on at least one of certain preconditions being met. 

“The requirement of at least one of these preconditions is the only obstacle for the case to proceed further. Thus, the case has been momentarily halted and rendered inactive, with a possibility of reactivation,” he said.

Beteck Kome says there are still avenues for the ICC to proceed further with the case.

His words: “A referral from the United Nations Security Council would automatically provide the ICC with jurisdiction as in the cases of Sudan, Lybia, etc”. 

“If dictator Paul Biya and his collaborators who perpetrate these war crimes and crimes against humanity are found to have nationalities of any signatory state under ICC jurisdiction, then the case can be reactivated and proceeded further, considering them as citizens of such signatory states with ICC jurisdiction.

“In this regard, I will carry out a personal investigation to determine the second nationalities of these perpetrators in the Biya Regime and immediately provide the Prosecutor of the ICC with such information.”

The complainant hopes that should Cameroon ever ratifies the Rome Statute which provides the ICC direct jurisdiction; the case can be reactivated and fast-tracked.

Beteck Kome warns: “Therefore, these perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Paul Biya Regime should bear in mind that, they will always remain prosecutable for their crimes.

“Paul Biya and his collaborators, who perpetrate these War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, should now understand very clearly that, the ICC now possesses very strong evidence revealing the perpetration of these egregious crimes by the Cameroon military under the command of the Paul Biya Regime. 

“I have submitted to the ICC tones of videos, pictures, testimonials, and documents as evidence which clearly show the Cameroon military perpetrating these egregious crimes, which the ICC has now stored in its archives for possible future use.”

The advocate for the rule of law and human rights says he will continue to work hard to provide the Prosecutor of the ICC with any necessary information that would lead to the reactivation and further procession of the case as mentioned above. 

“I also urge every human rights advocate to exert efforts in seeking justice for the thousands of innocent civilians who have been victimized in these egregious crimes in the English speaking regions of Cameroon.”

War crimes in Anglophone Cameroon

Hans de Marie Heungoup, a researcher on Central Africa at the International Crisis Group, ICG, explains that some of the crimes reported do indeed fall within the ICC’s mandate. “There are crimes that fall within the ICC’s jurisdiction, including war crimes. When there is systematic targeting when there is repeated shooting at civilians, when schools, hospitals, and entire villages are set on fire by security forces, we think there is a war crime,” he says.

“Crimes are being committed by both sides; separatists have kidnapped and executed dozens of civilians, but the security forces were the first to commit these crimes. And yet they are the ones who have been trained in academies where they have received training to ensure the safety of people and their property,” he continues. Hans de Marie Heungoup points out, however, that we cannot speak, for the moment, of the crime of genocide.

There is nevertheless a difficulty: Cameroon has not acceded to the Rome Statute and therefore does not automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. The only credible option, for the time being, would be for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the Court, without this being vetoed by one of its permanent members.

Mimi Mefo Info recalls how soldiers burnt homes in Azi in Lebialem Division, as well as Munyenge in Fako Division. They also admitted burning no fewer than 70 houses in Mankon on May 15, 2019. 

The localities concerned included Alachu, Matsam, and Muwatsu.

Aside from the killing of civilians in Pinyin, Bali, and Batibo, soldiers have been indicted for killing children and women like was the case in Ngarbuh on February 14, 2020.

Pundits say if Cameroon ever appears before the ICC, the regime of President Biya will go down for it given the tones of evidence available.


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