By Tata Mbunwe
February 14 marks one year since the tragic killing and burning of at least 20 civilians, mostly children and women in Cameroon’s North West village of Ngarbuh-Ntunbaw, an incident government admitted was perpetrated by the military alongside Fulani vigilante members.
Despite initially refuting reports of soldiers’ involvement, a Presidential communique later admitted soldiers and Fulani vigilante members killed 10 children and three women and attempted to evade evidence.
But the figures were more — and one year on, there is still no justice!
Human Rights Watch revealed, after an investigation, that at least 21 civilians were killed, among them 13 children and a pregnant woman, in an attacked conducted by government soldiers, alongside Fulani extremists.
“… government forces, including members of the Cameroonian army, and armed ethnic Fulani killed 21 civilians in Ngarbuh, burnt five homes, pillaged scores of properties, and beat residents.Human Rights Watch 2020
“The attack in Ngarbuh was not an isolated case, but part of a larger pattern of serious human rights violations by the Cameroonian security forces in the Northwest and Southwest regions since 2017,” said HRW on April 4, 2020.
The incident in Ngarbuh, a village in Ntumbaw, Ndu Subdivision, Donga Mantung Division of Cameroon’s Northwest Region, drew wide condemnation from rights bodies and international organisations, as government initially denied soldiers’ involvement.
The UN described the Ngarbuh incident as “a shocking episode in the ongoing crisis that has afflicted Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions for the past three years.”
Gov’t chews back words, admits guilt
In April 2020, government accepted soldiers killed 13 civilians, including 10 children in Ngarbuh, despite having said earlier reports of soldiers’ involvement were “fake, outrageous and misleading”.
In a communique signed by the Secretary-General at the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, three soldiers were singled out for fronting the attack, including a sergeant, gendarme and a private first class.
Government also blamed the local vigilante committee, whose members were yet unidentified, and the army battalion commander for failing to supervise the operation.
“The terrorists were engaged in all sorts of abuses against the local population (cattle rustling, rape, assaults, etc.) which warranted an intervention,” read a statement from the Presidency, admitting soldiers’ involvement in the killings.
Government promised to exhume the bodies of the victims, who had been buried in four mass graves, and give them a “decent burial,” as well as identify the rightful claimants in order to pay compensation.
The government also promised to investigate the situation further and to reinforce security in the area by setting up a military base in order to keep separatist fighters in check.
Targeted attack and attempt to distort reality
Government’s report of the Ngarbuh incident remained untrustworthy to many people especially after rights groups and other bodies began probing into the situation.
Contrary to government’s report about a separatist-military gun battle in the area prior to the Ngarbuh killings, US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, conducted ground findings and established that there was no such gun exchange in Ngarbuh.
“Human Rights Watch spoke with witnesses and residents who said that there was no confrontation between armed separatists and security forces, that the killings were deliberate and aimed at punishing the population accused of harbouring and supporting separatists,” said HRW on its website.
Other reports which emerged after the incident insinuated that the Fulani who were invlolved in the incident wanted to “revenge” separatists’ maltreatment.
Mimi Mefo Info