By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Three security force members accused of being involved in the killing of 21 civilians in Ngarbuh, North West Region of Cameroon, is due to take place on December 17, 2020. Human Rights Watch sees this as an important step in tackling “impunity”.
The trial will take place at the Yaounde Military court. It is still uncertain if the families of the victims will be present in court. Human Rights Watch notes that the five lawyers who are representing the families have been struggling to find the necessary resources to make sure their clients can attend the trial.
“Survivors and family members of those murdered in Ngarbuh are finally a step closer to getting justice,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ensuring a fair trial for those accused of the killings – one that is open to the public and where all those participating feel comfortable that their security is guaranteed – will be crucial in helping to end the cycles of violence and impunity that have plagued the Anglophone regions for the last four years.”
“The progress represented by this trial is substantial, but still only one piece of fighting impunity in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions,” Allegrozzi said. “Senior-level commanders have yet to be charged, and the families of many other victims are still awaiting justice for crimes committed by all sides.”
Government forces were accused of attacking Ngarbuh but government’s spokesman, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi refuted those allegations. On April 21, the Cameroon government admitted their security forces bear some responsibility for the killings and in June announced the arrest of the two soldiers and a gendarme.
Human Rights Watch found that government forces, including members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, an armed ethnic Fulani killed 21 civilians in Ngarbuh, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, burned five homes, looted scores of other properties, and beat residents. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that there was no confrontation between armed separatists and security forces in Ngarbuh and that the killings were deliberate and aimed at punishing a population accused of harbouring separatist fighters.
“The government commission’s findings cut the line of responsibility too far down, going after low-ranking soldiers and omitting that those soldiers acted following orders they received from their hierarchy,” Richard Tamfu, one of the lawyers representing the victims, told Human Rights Watch. “The trial should be the opportunity to identify all those responsible for the heinous killings of civilians in Ngarbuh, including those who ordered the massacre and anyone higher up in the chain of command.”
With the trial expected to make headline news across the country and looking at how volatile the situation is, Human Rights Watch has called on Cameroonian authorities to ensure that civil parties are present in court throughout the trial and guarantee the safety of all those participating in the proceedings, including the defendants, victims, witnesses, and human rights activists and journalists involved with the trial.