By Boris Esono Nwenfor
International Human rights Organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has condemned what it calls a “sham trial before a military tribunal” carried out on those accused of orchestrating the Kumba Massacre that lefts scores of school children dead in Kumba.
The attack which took place on October 24, 2020, at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, Fiango-Kumba, Meme Division of the South West Region of Cameroon saw the killing of some six children with others left wounded. The gruesome attack also saw some of the bodies of the deceased children mutilated an attack that is still fresh in the minds of inhabitants of Kumba.
“Victims of the Kumba massacre have a right to expect an effective investigation, and for those responsible to be brought to justice in a fair trial,” Illaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“Instead, Cameroonian authorities seem to have railroad people into a sham trial before a military tribunal, with a predetermined outcome, capped with the imposition of the death penalty which is unlawful under international human rights law.”
12 accused persons stood trial among which five were already in custody at the Buea Central Prison and seven others on bail. Four accused persons were sentenced to five months imprisonment with a fine of fifty thousand FCFA each, while four were slammed the death penalty. Yemeli Gilda, Konte Patrick, Angu Emmanuel and Elangwe Kelvin Eyabe were all given the death penalty while another four were discharged and acquitted.
“The entire trial was predicated upon circumstantial evidence as opposed to real evidence, and throughout the trial, the prosecution brought no witness we could ask questions,” Atoh Walter Chemi, leading defence counsel told Human Rights Watch.
“On September 14, defence lawyers notified the court of their intention to appeal but were required to pay FCFA 200,000, the amount of the fines also levied by the military court on the four defendants, before their appeal will be accepted,” HRW noted.
“On October 4, the secretary of the Buea Military Court informed the defence lawyers about the conditions of appeal, which include an additional payment of FCFA 420,000, a clear barrier to appeal in a death penalty procedure.”
The death sentence to the four accused persons by the Buea Military Court is unprecedented in the Anglophone crisis and Cameroon in general. The decision to impose the death sentence is happening for the first time since Cameroon last did a similar back in 1997.
“The military court should never have handled this case involving civilians, and it seems to have made little effort to ensure basic respect for human rights standards,” Allegrozzi added.”
“If the authorities intend to deliver justice for this heinous crime against children, they need to bring a credible vase before civilian courts and hold those responsible to account according to international fair trial standards.’
“Even the international customary law on its part does not prohibit the death penalty at the current time, but custom is rapidly changing towards a position in favour of worldwide abolition. At the international level, the most important treaty provision relating to the death penalty is Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Cameroon has ratified,” the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, said in a statement.