Three years after the Ngarbuh massacre in Cameroon’s North West region, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Belgium say authorities need to speed up the process of serving justice.
“Today is the third anniversary of the killing of 21 civilians, including 13 children, at Ngarbuh in Northwest Cameroon. The loved ones of those who were killed continue to wait for justice,” they noted in a joint statement, February 14, 2023.
It read further: “We, the undersigned, encourage the authorities to prioritize the investigative and judicial processes, ensure transparency, and hold accountable those responsible for these crimes.”
The appeal of the three nations add to a plethora of others by human rights groups, politicians and activists since the gory incident took place in 2020. On that fateful day, government soldiers, accompanied by a Fulani militia, stormed the locality of Ngarbuh, killing 21 civilians. Among them, were children and a pregnant woman. The invaders also razed down structures and destroyed whatever they found on their path.
Months later, a commission of inquiry declared that soldiers were responsible for the act, leading to their arrest and detention. They included a sergeant, a private first class from the 52nd BIM, and 17 members of the vigilante committee.
Justice distanced, justice denied?
Despite the announced arrest of perpetrators of the massacre, justice has not only been slow in coming, but has also been too far to grasp. The case is being heard in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, 454 KM away from Ngarbuh. This, coupled with regular adjournments, makes appearing in court, a herculean task for victims who have to brave many odds including the armed conflict.
“When the trial started, it was welcomed as a step toward justice and tackling impunity for military abuses in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. But two years after the massacre, victims and their families are still awaiting justice, while security forces have continued to commit serious human rights violations” Ilaria Allegrozzi of Human Rights Watch said on February 14, 2022.
To ease the process of visiting the court by victims, their lawyers in 2021 requested that the trial be moved to the North West regional capital, Bamenda in accordance with Article 189 of the Cameroonian criminal procedure code. But that seemed farfetched a dream to be delivered by the authorities.
Two years after the massacre, only two witnesses had testified, a figure Human Rights Watch said “raises concerns about the justice system’s efficiency and ability to deliver justice to the victims.”
Learned nothing and forgotten nothing
The Cameroon army has a reputation of being in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Few days to the first anniversary of the Ngarbuh massacre, members of the armed forces still in Ndu subdivision, arrested and tortured to near death, a young man, Fai Bungong.
In a clip of the torture process which went viral on social media on February 13, they were seen torturing him on the back and soles of his feet with machetes, cursing him in the process. Despite his pleas and refusal of having any connection with separatist fighters as accused, they did not relent in the torture process until he appeared to have passed out.
Following outraged sparked by the incident which ironically, happened on youth day (February 11), the Ministry of Defence announced the arrest and detention of the said gendarmes, adding that they would face the wrath of the law. To date however, there remains hardly any public information on their identities or indicating that they were tried and sentenced accordingly.
Poise News Desk