The culture of impunity around grave human rights abuses committed in Anglophone Regions has, from observations, helped to encourage rights abuses at all levels to go on with such acts. From time to time, macabre acts are committed and when the issue is still hot in discussion circles, officials in charge quickly announce judicial investigations or even supposed arrests, but it often ends at that, and the issue dies down with no justice done for the victims.
This normalised impunity is seemingly responsible for the increasing human rights abuses and even war crimes committed in the crisis-hit regions, because, perpetrators are aware that nothing will be done to bring them to face the consequences of their deeds.
From government forces, to separatist groups and armed gangs, a lot of actors in the Northwest and Southwest keep committing human rights abuses and getting away with it. Such abuses range from torture, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests aimed at extortion, extra-judicial executions, arson and many others. The various actors don’t shy from committing such abuses, since they are hardly made to face the law.
In 2021, locals in Bamenda took to the streets to protest the killing of 8-year-old Tataw Brandy. Shortly after, it was claimed that the officer who killed the little girl had been arrested. The proceedings of the case have never been known, and locals even doubt whether anyone was held responsible. Weeks before that, a gendarmerie officer had been killed in Buea, after he opened fire on a car, and killed five-year-old Carolaise who was being taken to school by her mother. The perception that nothing will be done to the killer officer fuelled the crowd to administer mob justice on the officer.
In May 2023, separatist fighters killed Journalist Anye Nsoh. The SDO for Mezam announced that an investigation had been launched and that perpetrators would face justice, since the story died down, nothing has been heard of such judicial procedures again. Even the case of Wazizi, who was killed while in custody, has since remained shrouded in secrecy even after the presidency promised an investigation on the case. Over four years since then, nothing has been made public.
On October 4, 2023, an Ambazonian separatist faction, known as the Amabzonia Defence Forces, ADF, publicly executed two men, identified as Hansel Ndi, a prince of Guzang, and Cletus Njohgo a local trader. The two were accused of spying for government forces and were publicly executed as a way of deterring others so that no one could think of working against the fighters’ interests or collaborating with government forces against them.
The executions staged at the Guzang Market were done in broad daylight, with villagers massively mobilised to come and witness the executions. A witness who saw what happened told The Post that it was the most shocking thing he has ever seen. He said after the execution, the gunmen mounted their bikes and sped off.
Similarly, another armed group, said by locals to be separatist fighters, on September 13, abducted, and later executed a woman, identified as Nawain Marceline. Locals say she was taken from her home in Baingo by the fighters who accused her of selling food and drinks to Cameroon government soldiers. After her execution, her remains were dumped for her relatives and locals to bury. Like other cases, a lot of noise is made and DOs and SDOs are often quick to promise investigations which often end up not done.
In the crisis-affected regions, locals who are seen to be friendly or who talk and even sometimes just sell to government soldiers are referred to as blacklegs, working against the interest of the fighters, and endangering them. In such cases, the fighters identify such persons and either torture, fine or in worse case scenarios, execute them, as a means to strike fear in the hearts of others, and dissuade them from having any links with government soldiers.
The same holds for government soldiers who arrest and kill locals for flimsy reasons like working for or aiding separatist fighters. Some traditional headers have been summarily executed on claims that they spiritually fortify fighters to fight government troops.
In the recent incident in Guzang, the ADF took responsibility for the act, and warned locals throughout the whole region, of ‘spying’ for government forces. Other separatist groups acknowledged that they too carry out executions or punishment of “government spies”, but said the way the Guzang incident was carried out was cruel. Some separatist leaders like Chris Anu have also condemned the act publicly, terming it inhuman. Some other leaders of separatist movements have also condemned the executions in Guzang, saying it does not align with their operational philosophy.
Local leaders like the Fon of Guzang whose younger brother was executed on that day in Guzang have also condemned the killings. Human rights advocates and other community leaders have also condemned the killings.
The Senior Divisional Officer, Fouda Etoba, announced that his administration had launched judicial investigations against the separatists who carried out the recent executions in Guzang. He also declared that a manhunt was underway to find the perpetrators of these acts. However, it is common that these investigations seldom result in the arrest of the culprits and, therefore, they are rarely prosecuted and punished for the crimes committed. In the crisis-affected regions, separatists who commit assassinations enjoy a sort of impunity.
Impunity is seen as a factor that encourages human rights violations. When perpetrators of extrajudicial killings are not held accountable for their actions and are not subject to legal action, it sends a message that such acts can be committed without consequences. This creates a climate of impunity which leads to an increase in violations of the right to life.
It is, therefore, essential that if such acts are to be truly fought against, leaders in various ranks must combat impunity by ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable for their actions. This can only be achieved by taking legal action against the culprits. Impartial and fair justice is essential to deter human rights violations and to promote the protection and respect of these fundamental rights for all. There is also a need for transparency in such proceedings. Transparency will help to build public trust in the justice system.
In the preamble of its January 18, 1996, Constitution, Cameroon’s bedrock of laws forbids inhuman treatment of anyone, stating that: “Every person has a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances. Under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”. In the several abuses committed, the right to fair treatment has never been respected.
In Article 3, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pressing on the need to respect and preserve human life, states that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.” Article 5, furthers that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. In all their summary punishments and executions, separatist fighters, defence forces and armed gangs have never respected the rights of the accused to life and human treatment.
On its part, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, in its Article 5, says: “Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”
The government on its part, failed to protect its citizens, as per Article 2 (3) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The state failed in its obligation to prevent the violation of their right to life. This is the case when its officers kill instead of protecting, and also the case when they fail to intervene and stop rights violations and ensure the safety of citizens. By signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cameroon engaged an undertaking to respect and guarantee to all individuals inhabiting its territory the right to life. This is as per Article 2 (1) of the Convention.