Cameroon massacre trial to resume on Friday
CAPE TOWN - The lawyers of the family members of 21 people who were killed in Cameroon’s North-West region in February last year are concerned about the distance their clients have to travel the courtroom, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
The international human rights organisation said the trial of three members of Cameroon’s security forces accused of involvement in the killings of 21 civilians in Ngarbuh village was set to resume on Friday.
The trial, which began on December 17 last year, and adjourned twice, takes place before the military court in the capital Yaoundé, about 380km from Ngarbuh, making it difficult for family members of the victims to attend.
They would prefer the trial be held at the military court in Bamenda, closer to Ngarbuh.
“Our clients don’t have the financial means to travel to Yaoundé,” Richard Tamfu, one of the lawyers, told HRW. “The court sitting in Bamenda would fit with the key principle of meaningful access to justice, bringing it closer to the victims.”
The attack on the village of Ngarbuh on February 14, 2020, was one of the worst by Cameroonian soldiers since the crisis in the anglophone regions began in late 2016. Soldiers killed 21 civilians, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, and burned five homes in a reprisal attack aimed at punishing residents suspected of harbouring separatist fighters, the organisations said.
Two soldiers and a gendarme were arrested in connection with the massacre and charged with murder, arson, destruction, violence against a pregnant woman and disobeying orders. Seventeen members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter were also charged but remain at large.
At the time, the army denied what it called “outrageous and misleading allegations” but later acknowledged the incident, saying it was an unfortunate situation that happened when fuel containers exploded during a firefight with separatists, according to international news broadcaster Al Jazeera.
On February 3, some families of the Ngarbuh victims received food items and 5 million CFA (US$9,000) each as compensation for the destruction of their property from the governor of the North-West Region on behalf of President Paul Biya, a move criticised by the families’ lawyers, who said it was up to the court to decide on reparations.
“The participation of victims of gross human rights violations in criminal proceedings is an essential way of giving them a voice. Cameroonian authorities, with the support of international partners, if necessary, should ensure that the victims’ families can attend and participate in the trial so that their rights to justice and reparations are upheld,” HRW said.