Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ngarbuh: Human Rights Watch demands Biya's Investigation Findings

All the light must be shed on the murders committed in the village of Ngarbuh.

The government of Cameroon is expected to release the findings of an investigation into the massacre of 21 civilians, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, carried out on February 14, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. 

The government has formally denied responsibility for the killings, which took place in the village of Ngarbuh, in the North West region. However, investigations by journalists and non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have gathered decisive evidence which seems to demonstrate the responsibility of the Cameroonian army. 

"Two months have passed since the Ngarbuh massacre, a deadline that is emblematic of the impunity enjoyed by the Cameroonian security forces," said Lewis Mudge, Director for Central Africa at Human Rights Watch. "The government should immediately release the findings of its investigation and bring those responsible to justice. " 

In a report published on 25 February, Human Rights Watch found the circumstances in which the Cameroonian army and armed members of the Fulani ethnic group deliberately killed 21 civilians Ngarbuh. Human Rights Watch research indicates that the attack was carried out in reprisal against villagers, accused of supporting and sheltering armed separatists. 

On March 1, under pressure from international partners, President Paul Biya agreed to create a commission of inquiry. However, the authorities have made no public statements about the composition of the commission, its work or its conclusions.

In a press release dated March 25, the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms (CNDHL) revealed that its chairman, Dr. Chemuta Divine Banda, had participated in the commission of inquiry, whose work were chaired by the Minister for the Presidency in charge of Defense. Prior to the release of this news release, the composition of the Ngarbuh murder investigation team was unknown. 
CNDHL members have expressed the hope that the findings of the investigation will be made public. 

While the CNDHL chief’s involvement in the investigation is an encouraging sign, the appointment of the Minister of Defense to lead the investigation does, however, raise concerns about his independence, Human Rights Watch said. 

Ngarbuh's murders have been widely condemned, including by the UN Secretary General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, France , Canada, and the Nobel Women's Initiative. On February 22, speaking about these killings, French President Emmanuel Macron promised to exert "maximum pressure" on Biya to end "intolerable violations of human rights in Cameroon". 

Human Rights Watch's findings on Ngarbuh were corroborated by investigative reporters from the New York Times and another media, The New Humanitarian. A coalition of Cameroonian civil society organizations and the Catholic Church also concluded that the army was responsible for the massacre. 

Despite the general condemnation, the government remained largely silent, preferring to carry out a smear campaign targeting national and international organizations. In a statement dated March 9, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji accused the media, non-governmental organizations - including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -, and United Nations agencies, among others, fuel terrorism, destabilize Cameroon and produce false reports to tarnish the image of the Cameroonian security forces.

The Ngarbuh attack is not an isolated case, but is part of a larger cycle of serious human rights violations committed by Cameroonian security forces in English-speaking regions, Human Rights Watch noted, who documented multiple abusive counterinsurgency operations in the North West and South West regions since 2017.

Human Rights Watch research found that government forces killed civilians, burned dozens of villages, made arbitrary arrests, and tortured hundreds of suspected armed separatists. They, also responsible for serious abuses, have targeted civilians, abducted hundreds of people, tortured and killed suspected opponents, while using intimidation and violence to prevent pupils and teachers from going to educational establishments. In February, the separatists prevented the holding of local elections.

Violence in English-speaking regions in the past three years has left an estimated 3,000 dead and displaced more than 730,000 civilians. 

Like the rest of the world, Cameroon is today facing an unprecedented public health crisis linked to the spread of Covid-19. It is the most affected country in Central Africa, with more than 840 cases reported and 14 deaths as of April 14. The pandemic has not ended the violence in the English-speaking regions. 

"While crucial, the fight against the pandemic should not prevent action on key human rights concerns and accountability for serious military abuses," said concluded Lewis Mudge. "In this period of national crisis, transparency is all the more precious and the government should show that it will not hesitate to hold soldiers responsible for the deliberate killing of civilians accountable for their actions."