On Saturday, October24, 2020, unknown gunmen stormed the Mother Francisca Academy, Fiango, Kumba around midday. These men perpetrated murder on innocent children in their classrooms. The children died for wanting to acquire knowledge. This act has unsurprisingly been condemned in the strongest terms by nearly all national and international organizations including the United Nations and the European Union. Human Rights Watch and the Cameroonian government through its minister of communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, have joined their voices of those who have condemned the atrocity.
However, and curiously so, the Cameroon government in her condemnation statement, seem to have conducted a speedy investigation as it accused the Southern Cameroons separatists of being the perpetrators of the heinous crime. In the government communique, they apportioned all the blame to the “Amba Boys” and this with no evidence whatsoever to buttress their allegation. Many still remember vividly how the same government accused armed groups of committing the 14 February 2020 Massacre in Ngarburh before an investigation revealed otherwise weeks later.
If we agree with the regime that separatist committed this crime, is it not clear that the regime has also failed in its responsibility to protect its civilians? The Cameroon government is by this act of early accusations without evidence trying to evade once again the fact that it has failed to protect its citizens. It is worth recalling that government officials in the two Anglophone regions campaigned recently and reassured parents and teachers that school resumption was safe.
The Responsibility To Protect R2P is the political commitment to stop all forms of violence and persecutions. It seeks to bridge the gap between member states’ pre-existing obligations under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights law, and the reality faced by populations at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
Koffi Annan, in his September1999 annual report to the United Nations General Assembly said “member states must find a common ground in upholding the principles of the Charter and acting in defense of common humanity”. Mr. Annan repeated this challenge in his 2000 Millennium report when he insisted that “If Humanitarian Intervention is indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to Rwanda, to gross systemic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity”
Going by the above, the Cameroon government can therefore not invoke the notion of sovereignty to evade a possible and imminent International Humanitarian intervention in the country to stop the current war. This writer believes that if the Cameroon government is failing in its responsibility to protect, the United Nations should not fail in ordering a Humanitarian Intervention to stop the atrocities in the Southern Cameroons.
The Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols lay down the rules on how soldiers and civilians should be treated during armed conflicts like the case in hand. These conventions were adopted in 1949and still apply in today’s armed conflicts.
International Humanitarian Law(IHL) advocates the protection of victims of armed conflicts and this includes civilians and combatants who have been injured or captured. All parties concerned in such conflicts whether states or organised non-states actors are therefore bound by the IHL in matters of this nature.
If after a proper and credible investigation, it is established that the Southern Cameroons separatists committed the massacre in Kumba, this will deal a deadly blow to their reputation. The legitimacy of their struggle for independence would suffer a major setback. On the other hand, if the investigations come out with evidence to suggest that there has been a repeat of the 14February 2020 Ngarburh massacre, the state of Cameroon in my opinion, would have again to violated its constitution, International Humanitarian Law, the Geneva Convention and the Responsibility to Protect. Sanctions must therefore be called on the country for such violations.
While we condemn these crimes, no matter who committed them, it is important to note that the time is now for the United Nations to order an International Humanitarian Intervention in Cameroon to stop further bloodshed.
By Nelson A. Agbor
The author is a Research Student in Int. Human Rights Law @ The University of Plymouth, UK.