The Southern Cameroons Special Tribunal Coordinating Committee, a citizen-based human rights investigation team representing a consortium of Ambazonian separatist groups, is investigating attacks on hospitals by the Cameroon military. News reports cite numerous attacks on medical facilities and ambulances in the government’s effort to deny medical care to wounded Amba rebels. Recent hospital attacks in the civil war-torn region are blamed by eyewitnesses on soldiers while Cameroon officials blame the rebels.
The Special Tribunal, which utilizes citizen volunteers to capture photographic evidence of war crimes, provided the first reports on the burning of Kumba hospital, backed up by a cell-phone video of the burning building. Eyewitnesses reported that approximately 30 soldiers entered at night on Feb. 11 and set the hospital on fire. Four people, including two patients, were killed in the blaze.
Cameroon Communication Minister René Emmanuel Sadi denied the allegation, blaming the attack on pro-independence rebels. However, the Interim Government, an outlawed group leading a revolt in Ambazonia, has insisted that government soldiers committed the act. Government troops have also been blamed for the arson of the hospital in Konye.
Special Tribunal Coordinator Jonathan Levy has noted eyewitnesses blame 20 Cameroon soldiers for shooting up the Baptist Medical Center in Bangolan on Feb. 13. Days later at Shisong General Hospital soldiers stormed the medical center and threatened doctors and nurses. There was a tense hour at the hospital while the soldiers debated burning the facility.
Limited access to war-torn areas by the news media has kept many atrocities from being reported in the restive Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon. Despot Paul Biya has responded to the revolt against his authoritarian rule by turning his soldiers loose on hunt and kill missions. The difficulty of documenting the military actions in remote regions and often at night has led the Special Tribunal to call for volunteers to furnish self-collected evidence of war crimes. The plea for help is not without danger for those caught with cell-phones while recording events.
The burning of Kumba hospital is an example of how technology and the prevelance of cell-phones makes it possible for ordinary people to document crimes done by Cameroon soldiers. It remains to be seen if the Special Tribunal will be able to see charges brought against war crimes suspects with the evidence it is gathering. Operating without a legal mandate, the Special Tribunal is a new response to an age-old problem of obtaining justice for victims of war crimes.
Biya’s harsh response with bloodshed and violence to the declaration of Ambazonia in 2017 has deepened division in Cameroon as civil society unravels. Without a strong international response against abuses by Cameroon military forces the Special Tribunal may have more work than it can handle.