Human rights

Mamfe District Hospital Attack: Perpetrators Fail To Take Responsibility For Cowardly Act

Mamfe District Hospital in ruins after arson attack

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

More than a week after the Mamfe District Hospital was razed down by an unidentified armed men, no group in the area has owned up, or taken responsibility for the cowardly act that targeted a healthcare facility that is not supposed to be targeted in times of war or armed conflict.

Hospitals fall under facilities that are considered safe havens and are thus protected under international instruments that guide the conduct of war, and guarantee the safety of protected areas. This however did not stop a group of armed men who could not be identified and who have since then remained mute – probably ashamed of taking responsibility for the act.

On the night of June 8, 2022, the Mamfe District Hospital in Manyu Division of Cameroon’s Southwest Region was burned down by a group that invaded the facility, firing guns in the air to scare occupants. The entire structure was razed into ashes, including all hospital equipment and labs. When the incident took place, it was alleged that the attack had been carried out by suspected non-state armed groups operating in the area. Fingers were first pointed at Ambazonia separatist fighters. However, the separatists have denied that they carried out such an activity, and have instead accused State forces, claiming that the act was carried out by government troops.

A report published by the human rights organisation, Centre For Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, quotes a nurse on duty who recounts that the attackers invaded the hospital and opened fire in the air, saying that everyone should vacate the building, and that they will burn down the hospital.

“…We told the government that we will show them…tell them that we are here and we shall burn down the place…where are those government nurses here, you all should come out,” she recounts the rants of the veiled attackers. She further said the attackers went on to argue about torching the hospital, and then went on to do it before running away. Patients who were being treated on the facility have since been relocated to other health facilities in the region.

In February 2019, the Kumba District hospital was also burnt down by an unknown armed group. When the incident happened, government officials and surrogates quickly claimed that the attack was done by Ambazonia separatist fighters. They said the suspected fighters carried out the attack because doctors were revealing information about treated fighters to government soldiers. However, like the case with the Mamfe District Hospital attacked recently, separatists have, through social media messages, which is their main medium of communication, insisted that the hospital was torched by Cameroon’s military to discredit them and tarnish their image.

Still in 2019, the Muyuka District Hospital was also attacked by an unidentified armed group. In some cases, health workers have been targeted, often on accusations that they treat wounded soldiers or separatist fighters. However, both sides have been known to go after medical personnel on accusations that they treat their opponents, an act that goes contrary to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention that, in its Article 16, states: “No health-care professionals may be punished for having carried out activities compatible with medical ethics, such as providing impartial.”

In the wake of such finger pointing and counter accusations with no side taking responsibility for the Mamfe Hospital attack, there is need for an independent enquiry commission to be set up to investigate the incident and find out the real perpetrators of the act. Such an enquiry should be carried out by a body of experts trusted by both sides of the conflict, so that their findings should not be influenced by preconceived biases.

The arson attack that brought down the Mamfe District Hospital was in stark violation of international law that puts upon such establishments a protected status. In its Article 19, the First Geneva Convention states clearly that, “Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict. Should they fall into the hands of the adverse Party, their personnel shall be free to pursue their duties, as long as the capturing Power has not itself ensured the necessary care of the wounded and sick found in such establishments and units.”

By attacking the Mamfe District Hospital, the veiled attackers did not only attack a protected area, but their actions also deprived thousands of people of their rights to health. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration outlines the right to health as follows: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

By attacking the hospital in Mamfe, the attackers effectively deprived 85,000 people who depend on the hospital for healthcare, which is a basic human right.

The attack on the hospital has been criticised by rights organisations like CHRDA. Medical organisations like Doctors Without Borders also condemned the attack, regretting that, because of it, more people will be left without healthcare.

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