Human rights

Cameroon Continually Detains DWB’s Staff For Respecting Medical Ethics 

One of four detained DWB staff, Ashu D. driver with the organisation

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

“No health-care professionals may be punished for having carried out activities compatible with medical ethics, such as providing impartial care”, states Article 16 of the first Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention, to which Cameroon is party to.

However, after signing and ratifying the Geneva Conventions in 1963, the 1st and 2nd Additional Protocols in 1984, and Protocol III last year 2021, Cameroon in 2022 has gone ahead to continually violate agreements it signed and ratified, by continually harassing and imprisoning healthcare providers for doing what they took an oath to do – saving lives.  

On December 27, 2021, Doctors Without Borders, DWB, reported that its nurse, Marguerite M., and ambulance driver, Ashu D., were arrested by Cameroonian authorities for providing  neutral, independent, and impartial humanitarian aid to people in Cameroon’s Southwest Region. Just weeks after, two more DWB staff members were detained while providing humanitarian aid. All four staff members are still detained, on charges of supporting terrorism.

Though government would not react when contacted, they have been holding the healthcare providers on charges that they are supporting terrorism. Questions on healthcare providers’ duty to treat everyone in need have always been downplayed by the government that keeps going after those they suspect offer impartial care.

The situation has forced DWB to suspend activities in the Southwest Region because of government’s hostility and refusal to permit the organisation to work as a neutral and independent player in the crisis. On several occasions, the government and its surrogates have accused the organisation of aiding separatists by treating those wounded. The accusation of government here, is however not supposed to be a problem, since the medical aid organisation, DWB operates based on rules hinged on neutrality, as its mission is to provide medical aid to those in need, including government troops.

Though working strictly on basis of neutrality, government’s push to suffocate DWB’s activities caused DWB to readjust its values and report to the government whenever they receive a case to treat – though this is against its values.  In the case of the four staff arrested and detained at Buea Central Prison for responding to cases, DWB said it duly notified the government. The government itself ordered for an investigation that vindicated the workers, but it has still continued to detain them.

“As requested by the Ministry of Defence, the Mandela International Center, an independent Cameroonian organisation, published a report exonerating Marguerite and Ashu of any wrongdoing, as well as MSF itself. The report demanded the immediate release of our two colleagues”, DWB said in a statement.

“Treating and transferring the wounded and sick is the basis of what humanitarian organisations do in situations of conflict and violence, with no regard for which side of the conflict the wounded person participated. Providing emergency assistance to people in life-threatening situations is protected under Cameroonian law.

“… As a neutral and impartial medical organisation, we have been supporting wounded patients from both sides, including those from the state armed forces. We have made it known that the transfer and care of gunshot wounded patients is a minimal part of the work in South-West Cameroon”, DWB said.

The organisation said because of government’s hostility, it has been forced to suspend crucial and much needed medical aid in the region because of fears that its workers will not be allowed to go about their work freely, as they risk being detained in prison for doing just that.

Cameroon Government action does not only violate human rights of detained healthcare providers, but has gone a great deal to deprive vulnerable people in the region of their right to health. This is especially so in communities where health infrastructure has collapsed due to the crisis. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its Article 25, (1.) says “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. By forcing DWB to suspend its services, the government has deprived thousands of healthcare.

Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention in its Article 16, states that “No health-care professionals may be punished for having carried out activities compatible with medical ethics, such as providing impartial. It furthers in Art. 16(3), stating that “Persons engaged in medical activities may not, unless required to do so by law, be compelled to give information concerning the wounded and sick who are or have been under their care either to their own party or to an adverse party, if this information would prove harmful to the patients or their families”. The government has continually pressured aid organisations to violate this provision of the Protocol.

Article 15 of the Geneva Convention dictates that “Parties to an armed conflict may not impede the provision of care by preventing the passage of medical personnel. They must facilitate access to the wounded and sick, and provide the necessary assistance and protection to medical personnel”. Instead of doing as outlined by the Convention, the government has actively been working to frustrate healthcare workers, claiming that the workers are aiding terrorism by treating those in need.

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