- Report Also Contradicts Gov’t, Says Soldiers Opened Fire On Civilians Unprovoked
By Hope Nda & Mindako Vanisa
Human Rights Watch has praised the Cameroon Government for taking responsibility for the wanton killing of nine civilians by soldiers in the village of Missong, Menchum Division of the Northwest Region, on June 1.
The organisation, which has been monitoring rights abuses in Cameroon, especially in the Anglophone Regions, demanded that the Government should also publish findings of investigations it promised to conduct on the incident for which four soldiers were reportedly arrested.
“The admission of responsibility by the army and the announcement of an investigation are crucial steps toward justice for these serious crimes,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities now need to ensure that the investigation is thorough, impartial and independent, and capable of establishing a clear timeline of events and the identification of all those responsible, including in the chain of command, with an aim toward prosecution.”
Government’s taking responsibility for the Missong killings, Human Right Watch says; “indicates an end to denying and hiding the truth around serious human rights abuses.” In past incidents, the Government has hardly admitted responsibility for soldiers’ abuses on civilians in Cameroon.
A similar carnage soldiers meted on about 21 civilians in Ntumbaw village, Donga-Mantung Division of the Northwest Region, on February 14, 2020, was initially denied by the Government. It later admitted responsibility after independent findings held soldiers and Fulani herdsmen accountable.
The Cameroon Government has hardly taken responsibility for killings or human rights abuses perpetrated by soldiers and when responsibility is taken, hardly is the trial and sentencing of accused soldiers made public.
This time around, Human Rights Watch wants the Government to be open in handling the Missong incident. However, there remains no guarantee that the findings of government’s promised investigations on the Missong incident will be published or that the four soldiers indicted for the crime will actually face the law.
Soldiers Opened Fire Unprovoked
On June 7, six days after the Missong killings happened, Military spokesman, Col. Cyrille Atonfack, in a release, announced that soldiers killed the civilians in self-defence.
Despite admitting the soldiers’ “inappropriate reaction” that was “unsuited to the circumstances”, and their “defiance of the sacrosanct principle of precaution,” the Government blamed Missong villagers for being hostile and for refusing to cooperate with soldiers.
Contrarily, HRW findings, derived from interviews done with witnesses, reveal that the Missong villagers did not retaliate when soldiers opened fire on the villagers.
“HRW found no evidence of a confrontation between the soldiers and the villagers or that the villagers provoked the soldiers to resort to lethal force,” HRW said.
A Missong man, whose wife was killed and baby injured, told HRW they were followed to the house where the family was hiding due to terrifying gunfire from soldiers.
“The military were shooting, and we ran into the house to seek shelter. I hid under the bed. Three soldiers broke in, dragged my wife outside, and shot her. She was shot in the right arm and in the neck. One of the bullets hit the baby she was carrying in her arms. The baby was injured in his left leg,” the widower told HRW.
The Missong incident is said to have been perpetrated by two soldiers. They were dispatched from their command base in Abar, about 1km from Missong, to check on two other soldiers who were reported missing from the camp. Unable to immediately locate their missing colleagues, they vetted their anger, mixed with fear and suspicion, on civilians and dropped nine dead.
The presumption had been that the missing soldiers had been kidnapped by Separatist fighters, but it turned out they had smuggled themselves from their colleagues “to drink and allegedly smoke drugs.”