As the Anglophone Crisis enters a sixth year, administrative units in some areas of the two crisis Regions are dwindling, and, in some areas, they have collapsed. In areas where government and administrative structures have crumbled, an era of jungle justice has set in and, with no authoritative units to take over, law and order has crumbled, giving room for jungle and mob justice to set in as the only means of punishing perceived or accused offenders.
One of the recent incidents that depicts the slide into a jungle justice system is an incident that occurred at Esso-Attah, a village in Lebialem Division of the Southwest, on October 22, 2022, where six young men were killed. It is alleged that they were buried alive. According to witness accounts, the six young men who were caught and allegedly buried alive with their hands tied behind their backs were among some eight individuals accused of having aided separatist fighters, then led by the late self-styled Field Marshal of Lebialem, Oliver Lekea, to capture and kill some three Chiefs, in February 2021. The killed traditional rulers were targeted for participating in a Government-organised election.
They six youngsters who were killed were equally accused of being a menace to the local residents. Locals said the victims of the horrific human rights abuses were noted for harassing buyers and sellers in the local market. Some witness accounts hold that the victims were captured from a neighbouring village, and then brought to Esso-Attah village in Fontem Subdivision of Lebialem. A witness narrated that the victims of the incident usually crossover from Etobang (Court Yard) in the Kupe Maneguba Division, to Essoh-Attah, where they allegedly harass locals.
The witness said, after the last incident of harassment, “The population (mostly the youths) decided to go fetch them from their hideout. They, therefore, crossed the river Besueh separating Lebialem and Kupe Maneguba, move to Court Yard at Etobang and, with the help of the local population, caught the six of them, including two from the Northwest, two from Manyu, one from Mbo and one from us.” This version of the story was also confirmed by the Mayor of the area, Njukeng Zinkeng. The incident, like most others, can be blamed on lack of any administrative, and security presence in the locality, like most others in Anglophone regions where government structures have crumbled.
Due to this, it has given way to a jungle justice system where the strongest triumphs and mob justice is the only available or used corrective measure. Some witnesses say the victims had also been noted for harassing locals, especially those who sell their merchandise in the local market in Esso-Attah village. In a similar case, an incident also occurred in Sop, a village in Jakiri Subdivision, in Bui Division of the Northwest Region, towards the end of September 2022, where villagers were accused of killing and burying a woman on accusations that she hit her husband and he died. Like Esso-Attah, government presence has also collapsed in Sop and jungle justice seems to be taking over. There are similar other cases of rights abuses committed in several places around the crisis Regions, where there is little or no administrative presence.
The void too has not been filled by traditional leaders and institutions because many became partisan, thus, losing credibility and trust of locals. In the case of Esso-Attah, it is also alleged that eight persons were accused, but, when the mob discovered that two of the eight were of their tribe, they spared their lives. But then, they continued to torture and burry the others who were not of their clan. This then gives it a tribal twist where those judged as none-natives can easily be killed while those seen to belong can be spared, even when they are accused of the same crime. This poses the possibility of it degenerating into tribal conflicts, to add to the already deadly Anglophone Crisis that has claimed over 4,000 lives, according to recent statistics.
The act pointed to a breach of Article 2 of Part Two of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commands that each state has the duty to respect the rights of all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the guarantee of their safety. Though accused of such serious crimes, the State of Cameroon has a duty to protect the accused, follow procedure and charge them in court for the verdict to be decided. The killing of the accused persons also breached The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Article 3, which enshrines in everyone, a right tolife, liberty and security of person. The Declaration furthers in its Article 5, to state that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
On determining guilt and eventual punishment, Article 10 of the Declaration states that, “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him”. On the case of the accused in Esso-Attah, they were denied this right, and sentenced to death by a mob.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, in itsArticle 5, also mandates that, “Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.” The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in its Part One, Article 2(2), furthers in this light by emphasising that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. All of these instruments were violated in the Esso-attah incident, thereby, violating the human rights, in a bid to seek revenge and justice.
By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE