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, and fired guns in the air to scare occupants.
The attack, destruction and burning down of the hospital effectively left over 85,000 people, who depended on it, stranded without a better alternative.
On December 09 2020, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, in collaboration with the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities, unveiled 15 reports in which they investigated and blamed various actors, state security forces and non-state armed groups for various human rights violations.
In the report, CHRDA and the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities have, for the first time, after their investigations, indicted separatist fighters for burning the hospital.
The incident left the entire structure 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 denied that they carried out such an activity, and instead claimed that the act was carried out by government troops.
Similar to the Mamfe District Hospital case, 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 orchestrated by Ambazonia separatist fighters.
They said the suspected fighters attacked because doctors were revealing information about treated fighters to government soldiers. However, like the case of the Mamfe District Hospital, separatists, through social media, which is their primary 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, medical staff have been targeted too, often on accusations that they treat wounded soldiers or non-state armed fighters.
However, both sides have been known to go after medical personnel on accusations that they treat their opponents, an act which goes contrary to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention, which in Article 16, states that, “No health-care professionals may be punished for having carried out activities compatible with medical ethics, such as providing impartial care”.
In the wake of such finger-pointing and counter accusations with no side taking responsibility for the Mamfe Hospital attack, there was a need for an independent enquiry commission to be set up to investigate the incident and find out the real perpetrators of the act. Since the state failed to set up such an enquiry, the CHRDA and Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities report come just to serve a similar purpose, given that the organisation does not affiliate with either of the two parties.
In its report on the incident, CHRDA quoted 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 recounted.
Agbor Nkongho alongside his staff at the Human Rights Division of CHRDA noted that in the pursuit of their various campaigns and activism, some actors have unfortunately normalised human rights violations. He said some people have erroneously believed in the justness of their cause that they thought everything and deed done to achieve it can be justified.
In 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 separatists did not only attack a protected area, but their actions also deprived thousands of people of their right to health.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration outlines the right to health, stating that “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 of healthcare, which is a basic human right.
By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE