Ebam Raid: Government response to mass rape allegations

Rights Groups, US Embassy Calls For Investigations, Punishment Of Culprits  

A response from Cameroon’s Ministry of Defence, MINDEF issued on March 2, to counter and give the government’s version of the raid by state forces on Ebam, Eyumojock Subdivision in Cameroon’s Southwest region, on March 1, 2020, which reportedly led to the rape of over 20 women, failed to address the substance of the allegations. 

The MINDEF statement which acknowledged many of the claims made by Human Rights Watch skilfully avoided the main allegation of the report, which was the alleged rape of over 20 women. Without countering most of the allegations made, MINDEF rather focused on chastising Human Rights Watch, which they accused of siding with Separatists, and for never reporting favourably about government troops. 

In its report of the year-old incident that went unreported and documented, Human Rights Watch reported that “an attack by Cameroonian soldiers on March 1, 2020, has come to light in which soldiers raped at least 20 women, including four with disabilities, arrested 35 men, and killed one man.” The attack, according to Human Rights Watch, is one of the worst Human Rights violations in the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. The raid and alleged mass rape closely followed the Ngarbuh massacre in Donga Mantung Division of the Northwest region. 

The Rights group reported that unlike other atrocities and rights abuses, that of Ebam was never reported, and victims are still waiting for justice. “The attack on the village of Ebam in the Southwest region was one of the worst by Cameroon’s army in recent years.” The Rights group states. 

Human Rights Watch in its documented findings has revealed that the soldiers also burned one home, looted scores of properties, and severely beat the men they took to a military base. It has been revealed that there has been no effective investigation, and no one has been held accountable for the crimes committed against the victims of that day’s revenge attack on the village of Ebam. 

It has also been revealed that one of the arrested men in Ebam, 34-year-old Thomas Ojong Ebot was separated from the rest, shot at least three times and his body was brought back and deposited close to the village. Many of the victims and survivors have said the soldiers who raided the village allegedly in search of separatist fighters had promised to do their worse when next they raid if the locals do not show where the fighters are hiding. 

The raid on Ebam, like many others, and the deeds are done were in contravention to established Human Rights laws. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 5, states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” This is further supported by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which in its Article 5, states 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.”

Cameroon’s penal code, in its Article 296 states that “Whoever by force or moral ascendancy compels any female whether above or below the age of puberty to have sexual intercourse with him” has committed rape and should face a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison. The soldiers thus did not only break international law, but even went in contravention of Cameroon’s domestic laws which they take oaths to protect, and ensure compliance with. 

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in its Part One, Article 2 (2) forbids 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.”. The men of Ebam, as well as women who are now living with physical as well as psychological scars left by the raid and deeds in the cause of the soldiers’ action, had these rights robbed from them. They have gone for over a year, with no justice done to correct the wrongs done to them.

Also, one of the unfortunate victims of the raid, Thomas Ojong Ebot had his life shortened without giving him a chance to appear in court to prove his case, as the laws of Cameroon and international legal instruments that the country is a party to, prescribe. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its Article 6 (10) says “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” The soldiers thus arbitrarily acted as the judge and executioner in flagrant disrespect of the laws. 

HRW’s deputy Africa Director, Ida Sawyer in a statement said, “Sexual violence and torture are heinous crimes that governments should immediately, effectively, and independently investigate, and to bring those responsible to justice.”

One of the victims of rape, described as a 40-year woman, told HRW that “Five masked soldiers entered my home. It was dark, and I was alone. They searched the house and stole my phone and money. One of them abused me.” The victim quotes one of her abusers as saying ‘If you don’t have sex with me, I will kill you!’. “I was too afraid to say or do anything. After the rape, I ran into the bush where I spent two months. I am still upset and traumatised.” The victim narrated. 

HRW states that due to the various problems, financial, psychological, and access to health facilities faced by the rape victims, “Some had medical care, such as screening for sexually transmitted infections, for the first time only in late July and mid-August, or even later”

The rights group also revealed that its findings were corroborated by a medical doctor who screened the rape survivors, two aid workers who helped the victims, and two United Nations officials with knowledge of the incident.  In a statement released on March 2, the US Embassy Cameroon stated that “The United States is deeply disturbed to learn of reports of a military raid in Ebam, Southwest Region, on March 1 of last year that resulted in violence against civilians. We condemn all violence in which civilians are targeted. We call for an immediate investigation into the alleged incident and for perpetrators to be held accountable. That this attack, if found to be true, could go unacknowledged for a year speaks to the important role civil society and media organisations play in helping governments meet their obligations to their people.” The statement said.

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

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