Cameroon: deadly force against demonstrators

(Nairobi) – Cameroonian armed forces used excessive and deadly force against protesters in Bamenda, North West region, on November 12, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. Protesters were calling for justice for the police murder that day of 8-year-old schoolgirl Brandy Tataw.

Soldiers firing live ammunition from armored vehicles injured at least seven men. Cameroonian authorities should ensure that those responsible for the murder of Brandy Tataw and the excessive use of force against protesters are held accountable.

“The military’s use of live ammunition against people protesting the death of a child raises the disturbing specter of a trigger-friendly security force,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher to Human Rights Watch. “The authorities have an obligation to promptly investigate the use of force by soldiers during protests and send a strong message to their security forces that the abuses will not go unpunished.

Martin Mbarga Nguele, delegate general for national security and Cameroonian police chief, said that Tataw was hit while walking in the street by a ricochet of bullet that a police officer shot at a car that was missing. was not stopped at a police checkpoint. In a November 12 Press release, Nguele announced that an investigation had been opened and that the police officer suspected of firing the shot had been arrested. The armed forces have yet to publicly discuss the use of live ammunition to disperse protesters or acknowledge that protesters were injured.

Between November 12 and 16, Human Rights Watch interviewed 15 people by phone, including three protesters, a man who was wounded by gunfire, a relative of Tataw, two medical personnel who treated six injured protesters. , and eight other residents of Bamenda, including three who saw Tataw’s body.

The murder of Tataw, who was on her way home from school, sparked protests on November 12 in Bamenda, in the north-western region of Cameroon, where a violent crisis is raging between armed separatist groups and the national government. Hundreds of angry residents took to the streets, parading Tataw’s body and calling for justice. Two medical sources told Human Rights Watch angry protesters forcibly removed Tataw’s body from the Prenatal, Maternal and Child Health (PMI) center in Bamenda’s Nkwen neighborhood and took him to the governor’s office in Bamenda. .

The demonstrations continued in the afternoon in the Mile 2 district of Bamenda. Witnesses said the soldiers entered at least two armored vehicles and dispersed the protesters with live ammunition. “They came with the intention of doing harm,” said a human rights activist who was among the protesters. “They fired indiscriminately at the crowd, injuring several of us.”

The media reported a police statement claiming that separatist fighters had infiltrated among the protesting civilians. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify this claim.

Human Rights Watch reviewed and authenticated two videos showing footage of soldiers firing short bursts from a machine gun mounted on the roof of a wheeled armored vehicle into the crowd as it dispersed. Human Rights Watch also analyzed four photographs showing cartridge cases recovered by a protester after the shooting. Human Rights Watch analysis suggests that the casings were fired with three firearms, a Soviet / Oriental type machine gun, and Kalashnikov AK-47 and AK-74 type rifles.

A nurse from PMI said she treated six men with gunshot wounds: “The wounded started arriving around 3:30 pm with various gunshot wounds, some to the arms, some to the legs, others to the back. They also had bruises and lacerations. We treated five and referred one, the most serious case with a bullet in the neck, to the regional hospital.

A 28-year-old injured protester told Human Rights Watch that he did not go to the hospital for fear the army would arrest him. “The soldiers started shooting and a bullet hit me in the right foot,” he said. “I was too scared to go to the hospital, so a traditional doctor in my neighborhood treated me. I’m hiding now. If the security forces find me, they will arrest me. Other injured men are also in hiding.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented that Cameroonian security forces are forcibly entering medical facilities in English-speaking regions in search of suspected wounded separatist fighters.

Tataw’s murder was the second time in less than a month that the use of lethal force by security forces has resulted in the death of a child. On October 14, a gendarme killed Caro Louise Ndialle, 4, who was in a vehicle on the way to school in the Molyko district of Buea, in the South West region. An angry mob responded to the murder by lynching the gendarme.

In a press release released that day, Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo, army spokesman, noted the driver of the vehicle Ndialle was in had refused the gendarmes’ order to stop at a checkpoint. “In an inappropriate reaction […] one of the gendarmes fired warning shots to immobilize the vehicle, ”the statement said, adding that“ in the process ”Caro Louise“ received a bullet in the head ”. Guemo also said that an investigation had been opened “to shed light and establish responsibility” in the incident.

Residents of Bamenda and Buea have repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they have a pervasive fear of security force checkpoints, saying gendarmes, police and soldiers harassed drivers and passengers to demand bribes, and often used force during routine road operations.

In a November 15 Twitter post, the American, Canadian, British and Swiss ambassadors to Cameroon sentenced attacks against civilians in English-speaking regions, in particular against children and students.

“Cameroonian authorities should thoroughly investigate the murder of the schoolgirl in Bamenda, as well as the structural issues that made it more unique, especially at a time when education is under attack in English-speaking regions “said Allegrozzi. “The incident a month ago highlights the extreme risks school children face not only by separatists, but also by unruly and abusive security forces, as well as the need for discipline and stronger and more effective accountability within the security forces. “

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