Human Rights Watch Slams Cameroon for Sham Trial of Kumba Massacre

By Augustine Nyuykongi

Human Rights Watch, HRW has criticized Cameroon’s judicial system for the unfair trial of the suspects of the October 24, 2020 massacre at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba. The organization has called the whole process a sham and insisted

Human Rights Watch calls trial of Kumba Massacre a sham, says justice has not yet been served for the atrocity.

According to a report released by the HRW on October 22, 2021, the trial of the suspects was marked by procedural irregularities and no substantial evidence. In the report, HRW reveals the accused were not allowed to challenge the evidence against them. They also were not given the opportunity to present evidences of their own.

“Victims of the Kumba massacre have a right to expect an effective investigation, and for those responsible to be brought to justice in a fair trial,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

She added that “Cameroonian authorities seem to have railroaded people into a sham trial before a military tribunal, with a predetermined outcome, capped with the imposition of the death penalty which is unlawful under international human rights law.”

Defense lawyers of the accused complained that they have been stifled by the system. They said, they were not allowed to cross-examine the witnesses. The proceedings were also not translated from English and French to Pidgin, which was the language best understood by most of the defendants. This led them to believe that the whole process was a mere formality.

“The entire trial was predicated upon circumstantial evidence as opposed to real evidence, and throughout the trial, the prosecution brought no witness we could ask questions,” Atoh Walter Chemi, the leading defense counsel told the Human Rights Watch.

The Defense lawyers equally revealed that the prosecution presented all its evidence in written statements. Witnesses were not called in for questioning and the verdict was handed based on circumstantial proof in the written documents.

There were 12 defendants standing trial for the attack on the school. Amongst them were 4 teachers from the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, the principal of the school, and the proprietor. The court found four guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility against the fatherland, murder, possession of illegal arms and ammunition, and insurrection. The 4 have been handed death sentences by the military court after proceedings.

Four others were sentenced to 5 months in jail, and a fine of 50,000FCFA each for not reporting to have received threats from separatist fighters before the attack at the school. 4 others meanwhile were acquitted by the military tribunal.

The Human Rights Watch has condemned the trial, arguing that it was against international rights trying civilians in military courts.

“The military court should never have handled this case involving civilians, and it seems to have made little effort to ensure basic respect for human rights standards,” Allegrozzi said. “If the authorities intend to deliver justice for this heinous crime against children, they need to bring a credible case before civilian courts and hold those responsible to account according to international fair trial standards.”

On 24 October, armed men attacked a school in Kumba in the Southwest region of Cameroon. They killed seven students and injured others several more.

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