DOUALA, Cameroon

The slow pace of the trial of 21 people accused of involvement in the February 2020 killings of 21 civilians in Cameroon “raises concerns about the justice system’s efficiency and ability to deliver justice to the victims,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The rights group said its research has “concluded that government forces and armed ethnic Fulani killed 21 civilians in Ngarbuh, including 13 children and a pregnant woman” on Feb. 14, 2020.

They also “burned five homes, looted scores of other properties, and beat residents in a reprisal operation against the community suspected of harboring separatist fighters,” read an HRW statement released to mark two years since the incident.

It said the killings in Ngarbuh, a town in Cameroon’s North-West region, were “one of the Cameroonian security forces’ worst atrocities since the crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions began in late 2016.”

“Two years after the massacre, the families of the victims are still waiting for justice, even as security forces continue to commit serious human rights violations,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at HRW.

The defendants in the trial, which started on Dec. 17, 2020 in a military court in the capital Yaounde, include “two soldiers … a gendarme, a former separatist fighter, and 17 ethnic Fulani vigilantes, who remain at large.”

The charges against the 21 individuals are “murder, arson, destruction, violence against a pregnant woman, and disobeying orders,” the HRW said.

“The lack of justice for the killings of civilians in Ngarbuh and the recurring military abuses are avoidable consequences of the failure to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions,” Allegrozzi said.

The HRW said Cameroonian security forces are still committing “serious crimes in the Anglophone regions, underscoring a climate of impunity that has fueled the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions for the past five years.”

“Armed separatist groups have also committed abuses, including killings, kidnappings, torture, and widespread attacks on education. This highlights the urgent need for effective investigations that meet international standards into all serious abuses,” read the HRW statement.

Allegrozzi called on Cameroonian authorities to “rein in their security forces, ensure an end to abuses, and guarantee that those most responsible for the Ngarbuh killings, as well as other serious abuses, are held to account in fair and effective trials.”

At least 3,000 people have been killed and more than 730,000 displaced due to conflict in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, according to HRW.

The Cameroonian government has yet to comment on the latest HRW statement about the Ngarbuh killings.

However, after HRW reported on the incident in February 2020, the government claimed the rights group’s researchers had received “information including videos and images from the secessionists to malign the Cameroonian army.”

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