Transforming Hospitals Into Battlefields

Opinion, Society

By Isidore Abah (Originally published in The Post Newspaper, Cameroon)

(Buea-Cameroon) There are no safe havens in the Northwest and Southwest Regions since the escalation of the armed conflict in the two economic-sinister Regions of Cameroon.

Places which were hitherto considered as sanctuaries: hospitals, churches, and schools, have been transformed into battlegrounds. They are raided at will.

The vicious killing of Augustin Fuh at the St. Mary Soledad Hospital in Bamenda, Northwest Region, Wednesday, 19 February, by a military officer, has further enraged Cameroonians, who are still grappling with the gory memories of the Ngarbuh-Ntumbaw carnage. 

In a statement published by renowned international medical humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders, it was at about 10:30 am, when a car cruised into the St Mary Soledad’s Hospital premises in Bamenda, a health structure supported by Doctors Without Borders.  Onboard the car was a driver and a staff of the medical organisation.

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The organisation’s press release further stated that as the car immediately halted in the hospital’s premises, a vehicle of the Cameroonian Defence and Security Forces also drove into the premises and security forces immediately surrounded the first vehicle and opened fire on the driver. Several bullets also struck the adjoining ambulance call centre, endangering patients and hospital staff.

Reacting to the grisly incident, the Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Defence, Joseph Beti Assomo, said the Toyota Tercel vehicle had been stopped by a patrol team of the 501 Air Base that was tracking a group of secessionists, but the vehicle refused to comply.

According to the Minister, after chasing the vehicle on the highway, the suspected vehicle attempted to hide in the parking lot of the hospital, where the soldier opened fire in violation of the rules of engagement. “The driver of the suspected vehicle, Augustin Fuh, received the bullet and died at the Bamenda Regional Hospital. From all indications, the vehicle is said to have been carrying on board a civilian, Romanus Fru, who was shot weeks ago along the Mbengwi-Bamenda road during a confrontation with Defence and security forces.  He was receiving treatment at the Saint Mary Catholic Hospital, Mankon. “The soldier is currently at the Bamenda Gendarmerie Company station for questioning,” said Minister Joseph Bety Asomo.

This dastardly act committed by security forces in Bamenda, February 19, is one out of a plethora of other incidents committed against health personnel and institutions. Doctors Without Borders had in 2019 raised an alarm that security forces along the Kumba-Buea Road and Kumba-Mamfe Road were subjecting ambulances to search, and at times, patients are pulled out from the ambulances and shot.

Hospitals too have not been spared.  In 2018, the Bingo Baptist Hospital in the Northwest Region was raided by security forces in search of separatist fighters. There was a total commotion when the men in uniform batched into the hospital and started shooting haphazardly.

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Despite the widespread condemnation, the Government maintained a suspicious silence on the incident.  As if that was not enough, same year, the security allegedly stormed the St. Elizabeth Hospital Shisong, and the Banso Baptist hospital and started firing in the air. According to them, they were in search of separatist fighters, whom they were reliably informed were receiving treatment in the two hospitals. But the management of Shisong Hospital later debunked the news about the military raid on the health facility.

During the Pinyin massacre in 2018, two boys who survived the military onslaught and rushed to the hospital for medical attention were pulled out of the hospital, dragged to the road and shot. In early 2019, it took the courage of medical staff at the Mutengene Baptist Hospital to prevent the military from ransacking the entire hospital in search of Amba fighters, whom they claimed were being treated at the hospital.

Some hospitals like the Presbyterian Hospital Manyeme have been forced to shut down because the military has been accusing the hospital of treating separatist fighters. The arson attack on the Kumba District Hospital and the controversy surrounding the burning of the hospital is not unconnected to such heinous crimes. Such acts by security forces are at variance with International Humanitarian Law.

In 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 in response to its deep concern about the acts of violence, attacks, and threats against medical care in armed conflict.

Going by the resolution, all parties to armed conflict – whether State or non-state armed groups – are bound by a strict obligation under International Humanitarian Law to respect and protect medical workers and facilities, as well as the wounded and sick.

The resolution further stipulates that Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances. They can only lose their protection if they commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy.

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 It is also enshrined in the resolution that medical units and transports such as hospitals, clinics, and ambulances exclusively assigned to medical purposes must be respected and protected in all circumstances.

The resolution further holds that the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their conditions. No distinction may be made among them founded on any grounds other than medical ones.

Are our security forces ignorant of this? If they are, it is time to go back to the classrooms. But if it’s sheer bad faith, it is time to Stop the Carnage, Stop the Bloodbath and Stop the Extra-judicial Killings. It’s time to give Peace a Chance 

The Patriot’s Fervent Submission

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