A woman wounded on both legs by separatist fighters in Big Babanki
By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE
On May 18, 2023, an armed group said to be Ambazonia separatist fighters operating in Big Babanki, also known as Kedjom Keku, a community in Tubah Subdivision in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, violently suppressed a women’s protest against exorbitant levies imposed on households by the fighters as a means to fund their war efforts against Cameroonian forces.
Locals complained that the fighters had imposed what they termed “liberation tax” to locals. The fighters allegedly charged men to pay FCFA 10,000 monthly, women FCFA 5000, and children FCFA 500. The locals complained about the exorbitant so-called liberation tax, and women, mostly the elderly, thinking that a protest would make the fighters reconsider the high levies, went on to protest and denounce the ‘tax’ imposed on them.
Instead, the fighters opened fire on the protesting women, wounding some who were later hospitalised. They also abducted scores of others who were taken and detained in their camp. They were just recently released after wide condemnation. The separatist fighters released videos of the women held in their camp. The women, mostly the elderly, were seen scorned by the fighters and described as blacklegs and traitors. The fighters also said they were still to decide what to do with the frightened women.
If there is one thing the Big Babanki incident depicts, it is the failure and collapse of administration in the area, which has created a void for gunmen to exploit and when they get to the extreme like recently, it is to the detriment of the locals. Recently, many atrocities have been committed in the Anglophone Regions, all depicting the failure and lack of effective presence of state infrastructure.
With the war that keeps raging, the government has continually made it a duty to belittle it. But, in some places, administrators have abandoned duty posts because of attacks, which have, at times, led to the killing of some.
This has made many to relocate and abandon their posts and, in some cases, they just maintain a little military presence through outposts that are sometimes overrun by fighters. The incident in Big Babanki depicts the how fatal such collapse of administration could be. By signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cameroon has made an undertaking to respect and guarantee to all individuals inhabiting its territory the right to safety, life and other human rights. This is based on Article 2 (1) of the Convention. As such, their failure to ensure and guarantee the safety of civilians in Big Babanki breached the covenant.
On the part of the supposed separatist fighters, it depicts how fatal the several leaderships that are mostly poorly led can be to the communities. With little education on human rights, the separatist fighters, who are also mostly ignorant on war ethics, tended to believe and that might is right. As such, they see nothing wrong with unduly taxing locals exorbitant amounts and shooting women for protesting against the said amounts.
The fighters also breached Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to life, liberty and the security of person. It furthers that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Cameroon’s Constitution, in its Preamble, stats: “Every person has a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances. Under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”
It also states that: “The Nation shall protect and promote the family which is the natural foundation of human society, in the case of Babanki, the armed men failed to respect the dignity of women, and the state failed to protect the women”.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in its article 2 (2) frowns at torture, stating 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 fighters breached the convention by torturing the women for protesting.
The Senior Divisional Officer for Mezam, Simon Emile Mooh, described the act as barbaric, and urged the locals to collaborate with law enforcement officers. The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, in a statement, also condemned the act and described it as unacceptable. He said the Church he leads is against such violations.
On his part, human rights defender, Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho, said: “The abduction of civilian women not taking any active part in hostilities is clearly a war crime and a crime against humanity. This inhumane and senseless action is a glaring example of terrorizing the civilian population. It is embarrassing that so-called ‘protectors’ of the population are now persecutors of the population”.