By Andrew Nsoseka
On Sunday, August 22, there was a shooting at a Presbyterian Church, located at Ntanfoang Junction in Bali, Mezam Division of Cameroon’s Northwest region. The incident left a worshipper dead, the church’s Pastor wounded, and another Christian wounded too.
Videos of the incident amateurishly taken by wailing Christians showed a worshiper, identified as Grace Titalabit lying in a pool of her own blood. She was later proclaimed dead. The Church’s Pastor, Rev. Simon Voma Montoh was also shot in the arm. A statement from Cameroon military spokesperson, Navy Captain Cyrille Atonfack, said another Christian was wounded in the foot, as a result of the bullets that were rained on the church during worship hours on that Sunday August 22.
In videos shot on the scene and spread online, the wailing Christians blame the military for the attack. In a statement released on August 23 by the Synod office of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, PCC, the Church though not directly, blamed the military, saying “We therefore condemn in strongest terms this unnecessary and inhuman treatment meted on God’s children by those who are supposed to protect them”.
The PCC’s statement went on to demand unconditional ceasefire “especially on Sundays”. It also went further to request that a proper investigation be conducted by the government, as well as international bodies, for those responsible for the shooting, to be unmasked and made to face the consequences of their action.
On its part, the Ministry of Defence, MINDEF, through a press statement signed by its Communication Officer, Navy Captain, Cyrille Atonfack said the attack on the church was not done by the military.
Taking aim at the Christians who filmed the aftermath of the shooting in the church, MINDEF’s press release acknowledged that the Christians blame the military for the shooting, killing and wounding of some of theirs. In the statement, MINDEF said the attribution of the act to the military, “is nothing but a hoax, an absolute hoax”.
MINDEF blamed the act on separatist elements in the area, Buffalo fighters of Bali. He said government troops on routine patrol on the Batibo-Widikum highway stopped at the Ntanfoang junction, not far from the attacked church. He said the halt was a manoeuvre that surprised the separatists. He said upon the arrival of the military, the separatists detonated an IED, causing havoc among the worshippers, and neighbours in the vicinity. Atonfac further narrates that the fighters escaped and took refuge in different areas including the church and other buildings, before opening fire on advancing soldiers. He said the soldiers did not fire a shot, and that the ballistic evidence showed that the bullet used was not from the military.
On its part, separatist leaders blamed the attack on the military. In a statement released on August 23, Dabney Yerima, a Separatist leader said the attack, which he described as “Despicable cruelty was unleashed by the military of French Cameroon…”
However, both statements from the church and the military, say the shooting started after the detonation of an IED, in the area.
The PC Ntanfoang – Bali incident, was yet another incident, where sites or buildings that are often protected in times of war, have been attacked in the ongoing Anglophone crisis. It was also another incident, where civilians who are not supposed to be targets in the war have been made to suffer its consequences.
Earlier on, on August 20, bullets were also rained on a school compound, St Theresa School, STS in Kumbo. This led to the killing of a class three pupil by name Sinclaire Shalanyuy. Two other pupils were also wounded, and taken to Shisong Catholic Hospital in Kumbo. The military and the separatist fighters pointed accusing fighters at each other.
Similarly, on November 21, 2018, a catholic missionary priest, a Kenyan national was killed when fire was opened on a Church building in Mamfe Diocese by returning soldiers, the church stated. In another related case still blamed on state security forces, a 19-year-old seminarian was also shot dead on church premises in October of 2018.
Separatists on their part have been blamed severally, for violating the sanctuary of schools, where they have sent away students, tortured teachers and used such arenas as operating camps or bases.
The recent attack on the church, and its outcome were in direct affront to human rights which were supposed to be observed and respected by parties in conflict. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 3, says “everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”, but these rights were taken away from the worshippers in their church.
The 1998 Hague Regulations, in its Article 27 outlines that “In sieges and bombardments, all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible, edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity.” This was totally disregarded, when fire was opened on the church full of Christians.
Article (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was also robbed from one of the Christians, Grace who was killed during the attack. The law states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”
This right is further upheld by Cameroon’s Constitution, which in its Preamble says, “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”
Should the state of Cameroon fail to initiate an independent enquiry to investigate the war crime, it will be failing in its duties, as outlined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which in its article 2-1 says, “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognised in the present Covenant..”
It furthers in Article 2-3 , stating that “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes: (a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognised are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
The attack on the church has been condemned by several persons, including politicians like Joshua Osih of the SDF. He descried the act as a crime against humanity.