By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE
On Thursday October 14, a primary school pupil, Epindiale Carolaise was shot in the head and killed at an irregular Gendarmerie checkpoint, opposite Buea Diocese’s Divine Mercy Co-Cathedral, situated beside the Central Market in Bwitingi in Southwest regional capital, Buea.
The killing which received wide condemnation and even caused a day long protest was unfortunately not the first in Buea, and certainly not a rare one in the ongoing war against separatist fighters in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. Like several other victims who have been killed in similar circumstances, little Carolaise was killed in a situation that was uncalled for.
It again showcased an incident where disproportionate force has been used. It also highlighted an incident where actors in the conflict act with impunity, and disregard for established protocol, because they know they can operate with little or no accountability, since it has not been made a priority.
Though MINDEF tried to justify the act and blame it on a stray bullet resulting from shots meant to immobilise the moving vehicle, it still accepted that its operative went against protocol by firing the gun in such in such a situation.
The killing of the young girl unfortunately also led to another mishap, as the irate population took matters into their hands and administered jungle justice on the officer who killed the child. Like the young girl, the population also took away the life of the Gendarme Officer in another barbaric scene. After killing the officer, the population took the remains of the young girl and paraded the streets of Buea with it. Officers tried to deter them, by mounting barricades to block the crowd, and also firing several warning shots which did not succeed to deter the protesters. They marched to the Southwest Governor’s office where the Governor promised punishment for those involved. The killed child was buried late in the evening of October 14.
Other Similar Incidents in Buea
The killing of the primary school pupil in Buea was unfortunately not the first of such incidents. On August 20, 2021, separatist fighters invaded Muea, and approximately 30 minutes after the separatists’ operation, soldiers came into the quarter, shooting randomly and in the course of it, shot and killed a Full Gospel pastor’s son at a phone repair shop. No excuse or reaction was issued.
Still in Muea, a Gendarme officer, at a mixed control checkpoint at Mile 18 on August 1, 2020, opened fire on a taxi cab, and in the process, shot 28-year-old Evodia Ambi Lakinyo, in her back. The bullet ripped through one of the woman’s kidneys.
Similar to the recent incident in Buea the officer opened fire because the taxi driver refused to stop and bribe ‘settle’ the officers on duty. It is worth noting that in Buea, officers have been ordered against controlling township taxis. The woman in this case was abandoned in the hospital without the officer and his unit taking responsibility for the careless act. Their interest at the hospital, the husband of the victim said, was to take the extracted bullet that was pulled out of the woman’s body by the doctors.
Such acts breach The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Article 3 which says that“everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its article six is also in line with the right to life, as it states thatevery human being has the inherent right to life. “This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” In all the cases cited here, from the young school pupil to the teenage pastor’s son, their right to life deprived because of callous acts.
Even Cameroon’s Constitution in its preamble states that “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”
In the case of the school pupil and woman shot on her way from the market in Muea Buea, the officers involved also broke protocol by using lethal force in a non-threatening situation.
The Ministry of Defence in its press statement on the recent Buea incident claimed that the officer was rather firing warning shots, which by implication should be shots fired in the air. It also further confused people, by saying that the shots were meant to immobilise the vehicle. If they were shots to immobilise the vehicle, they should have been directed to the wheels, and not inside a vehicle carrying children.
The recent case that brought thousands of protesters into streets in Buea has been condemned in and out of Cameroon. Human rights advocate, Barrister Agbor Nkongho said “People’s reaction is not just because a child was killed. This is a frustration with how the police and military treat people in the Southwest and Northwest. They treat people very, very bad here in Buea” He said.