Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced the suspension of its humanitarian activities in Southwest Cameroon as a protest against the government’s failure to release its workers arrested more than three months ago.
The medical charity said, in a statement on Tuesday, April 5, that it intended to work exclusively on securing the safe release of five of its staff after the government had failed to make any progress with their release.
Two of its staff were first arrested while assisting a patient with gunshot wounds at the Nguti checkpoint, Cameroon’s anglophone region, on Dec. 27, 2021.
Then, they were remanded in prison in Buea, at a pre-trial stage, for complicity with secessionism “simply for carrying out their medical duties.”
Another set of two staff members and collaborators were apprehended by the gendarmerie, the armed police force, some weeks after the first arrest.
Despite having followed the humanitarian notification procedures agreed upon with the authorities, the medical charity said, its staff were put under duress.
MSF’s legal representatives had engaged with the Cameroonian authorities and other stakeholders at different levels to provide information and clarity on medical activities and procedures.
A February report about the detentions commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, an independent Cameroonian organisation had concluded that MSF staff members should be exonerated of any wrongdoing, according to the medical charity.
The report had stated that aid workers were acting in accordance with humanitarian principles and that our colleagues should therefore be released immediately.
Yet, the aid workers remained in detention.
For many years, the international medical aid organisation has been providing medical support to every patient in need, in line with medical ethics and international humanitarian law.
But now, MSF said it had been put in an untenable position for choosing to render medical services to people in need regardless of their statuses in Cameroon.
Sylvain Groulx, MSF Operations Manager of programmes in Central Africa said, “On the one hand, our activities are required, and on the other hand, those who provide medical support run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work.”
“In order to fulfill our duty to our patients, we need the basic preconditions in place to allow us to carry out our activities in a safe and secure environment.”
MSF said it was available to continue the dialogue with the authorities to resolve the issue as soon as possible, so that it could resume medical-humanitarian activities.
“To guarantee access to medical care and essential humanitarian aid while ensuring maximum security for our teams and patients, in Cameroon, as elsewhere in the world, our teams are in contact with all armed groups involved, both state and non-state,” said Groulx.
“This can by no means be considered as a lack of impartiality or an act of collusion with any parties to the ongoing violence in the anglophone regions.”
Attacks on aid workers hamper humanitarian response
Development experts say attacks against aid workers disrupt the provision of life-saving assistance and services to people in need.
Cameroon’s Anglophone regions face a serious humanitarian crisis, with over 650,000 internally displaced, and 1.8 million relying on humanitarian aid.
“Humanitarian workers play a vital role, often operating in difficult conditions to alleviate suffering,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch said.
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