Memorial ceremony held on February 21, 2020 at the Saint Theresia Cathedral l in Kumbo, North-West region, Cameroon, for victims of the Ngarbuh massacre.  © 2020 Private

The trial of three members of security forces accused of involvement in the killings of 21 civilians in Ngarbuh, in Cameroon’s North-West region, is due to resume tomorrow.

The trial, which began on December 17, 2020, and adjourned twice, takes place before the military court in the capital, Yaoundé, about 380 kilometers from Ngarbuh, making it difficult for family members of victims to attend. Family members’ lawyers are concerned about how challenging it is for their clients to participate in the trial, as is their right as civil parties in the case under Cameroon law. They would prefer the trial be held at the military court in Bamenda, closer to Ngarbuh.

“Our clients don’t have the financial means to travel to Yaoundé,” Richard Tamfu, one of the lawyers, told Human Rights Watch. “The court sitting in Bamenda would fit with the key principle of meaningful access to justice, bringing it closer to the victims.”

The attack on the village of Ngarbuh on February 14, 2020, was one of the worst by Cameroonian army soldiers since the crisis in the Anglophone regions began in late 2016. Soldiers killed 21 civilians, including 13 children and a pregnant woman, and burned 5 homes in a reprisal attack aimed at punishing residents suspected of harboring separatist fighters. Two soldiers and a gendarme have been arrested in connection with the massacre and charged with murder, arson, destruction, violence against a pregnant woman, and disobeying orders. Seventeen members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter have also been charged but remain at large.

On February 3, some families of the Ngarbuh victims received food items and 5 million CFA (US $9,000) each as compensation for the destruction of their property from the Governor of the North-West region, on behalf of President Paul Biya, a move criticized by lawyers representing the families who said it is up to the court to decide on reparations.

The participation of victims of gross human rights violations in criminal proceedings is an essential way of giving them a voice. Cameroonian authorities, with the support of international partners, if necessary, should ensure that the victims’ families can attend and participate in the trial so that their rights to justice and reparations are upheld.