Cameroon: All MSF staff acquitted in military tribunal
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is extremely relieved at the acquittal of five of our staff, who faced trial in Cameroon, accused of complicity with secession. Four of the staff in question had to endure incarceration for many months.
On 26 December 2021, an MSF nurse and ambulance driver were arrested in Nguti (South-West region of Cameroon), while transporting a patient with a gunshot wound to hospital. After being detained in prison for five months, for the charge of complicity with secessionists, both aid workers were provisionally released in May 2022.
Two other colleagues, a community health worker and assistant field coordinator, were detained in January 2022 under the same charge while another was accused in absentia.
On 1 November 2022, the Buea Military Tribunal ruled “no case to answer”, regarding one of the aid workers in question, citing a lack of evidence. The MSF staff member was released soon after the ruling, having spent 10 months in prison.
Finally, on 29 December, all remaining MSF staff members who had been detained were acquitted – the last of whom was released the following day. A judgement of acquittal was also declared regarding an MSF project coordinator who had been tried in absentia.
"We are enormously satisfied with the judgement that exonerates our five staff members – and, by extension, MSF as an organisation – of any wrongdoing," says Sylvain Groulx, MSF coordinator in central Africa.
MSF deplores the fact that our staff were forced to endure almost a year of imprisonment, which caused untold distress and anguish for them and their families. "MSF has categorically denied any complicity with armed groups or parties to any violent crisis or conflict. Our staff are guided by medical ethics – these accusations were groundless from the first instance, especially as the authorities knew exactly how we were providing medical support," he says.
"Accusing medical personnel for simply doing their job – treating patients in front of them – is simply against all medical and humanitarian ethics and laws," says Groulx.
In May 2022, following the detention of MSF’s four staff members, our teams made the difficult decision to suspend activities in the South-West region of Cameroon. We are keen to restart our much-needed lifesaving services, but basic preconditions must be met to ensure that our medical activities can be conducted in a safe and secure environment, so that patients and staff are protected.
"Despite our attempts to open a channel of dialogue with the government, to ensure our teams can continue vital activities in South-West region, the government has been unresponsive. This has made it difficult to reach an agreement that ensures working conditions guarantee the safety of our teams and patients," says Groulx.
"This prevents us from resuming critical lifesaving medical services, which are desperately needed in the South-West," he says.
MSF teams must be able to provide medical care to every patient in need, in line with medical ethics and following the humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality.
"We remain ready to continue discussions with the Cameroonian authorities to analyse the feasibility of restarting medical and humanitarian activities in South-West region under such preconditions."
In December 2020, authorities suspended MSF medical activities in the North-West region following a series of allegations accusing MSF of supporting local armed groups, which MSF has consistently denied both publicly and in meetings with authorities. This suspension was never lifted and, here as well, MSF remains open to dialogue to restart its medical support for the population.
MSF has worked in Cameroon since 1984 and in the South-West region since 2018. Since 2019, our medical teams in the South-West region have provided more than 400,000 medical consultations, and more than 68,000 consultations in health facilities that we support. In 2021, MSF-supported facilities also assisted 2,284 births. Our ambulance teams, the only emergency referral system in the South-West until activities were suspended, transported more than 8,000 patients for urgent medical care in 2021.