The organization calls for the release of four of its colleagues, unjustly detained
Buea/Yaounde, 05/04/2022. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is officially announcing today the suspension of its humanitarian activities in South-West Cameroon, three months after the detention of four staff members related to MSF’s medical work. After all this time, there has yet to be significant progress in their cases. Therefore, MSF has decided to suspend its activities, effective from the 29th of March, in the South West to exclusively work on securing the safe release of its colleagues.
On the 27th of December 2021, two MSF staff were arrested after the ambulance in which they were transferring a patient with gunshot wounds in need of urgent assistance was stopped at the Nguti (SW Cameroon) checkpoint. Despite the fact that MSF followed the humanitarian notification procedures agreed upon with the authorities, our colleagues were put under arrest and still remain in the pre-trial phase in prison in Buea. They are being investigated of complicity with secessionism simply for carrying out their medical duties.
In the weeks that followed, two other colleagues and collaborators were also arrested by the Gendarmerie. They are receiving legal counselling and MSF is in constant communication with them and their families.
In parallel with the legal procedures, MSF representatives engaged with the Cameroonian authorities and other stakeholders, at different levels by providing information and clarity on our medical activities and procedures to facilitate their release but this did not lead to a significant progress in their cases. Furthermore, in February, an independent Cameroonian organization concluded in a report about the detentions, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, that MSF and its colleagues should be exonerated of any wrongdoing, and that the organization was acting in accordance with its humanitarian principles and that our colleagues should therefore be released immediately.
“We find ourselves in an untenable position: on the one hand our activities are required, and on the other hand those who provide the medical support run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work. In order to fulfil 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,” says Sylvain Groulx, Operations Manager of MSF’s programs in Central Africa. “MSF remains available to continue the dialogue with the authorities to resolve this issue as soon as possible, so that we can resume our medical-humanitarian activities”.
As an international medical organisation, MSF provides impartial medical support to every patient in need, in line with medical ethics, and international humanitarian law. “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 actors involved, both state and non-state”, says 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.”
MSF has been working in Cameroon since 1984. Today, we implement healthcare projects in the Far North, Southwest and in Yaoundé, supporting access to healthcare in communities and hospitals, providing surgical care, malaria treatment, treatment for COVID-19 and health promotion. In 2020, we treated more than one million patients in Cameroon. In December 2020, MSF activities were suspended by the authorities in the North-West region, and we are still in dialogue with them to restart our medical support. MSF was also supporting the MoH in responding to a cholera epidemic raging in the Southwest region of Cameroon. As of this week, MSF won’t have medical operations in any of the anglophone regions of Cameroon.