MSF suspends medical activities in southwest Cameroon over ongoing staff detention

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) officially announces the suspension of humanitarian activities in the South West region of Cameroon, three months after the detention of four staff members

MSF on the situation in Cameroon: ‘after their detention, there has still been no significant progress in their cases to secure their release’

“Therefore,” the note reads, “MSF has decided to suspend its medical activities in the South West region from 29 March, to work exclusively to secure the safe release of our colleagues.

On 27 December 2021, two MSF staff members 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 checkpoint (South West region, Cameroon).

Although our team followed the humanitarian notification procedures agreed with the authorities, our colleagues were placed under arrest and remain in prison in Buea, in a pre-trial phase.

They are being investigated for complicity with secessionism for the mere fact of having carried out their medical duties.

In the following weeks, two other MSF colleagues and collaborators were arrested by the gendarmerie (armed police force).

They are receiving legal advice and MSF is in constant communication with them and their families.

In parallel to the legal procedures, MSF representatives engaged with the Cameroonian authorities and other stakeholders at different levels, providing information and clarity on our activities and medical procedures.

This engagement aimed to facilitate their release, but did not lead to significant progress in their cases.

In February, in a report on detentions commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, an independent Cameroonian organisation concluded that MSF and our colleagues should be cleared of any wrongdoing.

The report stated that we were acting in accordance with our humanitarian principles and that our colleagues should therefore be released immediately.”

“We find ourselves in an untenable position,” says Sylvain Groulx, operational director of MSF’s programmes in Central Africa with regard to the situation in Cameroon

“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 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 Groulx.

“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 groups 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.”

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