Cameroon: MSF suspends activities in Southwest due to unjust detention of four staff members

Cameroon 2022 © Faith Toran/MSF

BUEA/YAOUNDE, Cameroon, April 5, 2022—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is suspending its medical and humanitarian activities in the Southwest region of Cameroon as it calls for the release of four staff members who have been unjustly detained for months. 

On December 27, 2021, two MSF staff members were arrested after the ambulance in which they were transferring a patient with gunshot wounds was stopped at the Nguti checkpoint in the Southwest region. Despite the fact that MSF followed agreed-upon procedures to notify the authorities, the MSF staff members remain in prison in Buea in a pre-trial phase. They are being investigated for complicity with secessionism simply for carrying out their medical duties.  

In the weeks that followed, two other MSF staff members were also arrested by Cameroon's Gendarmerie. They are receiving legal counsel, and MSF is in constant communication with them and their families.    

"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 services run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work," said Sylvain Groulx, operations manager of MSF's programs in Central Africa. "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 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." 

In parallel with the legal procedures, MSF representatives have engaged with the Cameroonian authorities and other stakeholders at different levels by providing information and clarity on our medical activities and procedures to facilitate our staff members' release. However, this has not led to significant progress in their cases. 

In February, an independent Cameroonian organization concluded in a report about the detentions commissioned by the Ministry of Defense that MSF and its staff members should be exonerated of any wrongdoing, that the organization was acting in accordance with its humanitarian principles and that MSF's staff members should therefore be released immediately.   

As an international medical organization, MSF provides impartial medical services 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 nonstate,” Groulx said. "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. MSF works in the Far North, the Southwest and in Yaoundé, supporting access to health care 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 Northwest region, and we are still in dialogue with them to restart our medical services. MSF was also supporting the Ministry of Health in responding to a cholera epidemic raging in the Southwest region of Cameroon. As of this week, all MSF's medical activities in anglophone regions of Cameroon have stopped.