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Doctor, Nurse at Catholic Facility in Cameroon Detained for Treating Wounded Militant

St. Elizabeth Catholic Health Centre Bali Nyonga in Cameroon's Bamenda Archdiocese. Credit: St. Francis Xavier Parish Bali Nyonga

A doctor and nurse based at the Catholic Health Centre of Bali Nyonga in Cameroon’s Archdiocese of Bamenda have been detained for treating a member of the Ambazonia Restoration Forces (ARFs), a rebel group that is in conflict with the Cameroonian military.

Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), which is currently monitoring the five-year-old conflict in the Central African country, informed ACI Africa of the arrest on Friday, July 30.

According to the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), a member of the ARFs was brought to the Catholic Health Centre “with life-threatening injuries” in the early hours of July 18.

“The Nurse on duty was threatened to fetch the Doctor or the Health Centre would be burnt down,” the leadership of DHPI said, adding that the Doctor was commanded to go with the ARFs to treat their wounded member.

The following day, the health centre is said to have been invaded by the Cameroonian military who proceeded to search the entire building while others interrogated the matron of the facility, Sr. Patience Bomki, and the members of staff who were present.

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“After conducting the search, the government forces referred the Matron as a liar and revealed that they got intelligence that an ARF was attending to in the health facility,” the officials of DHPI narrate in the July 30 update shared with ACI Africa.

The matron told DHPI that in the course of the questioning, she was forced to admit that the member of the ARFs had been treated in the Health Centre.

However, she told them that so many patients had been attended to on that day who had wounds of one sort or the other.

The matron revealed that she was harassed with some of the military men pointing their rifles at her threateningly.

The matron, DHPI narrates, “went down on her knees and pleaded with them that she and her entire staff were there simply to save lives and work for humanity.”

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The charity foundation further narrates that registers at the health facility were confiscated and after interrogation, Dr. PoO’O Denis who is said to have treated the rebel was ordered into the military vehicle and taken to the police station.

The matron, on the other hand, was instructed to contact the nurse who had received the said patient and get him to present himself at the police station for questioning.  

“The doctor and the nurse were detained and upon inquiry the matron was told that they will be taken to Bamenda for further investigation,” the leadership of DHPI says in the July 30 update shared with ACI Africa.

At the police station, the Parish Priest of St. Francis Xavier Parish Bali was told that a lawsuit had been filed against the doctor and nurse.

The two health practitioners are said to have been taken to Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest Region on July 20 and detained at the police station.

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DHPI says that the Parish Priest of Bali drove to Bamenda and reported the incident to the Archbishop who is said to have dispatched the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Bamenda to check on and follow up the proceedings with the doctor and the nurse in detention.

The Commissioner of the Judicial Police told the Chancellor that the doctor was charged with failure to report to the authorities that he had treated a patient from bullet wounds whereas the nurse was charged with attending to a member of the ARF.  

A lawyer was hired for the detainees and the case was supposed to have had its first mention July 27, DHPI said.

The Catholic peace foundation has condemned the harassment and arrest of staff at the Catholic health facility, noting that the Church exists to serve everyone regardless of their affiliations.

“As this story unfolds, we note that the matron and the staff of the health centre were harassed in the process of interrogation and the patients who watched this action got traumatized from the whole process,” officials of the SACBC entity say.

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They add, “Moreover, following the principles of impartiality and neutrality in International Humanitarian Law, the health institute simply attended to a human being who was in need of medical care. Whether he was a state rebel or not was not supposed to be taken into consideration.”

The arrest and torture, DHPI notes, “is in total disregard of the Geneva Convention of 1949”.

The organization says that the actions from the side of the government are similar to the government’s ban of Doctors Without Borders in the conflict-ridden Northwest and Southwest Regions of the country.