The Colbert Factor:
En Masse Rape of School Girls of Muteff origin confirms Battlefield’s Shift to Women’s Bodies
Inhabitants of the Abassakom area that falls under Fundong Subdivision in the Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon, have since Tuesday May 16, 2023, been in total shock and consternation as some three students of the newly created St.Jude’s Secondary School, Fundong, were brutally raped by a suspected separatist fighter.
The said female students, with ages ranging between 12 and 15, were said to have left their homes in Muteff as early as 5 a.m. that Tuesday morning and were hurriedly transiting through mainland Abuh, to catch up with an early morning class scheduled for 7.30 a.m. at St. Jude’s College in Fundong town, when they were accosted by a dreaded ‘amba’ fighter and forcefully raped, one after the other.
At the time inhabitants of the Abuh community discovered them at dawn, lying helpless on the spot where they were raped and raised alarm bells, some amba fighters rushed to the scene, took the teenage girls to the village health center, to reportedly asked that the consultation bills be charged on them. After the bruises were cleaned up and initial first aid administered by the Health Center staff, the victims were referred to the Fundong District Hospital, for detailed medical attention.
This unfortunate incident comes to add to another, where some three years ago, an amba or separatist fighter killed a girl in the same Muteff, after suspecting her of cheating on him with another fighter. This was after the two fighters have met in the girl’s house the previous night and the suspected cheater had given up by going his way.
The Elephant in the Room:
Last Tuesday’s rape of the three school girls of Muteff origin may seem like an isolated incident, but it is the big elephant in the room. Although most local, national, and international rating organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, have been articulating the fact that the conflict in the two English Speaking Regions of Cameroon remained the most under-reported, the most under-reported issue in the last seven years of conflict has rather been the use of rape and sexual violence as an instrument of war by combatants on both sides.
With nobody willing to talk about it, and with victims (women and girls), shying away from systematically reporting such cases, the atrocities go largely unnoticed. If the women and girls are not forcefully raped by the combatants as obtained with the Muteff girls in Abuh last Tuesday they are intimidated to exchange sex for their safety and those of their family members. A case was reported last year in Fundong where the mother of a girl (who had escaped from the town to avoid the sexual advances of a dreaded uniform officer), was arrested and tortured for failing to disclose the whereabouts of the said daughter.
Women’s Bodies as Battlefield:
There is no gain saying the fact that since the crisis in the two English Speaking regions of Cameroon morphed into an armed conflict in 2017, women’s bodies have unfortunately become the new terrain of conflict. With rape since romanticized by combatants as their new instrument of war, women and girls both in the villages and city centers are veritable subjects of objectification. They have not only been made to lose their bodily autonomy but have been ridiculed by enemy fighters as repositories of their communities’ culture, pride, and tradition.
If it has been established that military men fighting separatist forces in the two English Speaking Regions used rape and gender-based violence to humiliate the men in the amba-friendly communities for claiming to be tough, yet, unable to protect and defend their women and girls, it becomes incomprehensible why those claiming to be freedom fighters turn their “swords” against their own.
Taking the recent Muteff case for example, one could conclude without fear of being contradicted, that the perpetrator of such an act belongs to the old school of thought that children, especially girls, should not go to school. Otherwise, how does one justify the fact that all three girls were raped on their way to school? Additionally, women and girls are also raped and intimidated in the conflict zone in other to maintain control over the communities.
While waiting on hospital authorities to confirm whether the en masse rape of the Muteff girls resulted in any unwanted pregnancies, it is worth noting that the Bamenda-based Global Welfare Association, GLOWA, is pioneering research and documentation on the situation of children born of war (as a result of rape committed by combatants) in the two English Speaking Regions since 2017, disturbing conservative figures of over 1000 children with such status already speak volumes.
Rape as International War Crime:
From October 2000, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 1325 on women and girls’ security and role during and after armed conflict, continuous attention on rape as a form of gendered violence during conflicts, has heightened. Since then, a lot of tools have been developed to enable the civilized world to combat the war on women’s bodies; that is, rape and sexual violence against women and girls during armed conflict.
These tools include humanitarian law, the genocide convention, crimes against humanity, and customary International law; in particular, the rules of “jus cogens” and the Rome Statute. All these acknowledge rape and sexual violence as an international crimes. The procedure at the International Criminal Court, ICC, holds that if the individual combatant who committed the crime cannot be identified, the leader under whose authority the fighter operated would be held criminally responsible for failure to discharge his duties.
One such example dates back to May 7, 1997, after the Rwanda genocide where a rebel general, Tadic, although not found guilty of committing sexual violence himself, was held responsible for his participation in the “general campaign of terror”, which included among other things, rape, torture, and other forms of sexual violence.
While the efforts of the Bamenda-based Center for Advocacy in Gender Equality and Action in Development, CAGEAD must be applauded for working tirelessly over the last few years to bring stakeholders in the Cameroon society to abide by UN Resolution 1325, other women’s groups and civil society organizations across the globe must now stand up; not only to pressure for an immediate end to the raging conflict in the former Southern Cameroons (with mostly women and girls as victims), but also the perpetrators of rape as an instrument of war, to account.
Colbert Gwain is a digital space immigrant, author, radio host, and content creator @TheColbertFactor. He is also a Commitment Maker at @UN Women Generation Equality Actions Coalition. The Colbert Factor is a nonprofit news organization. Our coverage relies on your financial support. If you value analytical write-ups like the one you are reading right now, give them today at 677852476…And you would have supported a free press.