As a concerned observer of international justice, I find myself deeply troubled by recent developments in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The prosecution of Francis Chenyi, Claude Chi and Lam Nestor Langmi (known collectively as the Kansas City 3) raises profound questions about the consistency and fairness of the United States’ approach to its citizens supporting foreign conflicts.

At the heart of this issue lies a glaring discrepancy: Why are U.S. citizens who send financial support to individuals in conflicts in Cameroon treated differently than those aiding present conflicts in Israel and Ukraine, and in the past, against the government of Cuba?

U.S. citizens have not been prosecuted for enlisting or joining the Ukrainian army and fighting in its war against Russia in violation of The Neutrality Act without risk of prosecution.

In the past, the United States also armed and trained individuals on U.S. soil, in Florida, to launch an invasion against the government of Cuba in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 960 and no one was prosecuted.

The U.S. permitted U.S. citizens to be recruited as mercenaries on U.S. soil to fight against the elected government of Angola in 1975-1977 in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 9602 and no one was prosecuted.

The evidence of U.S. citizens fundraising for Israel and Ukraine is indisputable as well. Reports from reputable sources like The Wall Street Journal and Reuters describe the nature of aid being sent — from tactical gear to financial contributions. Aid is also being sent to Israeli citizens to be used for self-defense, especially to those living near Gaza. These acts of support are similar to those of Chi, Chenyi and Langmi for Southern Cameroon citizens, yet they have not attracted the same legal scrutiny. In fact, as Gina Chon noted in a Reuters article in March 2022 titled “War crowdfunding is a weapon that cuts two ways,” regarding crowdfunding for the Ukrainian military: “There’s nothing new about foreigners and diaspora populations contributing amid clashes.”

In fact, there does not appear to be any history of prosecutions based on the provision of aid for military efforts or self-defense in the aforementioned conflicts. The absence of prosecutions in the context of aid to Ukraine and Israel, even when civilian casualties are reported, further underscores this inconsistency. The question arises: Why are Chi, Chenyi and Langmi facing prosecution under U.S. terrorism statutes for supporting what they believe to be a legitimate fight for self-determination in Africa?

As I’ve previously written and is known to the U.S. government and the broader international community, since 2016, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has declared a senseless war on the people and civil society of Southern Cameroons. The three accused men’s families and community are facing a devastating genocide against them in Cameroon. As a result, they have been working in the U.S. to raise funds to support their ailing families. The situation of the Anglophone citizen-fighters in Cameroon, who reportedly took up arms in response to violent government repression of peaceful protests, resonates with the historical narratives of many nations, including the United States. The global community has long recognized the right to self-determination and the legitimacy of resistance against oppressive regimes.

The U.S. government claims that it supports Democracy against totalitarianism yet the United States has supported the government of Biya, a brutal dictator in Cameroon who has been in power over the past 42 years and leads the suppression of the people of the Anglophone region and their legitimate struggle for self-determination.

As a nation founded on the principles of revolution and self-determination, the United States must reflect on its own history. It is imperative to ask whether the current approach in the prosecution of Chi, Chenyi and Langmi, aligns with these principles and the values of fairness and consistency in international justice.

The case of Chi, Chenyi and Langmi calls for a thorough reevaluation of America’s stance on supporting foreign conflicts. It demands a consistent application of justice, devoid of double standards based on geographic or political considerations. Only through such fairness can the United States truly uphold its ideals and maintain its credibility at home and on the global stage.

Lennox S. Hinds is a professor emeritus of law and former chair of the Administration of Justice Program at Rutgers University. He is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court for Yugoslavia, the Permanent International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was Nelson Mandela’s U.S. attorney and counsel in the U.S. to the government of South Africa, the African National Congress of South Africa and of Namibia. He is the permanent representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

Soldiers with the Cameroonian Naval Commando Company participate in a live-fire range under the supervision of U.S. Marines at Isongo Training Area, Limbe, Cameroon, Feb. 18, 2017.

Soldiers with the Cameroonian Naval Commando Company participate in a live-fire range under the supervision of U.S. Marines at Isongo Training Area, Limbe, Cameroon, Feb. 18, 2017. ( Robert Piedra/U.S. Marine Corps)

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