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Human Rights Defenders: Voices and Challenges

in CAMEROON, 14/11/2013

On Thursday 19th September 2013 at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council, ILGA and FIDH held the panel “Human Rights Defenders: Voices and Challenges”. F.M., from Alternatives Cameroun, shared with the audience the situation of LGBT people in his country.

I would like to thank you all for taking your precious time to come here. It is an honor for me and my colleague M. E. from CAMFAIDS, the other Cameroonin association in the room, to be here and to express ourselves because we do not often have that kind of space and opportunities like this.

I would also like to thank the governments that made recommendations on the situation of LGBT people in Cameroon to our government, and also the embassies in Cameroon which have supported us in the fight.

As you can know Cameroon is one of the 38 African countries where homosexual acts are penalized by law. The social context is characterized by an almost universal sense of homophobia. Homosexuality is sometimes explained as a means of social mobility and a practice that would strengthen the frustrations in Cameroon hit hard by the economic crisis , and precariousness.

The situation has worsened since the UPR of Cameroon in May in which I participated here in Geneva. There has been a resurgence of violence, threats and attacks against LGBT people and their supporters. For example:
- in Yaoundé, the offices of a lawyer who defends those imprisoned on the basis of their homosexuality were ransacked
- The offices of a network of human rights organizations, of which we are members, were also vandalized in Douala.
- Our own center was set on fire by local residents and we cannot work, even up to today
- A national day of struggle against homosexuality (not homophobia, but homosexuality!) was initiated in Cameroon by a homophobic journalist who has created a popular homophobic movement with the tacit support of the police.
- Most tragically, our dear friend and colleague Eric Ohena Lembembe from CAMFAIDS and an LGBT activist and journalist was brutally tortured and murdered at his home.

The list is not exhaustive. Today we are forced to hide for activities we carry out for LGBT people. Even our presence here is a risk to our lives and those around us. A few days ago a leader of the National Human Rights Commission went on radio and suggested that Cameroonian human rights activists who appeal for help abroad shouldn’t expect to be safe when they return to Cameroon. We are thankful that Secretary-General Ban Ki -Moon has warned governments not to harass activists who participate in the UN when return home. We know that at this Council some governments are trying to pass a resolution to help this situation. Please do what you can to help this situation.

The situation that we live in Cameroon is also a contradictory one because the same government that promotes hatred against homosexuals actually does want to take action in favor of the latter. Our Ministry of Health receives funding from the Global Fund to take action in favour of these populations. We work on an HIV program where “Men who have sex with Men”, or MSM, are considered a priority target group by our Ministry of Health as HIV prevalence is so high in the MSM community. The estimate is that 24 % of MSM in Douala and 44% in Yaoundé are HIV positive.

But how can we work in such conditions and lower the rate of HIV infection in the MSM population , when the same government promotes hatred against LGBT persons?
How can we live in a state of law such as Cameroon when police infiltrate gay social networks to falsely friend gay men, track them down and bring them to illegal justice?
We cannot even begin to meet the needs of MSM in Cameroon in terms of both health and human rights. We have very young gay people – under 17 years – who resort to prostitution to survive because they are rejected by their family and wider society. They have no choice but to have unprotected sex to earn a higher fee.

This is how we live in Cameroon. And what about people imprisoned for homosexuality in Cameroon’s over-populated prisons? I cannot even tell you what they are, for it is worse than hell. As soon as a homosexual enters the prison, the prison guards publicly inform other prisoners what they are. You can imagine the trauma after the rape and gang-beatings that occur. You have no other support than organizations like ours who take the time to visit you and cheer you up. Your own family cannot or will not come visit you because it is a great shame for them that you are gay. All those who enter as normal human beings, are deconstructed and face irreversible stigma. They are the wretched of Cameroonian society.

There is also violence against women because of their sexuality and/or gender identity. Nobody talks about it but they exist and are vocal. Just yesterday a lesbian in our organization was beaten by her boyfriend who is the father of her child. He filed a complaint against her lesbianism and threatens to take her custody of her child if she does not change. She will be appearing on 23 October in court. We will work with her to find a defense for her as she lacks means and resources.

Such cases as the one I just mentioned are legion at home, but we do not want to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere. That would take us away from our families and our friends – even if they do sometimes reject us. We want to remain in Cameroon because we're full citizens just like all the other Cameroonians, with consequent rights and duties. If all of us leave, who will remain to develop Africa's infrastructure and build its future?

The situation is very complicated right now because we have elections at home and we do not know how it will turn out. We want to share all this with you because although the situation of LGBT people in Cameroon is alarming, we have no supporters other than you in the international community to advocate for us and put pressure on our government for our rights to be respected and our lives spared.

I could tell you much more but I will stop here.

I cannot end this speech without thanking ILGA for facilitating the presence of my colleague and me at this meeting to let us express our difficulties as human rights defenders and that of the entire Cameroonian LGBT community.
Thousand times thank you Patricia and André and thank you everybody at ILGA.


See also the overview of the panel, click HERE


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