Nations push Guyana to repeal anti-LGBTI laws

Guyana's location in South America

Guyana’s location in South America.  The country is the only nation in South America that’s included in the list of 79 countries with anti-homosexuality laws.

Repression of LGBTI people in Guyana has come under fire from abroad as part of the past year’s United Nations review of countries’ human rights records.

Among countries with anti-gay laws, the past year’s reviews also focused on Grenada, Guinea, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan as part of the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which scrutinizes each country’s human rights record every four years.

Excerpts below focus on to human rights for LGBTI people in Guyana, as compiled from the 21st UPR session by the U.N. Human Rights Council:

Recommendations to Guyana

Five years ago, Guyana had agreed to discuss recommendations that it repeal its law against same-sex intimacy between men. This year, the government reported that discussions of that issue, and of repealing the law against cross-dressing and adding an anti-discrimination law, had taken place in the legislature, in the media, in churches and in other non-government organizations.

Guyana protest march on Jan. 11 seeks justice for increasing numbers of murdered LGBT people. (Photo courtesy of Starbroek News)

Guyana protest march in January 2014 seeks justice for increasing numbers of murdered LGBT people. (Photo courtesy of Starbroek News)

“During this period, there has been free and unfettered freedom of expression by NGOs including the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), religious organizations and the media on these issues,” Guyana’s official representatives said. But, in the end, no laws were  changed.

The government noted that four men who were found guilty of cross-dressing in 2010 are appealing their conviction.  In the process, each man was awarded US $193 because police did not inform them of the reason for their arrest.

The government report added, “Guyana, however, acknowledges that there are interpersonal prejudices based on cultural attitudes and religious beliefs as reflected in a 2013 survey which indicated that 25% of Guyanese are homophobic.”

This year, renewed calls to Guyana for repeal of its homosexuality law and for passage of an anti-discrimination law came from Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Switzerland, the United States, Argentina, Canada, Norway, Spain, Chile, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Colombia.

Guyana accepted the following recommendations:

  • Take measures to ensure that hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are vigorously investigated and appropriately prosecuted (Recommended by the United States of America);
  • Continue its effort in eliminating discrimination against LGBT starting with the review of its related legislation (Recommended by Thailand);
  • Strengthen the protection of LGBT individuals (Recommended by Brazil)

For more information, read:

Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

All mouth, no muscle — anti-gay party in Kenya

Logo of Kenya's tiny Republican Liberty Party.

Logo of Kenya’s tiny Republican Liberty Party.

For a political party so weak that it has no members in parliament, Kenya’s Republican Liberty Party has an amazing knack for grabbing the attention of the media.

The most recent example: The supposed plans for a 5,000-person nude protest if President Obama spoke about LGBTI rights during his recent trip to Kenya.

Obama did exactly that, but protesters were nowhere to be found. Turnout for the “nude protest” — 0.

Before Obama arrived in Kenya, Republican Liberty Party leader Vincent Kidala announced that the protest had been postponed at the request of government officials. He claimed that 3,600 people had already registered to take part in the protest “aimed at showing Obama the differences between a man and a woman,” as if that were in question.

Vincent Kidala (Photo courtesy of Nairobi News)

Republican Liberty Party leader Vincent Kidala (Photo courtesy of Nairobi News)

“Kidala said the protesters will be on stand by in case Obama talks about gay rights during his three-day visit for the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit,” Kenyan newspaper The Star reported in an article about the postponement.

But when Obama discussed LGBTI rights, nothing happened.

Kenyan journalist Denis Nzioka said the protest was cancelled at the last minute. The media had assembled on the morning when it was supposed to be held, but the organizer nowhere to be seen and his phone was off.  He sent a cancellation message later, Nzioka said.

Still, the Republican Liberty Party had unleashed a torrent of free publicity for itself.

  • allAfrica.com: Kenya: Nude Protest Against Homosexuality (AllAfrica.com)
  • Obama To Be Protested By ‘5,000 Naked Prostitutes’ (Huffington Post)
  • Kenyan homophobe leading naked protest against Obama (Pink News)
  • In Kenya, 5,000 naked people will protest Obama’s stance (LGBTQ Nation)
  • Kenya gears for mass nude protest against Obama (Premium Times Nigeria)
  • 5000 nude anti-LGBT protesters to greet Obama in Kenya (Sun Times National)
  • Obama may be met by nude homophobes (Gay NZ)
  • Kenya Hookers Recruited to Stage Nude Anti-Gay Protest for Obama (The Star, Kenya)
  • Kenya: Nude Protest Against Homosexuality Awaits Barack Obama (NewsOK)
  • Meet the man who’ll strip naked in anti-gay protest (Nairobi News)

When nothing came of the promised protest, almost no one remarked how hollow the party’s promises had been.

A similar pattern unfolded last year when the Republican Liberty Party announced a proposal for a crueler anti-homosexuality law than Kenya’s unenforced current law, which allow up to 14 in prison for same-sex intimacy.

The Republican Liberty Party in August 2014 proposed a law that would impose death by stoning as a punishment for same-sex relations between non-Kenyans, with a life sentence as the punishment for Kenyans. That proposal was immediately dismissed by the parliament’s Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

But that did not happen before international media reported extensively on the proposal:

  • Bill to Stone Gays to Death Introduced in Kenya  (Religion Dispatches)
  • Kenya: Draft Bill Proposes Stoning to Death of Gay People (HRC)
  • Kenyan MP proposes ‘Stone the Gays To Death’ Bill (Gay Star News)
  • Kenya: New ‘stone the gays’ law proposed by MPs (PinkNews)
  • Kenya: New Bill Wants Gays Stoned in Public (allAfrica.com)
  • Kenya considers harsh penalties against gays (LGBTQ Nation)
  • This is why I want gays stoned to death (Daily Nation)
Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Uganda Pride: ‘Passionate believer’ tells why it’s important

By Stella Nyanzi

My custom of preparing for Uganda’s Pride activities starts a week before the annual event. Today, I am starting my excited posts about ‪#PrideUganda2015‬. I have posted about each year’s activities, starting with the first one in 2012.

As an ally of the organised political LGBTIQ movement, as well as the social LGBTIQ communities in Uganda, I am also a passionate believer in Pride. Many members of the movement and communities do NOT believe in Pride celebrations; that is their prerogative, their right and their entitlement. For me, I looooove Pride. I am always an ardent participant in the entire program of activities.

Post advertising Pride Uganda 2015

Post advertising Pride Uganda 2015

This year’s logo focuses on family. “We are Family”, the poster announcing Uganda’s 2015 Pride events boldly asserts. Although family values and the heterosexual family are two ideas that are used to alienate homosexuals from society world-over, family is an important construct in Ugandan society.

I am glad that the ‪#‎PrideUgandaTeam‬ chose to look inwards into what Ugandan LGBTIQ people value. Families of origin are important. While some members may reject individuals for their sexual orientation, many other family members offer support, protection and refuge to their homosexual relatives. Familial relationships of Papa, Mzee*, Mama, Auntie, Uncle, Ssenga*, Kojja*, Jaja*, Son, Daughter, Niece and Nephew are recreated within the LGBTIQ communities – offering support to individuals without close family ties. And indeed there are many homosexual people who have families in which they are the household head, or the co-parent.

As an ally of the LGBTIQ community in Uganda, I am fortunate to have been adopted as a Mama, Ssenga*, Sister, Auntie, Daughter, Wife and even Co-Wife by people needing relationship. And thus, I appreciate the centering of family in this year’s Pride events. A luta continua! [“The struggle continues!”]


 

Uganda Pride activitiesIt is important that the Uganda Pride Committee listened to what different members were saying and framed this year’s Pride around family. It is unsettling for many people who may think that family is always oppressive, family is only about the heterosexual family, family is only biological, family values are necessarily anti-queer, etc. etc. etc. I love how the theme causes one to think deeply!

* Translations of Mzee, Ssenga, Kojja, and Jaja

The translations are not straightforward. For me as an observer, I think it is interesting to find that many gay men are actually referred to as Ssenga – which is the title for paternal aunt. AND many senior lesbians are referred to as Papa or Baba or Taata. These three titles are for Father, depending on which local language one is using.

Mzee is a title of respect given to the elderly or someone in authority. It is often given to men, but some women are also referred to as Mzee. It is both Luganda and Kiswahili.

Ssenga is paternal aunt. This title is also often given to people who routinely offer sexual advice, sexual education and sexual mediation for couples having trouble in their relationships. That is the customary role of Ssengas in Buganda.

Kojja is the Luganda title for maternal uncle.

Stella Nyanzi is a Ugandan anthropologist and social science researcher at the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Uganda and  a prolific commentator on Facebook.

 

 

 

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Commentary, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Germany nixes Facebook’s dangerous ‘real names’ policy

Germany regulator Johannes Caspar (Photo courtesy of Berliner-Zeitung.de)

Germany regulator Johannes Caspar (Photo courtesy of Berliner-Zeitung.de)

Government regulators in Germany have ruled against Facebook’s policy of demanding that account holders use their real names — a policy that jeopardizes the lives of LGBTI people in homophobic countries.

As The Guardian reported:

“The Hamburg data protection authority said on Tuesday that the site could not force users to give official ID such as a passport or identity card, nor could it unilaterally change their chosen names to their ‘real’ names on the site.

“Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, said … that the requirement to use a real name violates the rights, enshrined in German law, to use a pseudonym, while requests for digital copies of an official photo ID also contradict the passport and ID card law.”

A more serious problem faces LGBTI Facebook users in anti-gay countries, where public exposure often can lead to violence, prosecution and/or imprisonment. Here are two examples of problems caused by the Facebook policy, as cited in this blog on July 17:

  • Ethiopian activist HappyAddis, who runs some of the most popular online groups for gay Ethiopians, including 1000-member Zega Matters, had his Facebook account blocked because he was not using his legal name. After many people protested, Facebook restored his account [July 16], apparently without explanation.
  • Junior (June) Mayema (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

    Junior (June) Mayema (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

    Junior (June) Mayema left the Democratic Republic of Congo to flee from homophobia and transphobia, but now that he’s in the United States, Facebook forces him to use a legal name that he dislikes and that leaves him exposed to potential harassment.

Often anti-LGBTI harassment triggers the problem for sexual minorities. Their opponents report them for violating the Facebook rule and the company then demands that they reveal their real names.

The Facebook policy has also been challenged by drag queens, trans people and Native Americans who have been required to adopt a government-recognized name “even when that name represents centuries of cultural tradition, as it does for Native Americans, or belonging in an adopted family for marginalized people, as it does for drag queens,” said online activist Nadia Kayyali at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In the online #MyNameIs campaign, “a coalition of drag and other performers, transgender people, Native Americans, immigrants, domestic violence survivors, and our allies” seek “reformation of Facebook’s dangerous and discriminatory ‘real names’ policy.”

Specifically, this group urges Facebook to:

  • Remove an online tool that allows users to report people who use “fake names”: “Facebook has other tools for reporting bad and dangerous activities, including harassment, impersonating someone else, or making unwanted sexual advances.  The ‘fake name’ reporting option punishes users’ identities and is obsolete!
  • Stop asking for IDs: “Many users do not have government issued identification, credit cards, or a piece of paper that reflects their true authentic identity.  Facebook can find a better way to authenticate that users are real and accountable people (not robots or people looking to do harm), such as their ‘trusted contacts’ system which already allows users to access accounts if they forget their password.
  • Create an appeals process: “there should be an easy way to get in touch with Facebook to tell your story and find a solution if things fall through the cracks.  We want to be able to talk to real people, not receive canned responses.”

Transgender Europe welcomed the German ruling, stating:

Social media is a powerful tool to connect, mobilize and let trans people express their true selves around the world. The daily online interaction can be an invaluable lifeline in particular for young trans people, those living in rural areas or otherwise isolated from peer trans folks. Many have to rely on anonymity on the internet to stay safe in their jobs, schools, communities and families.

An official piece of identification matching name, gender identity or gender expression offers little for cross-dressers and people with a non-binary gender identity as rigid rules for adapting ID documents are based on two exclusive options “female” or “male”. In Europe today 22 states request sterilisation in legal gender recognition, de facto barring many trans people from getting such documents.

Richard Kohler (Photo courtesy of LGBT-ep.eu)

Richard Kohler, senior policy officer of Transgender Europe (Photo courtesy of LGBT-ep.eu)

“Yesterday’s decision is very encouraging as it strengthens the right to self-determination and privacy in an increasingly interconnected world,” said  TGEU Senior Policy Officer Richard Köhler.

“The right to self-determination includes the choice of name to present with. It is an important aspect of each person’s right to private life and dignity.”

“Requesting trans people to reveal official names as printed on ID documents is cruel and ignorant of the fact that many states don’t allow for a change of ID at all, or require sterilisation, a mental health diagnosis and/ or divorce for it.”

Köhler continues: “Facebook should immediately stop its “real name” policy that pushes trans and gender variant people out of the net. The use of a pseudonym is not the same as identity fraud and should not be treated as such.”

“As a de facto monopoly Facebook should live up to its own community standards and engage actively against trolls, harassment and hate speech to make the Internet a safer and more equal place for everyone.”

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Europe, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

African LGBTI advocacy group gains official status

Logo of Pan-Africa ILGA

Logo of Pan-Africa ILGA

An Africa-based advocacy group working for continent-wide recognition of  the human rights of LGBTI Africans has won official recognition in South Africa.

Pan-Africa ILGA (PAI), the continent’s regional chapter of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), announced its new official status in the following press release.

In 2014, about 150 African LGBTI activists gathered for a strategy and educational conference that PAI held in Nairobi, Kenya.

Workshops during the conference focused on topics including LGBTIQ refugees, media strategies in the quest for recognition of human rights, organizing on behalf of LGBTI people in rural communities, online advocacy, emotional support for LGBTI people in the Middle East and North Africa, and the needs of French-speaking activists.

Press Statement

 Les délégués de la conférence Pan Africa ILGA au Kenya en Mars 2014. (Photo de Colin Stewart)

Delegates at the Pan Africa ILGA conference in Kenya in March 2014. (Colin Stewart photo)

Pan Africa ILGA (PAI) is pleased to announce that on 22 July 2015 its application for registration as a Non-Profit Organization, under the South African Non Profit Organizations Act, 1997(Act 71 of 1997) was approved and granted.

This tremendous gain will benefit Pan Africa ILGA and all its member organizations working to advance the rights of LGBTI people on the African Continent. Organisations working to advance these rights are often denied official registration in their countries. These restrictions limit their abilities to function as legitimate partners in civil society.

“While the law in South Africa allows for registration of organisations working on LGBTI rights, PAI’s registration and the ruling by the High Court of Kenya allowing for the registration of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission are examples of Africa’s recognition of every minority in the region,” said Anthony Oluoch, secretary to the board of PAI.

We call on other African governments to follow in these footsteps and allow groups and organizations working to advance the rights of minority groups to be registered as well as the excellent example set by the government of Mozambique, which has just recently decriminalised homosexuality in the country.

PAI, through its board and staff commend the South African government for granting this registration and for recognising that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are the cornerstone of LGBTI organizing and advocacy.

PAI will operate from Braamfontein, Johannesburg, from 1st August 2015. This registration status comes at the right time as it will ensure an enabling environment for effective regional advocacy on the continent.

For further enquiries please contact PAI secretariat in Johannesburg : Jacobus Witbooi, Tel: +27721968743, email: jacobus@ilga.org , twitter: @jacobuswitbooi or PAI board: Monica Tabengwa, Tel +2677137973 (Botswana) +27736553686     email: monicat@ilga.org , twitter: @tabengm

PAI  is the African chapter of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. PAI is dedicated to supporting LGBTI organizing in the promotion and protection of LGBTI rights in Africa.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), International pressure for LGBT rights, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Human rights official blasts anti-LGBTI bias in Indonesia

From Indonesia’s Jakarta Post:

Hafid Abbas, former chair of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Hafid Abbas, former chair of Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

The chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Hafid Abbas has called for an end to discrimination and stigma against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, urging the government to issue more supportive regulations.

“They have been marginalized, inflicted with violence, isolation. It cannot be justified. […] We can’t build this country with persistent stigmatization of and discrimination against the LGBT community,” Hafid told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

He said the government had a lot of work to do, one task of which was to have an operational regulation on the treatment of LGBT people as citizens of this country. … “[M]uch of the violence they have suffered is inflicted by legal authorities,” Hafid said.

Currently, Indonesia has no specific law on the protection of the LGBT community except the 1945 Constitution.

[Editor’s note: Indonesia has no national law against homosexual activity, but at least two Indonesian provinces do. In Palembang, South Sumatra, same-sex activity is classified as “prostitution” and is punishable by six months in prison. Aceh province has a Shariah-based criminal code that provides for up to 100 lashes and 100 months in prison for those convicted of same-sex acts, even if consensual.]

Komnas HAM is also calling for more massive information dissemination that the LGBT community is part of the responsibility of the entire society both to protect their rights and to provide recovery programs to heal physical and psychological wounds they are suffering from past abuse.

Forum LGBT Indonesia, a coalition of LGBT individuals, recorded 47 cases of abuse against gay individuals across the country in 2013.These included bullying, physical attacks, verbal abuse and murder, as well as exclusion in the workplace and criminalization. Some of the cases were perpetrated by state actors such as policemen and public order personnel. …

For more information, read the full article in the Jakarta Post.

Posted in Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Asia, Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

LGBTI life improves in homophobic Cameroon

Data collected by the advocacy group CAMFAIDS shows a drop in arrests and imprisonments of LGBTI people in 2013 and again in 2014. (Chart courtesy of Camfaids)

Data collected by the advocacy group Camfaids shows a drop in prosecutions (“poursuites”), cases tried (“affaires jugées”) and convictions (“condamnations”) of LGBTI people in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 2013 and again in 2014. (Chart courtesy of Camfaids)

In Cameroon, the number of prosecutions and convictions of LGBTI people has dropped markedly after years of hard work by local activists and two attorneys advocating for recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people.

Cameroon has not repealed the law known as “347 bis,” which provides for up to five years in prison for same-sex intimacy, but that law is being much less frequently used against LGBTI Cameroonians simply for being gay or lesbian.

In its annual report for 2014, the advocacy group Camfaids (the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS) reported that prosecutions for homosexuality in Yaoundé dropped by 58 percent from 2012 to 2014. During that same period, the number of LGBTI convictions fell even more — from 16 to 4.

Table of data collected by the advocacy group Camfaids  shows a drop in prosecutions ("poursuites") and convictions ("condamnations") of LGBTI people in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 2013 and again in 2014. (Chart courtesy of Camfaids)

Table of data collected by the advocacy group Camfaids shows a drop in prosecutions (“poursuites”) and convictions (“condamnations”) of LGBTI people in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 2013 and again in 2014. (Chart courtesy of Camfaids)

Attorney Alice Nkom, one of two Cameroonian lawyers active in the defense of LGBTI defendants, said that a similar decrease has occurred in the Douala area.

According to observers in Cameroon, the improvement in Cameroon has been caused by:

  • Michel Togué (Photo courtesy of Global Rights)

    Michel Togué (Photo courtesy of Global Rights)

    Intervention by LGBTI-friendly lawyers after each arrest. (In Yaoundé, this work is done by the law firm of Michel Togué, paid through the end of 2014 by a grant that Camfaids received. Nkom has done much the same, primarily in Douala but also Yaoundé.)

  • Advocacy for individual defendants and for the human rights of LGBTI Cameroonians in general by LGBTI rights groups in Cameroon, the national health services organization Camnafaw, several international advocacy groups and even this blog, Erasing 76 Crimes.
  • Advocacy and interventions by representatives of Western embassies.
  • Unpublicized commitments by some government officials in Cameroon to improve the country’s human rights record.

Currently, Togué said, “I have the impression that police officers avoid targeting this offense in their investigations.”

Serge Douomong Yotta, executive director of Affirmative Action in Yaoundé.

Serge Douomong Yotta, executive director of Affirmative Action in Yaoundé.

Serge Douomong Yotta agrees. The executive director of Affirmative Action, an association that fights against HIV / AIDS in Yaoundé’s LGBTI community, he said:

In 2015, everything suggests that we are heading in the right direction. Indeed, we hear less and less about incarceration. In some cases that I know of, the charges have been settled in the police station.

Unlike in the past, Togué said, when LGBTI people are arrested the case does not involve homosexuality, but other offenses — “sometimes it is sexual conduct with a minor, sometimes theft. “

Why the change?

“I could be wrong, but I think that people in the legal system increasingly are showing tolerance, even if those affected have not noticed it,” Togué said. “Perhaps we should put an end to our various denunciations that embarrass political authorities.”

Eitel Ella Ella, executive director of Camfaids (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Eitel Ella Ella, executive director of Camfaids (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Ella Ella J. Eitel, executive director of Camfaids, is not convinced that Cameroonian government officials are in fact working behind the scenes to improve the human rights situation in the country. He said:

“I have seen no specific evidence of that in the field. So far, I have heard public speeches and promises about arrests of LGBT people, but in practice nothing has been done, at least as far as Camfaids knows. ”

The main reasons for a drop in numbers of LGBTI people in court and in prison in Yaoundé on homosexuality charges, he said, are:

  • The effectiveness of interventions by Michel Togué and his law firm after each arrest.
  • Advocacy, legal assistance, and workshops for the LGBTI community, provided by local LGBTI advocacy groups such as Camfaids, Humanity First Cameroon, Affirmative Action, Cerlhudus (a new local LGBTI association created in 2014), Lady’s Cooperation and AVAF (the Association for the Promotion of Women).
  • The hard work of international institutions such as Swiss Lawyers Without Borders and REDHAC (the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa).
  • Articles published by Erasing 76 Crimes.
  • The unpublicized work and commitment of internationals representatives in Cameroon, including the French Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, ​​UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS) and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

For Nkom, improving the lives of LGBTI Cameroonians is a goal she has struggled to achieve for more than 10 years. She was the first Cameroonian lawyer advocating for recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people, and remains the best-known abroad. She said:

Alice Nkom , co-fondateur de l'Association pour défendre les homosexuels ( ADEFHO ) au Cameroun (Photo gracieuseté de ChangingAttitude.org.uk ) Avocat camerounais Alice Nkom a été menacé de violence en raison de sa défense juridique des clients LGBT.

Alice Nkom, co-founder of the Association to Defend Homosexuals (ADEFHO) in Cameroon (Photo courtesy of ChangingAttitude.org.uk)

“The issue of homosexuality in Cameroon, which I’ve been dealing with for a decade, is now known worldwide.

“I pursue this work both as a lawyer and as an advocate for human rights in several associations created for this purpose. This is part of a strategy I developed seeking the goal of decriminalization of homosexuality through the judicial process.

“I welcomed the arrival on the battlefield of many young defenders of LGBT people. They’re so brave that I call them “my heros.” They allow me to work actively and efficiently in court on the last stage of the fight. There I work with renowned international lawyers such as Swiss attorney Saskia Ditisheim, president of Lawyers Without Borders Switzerland; the law offices of Clifford Chance; and the London-based Human Dignity Trust with its famous international lawyers Jonathan Cooper, Téa Braun and more. …

“We have obtained the unfailing support of Western institutions that defend human rights, especially the rights of LGBT people. They are very useful and supportive, passing along our message to places where doors have been slammed in our faces.

Some of this activity is done openly, sometimes very loudly. In other cases, it is done without publicity, when a quiet approach is needed to advance our cause.

“We work like an orchestra, each playing his instrument to produce this beautiful concert. “

Nkom said tolerance for LGBTI people is spreading outward from Douala and Yaoundé to the rest of the country:

“The number of arrests began to fall and trials have become rare in Douala because I live here. In Douala, my ferocious advocacy in this battle is known and feared by all. … Here I am always on the alert.

It is normal that this trend is now continuing throughout Cameroon. That includes Yaoundé, where the orchestra I mentioned works determinedly to replace repression with legally protected LGBT rights.

“That is the mission I have been working on since 2003, when ADEFHO (registered as the Association for the Defense of Homosexuality) was created in Douala, at my own risk.

“I remain open to all who want to bring ideas and constructive actions to this cause which needs all of us, and more, to allow homosexuals to leave the ghetto and become full citizens in Cameroon.”

Logo of Alternatives-Cameroun

Logo of Alternatives-Cameroun

According to Yves Yomb, executive director of the anti-Aids, pro-LGBTI-rights group Alternatives-Cameroon in Douala, arrests of LGBTI people have decreased considerably. “There are virtually no cases of LGBTI people in prison in Douala,” he said.

Patience Mbeh, LGBTI director at REDHAC, says it is “possible” that conditions have improved in Cameroon’s major cities, but that is not the case throughout the nation’s 10 regions.

“To our knowledge several suspected homosexuals are languishing in prisons without legal representation in rural areas (including Edea, where we have evidence),” she said.

Nevertheless, Cameroon is different now from what it was in 2012 and 2013,

  • Journalist/activist Eric Ohena Lembembe of Cameroon, who identified himself as "Eric Ohena" on Facebook, wrote several articles warning LGBTI Cameroonians to beware of online blackmailers. He was murdered in July 2013.

    Journalist/activist Eric Ohena Lembembe wrote several articles warning LGBTI Cameroonians to beware of online blackmailers. He was murdered in July 2013.

    When activist/journalist Eric Lembembe was assassinated,

  • When Roger Mbede was jailed for a romantic text message and later died at his family home without medical care,
  • When a violent mob invaded a celebration of the International Day against Homophobia,
  • When members of the anti-gay Movement of Cameroonian Youth marched through the streets of Yaoundé,
  • When the law offices of Michel Togué were robbed, and
  • When an arsonist struck the offices and clinic of Alternatives-Cameroon.

Serge Douomong Yotta at Affirmative Action cites “beautiful developments in Cameroon,” which create a “positive and progressive image” for the country with regard to LGBT arrests.

Reasons for the change, he said, are interventions by activists and lawyers, but also:

  • The effectiveness of two attorneys — Michel Togué and Jathan Ndongo — working as part of an anti-HIV project run by Camnafaw (the Cameroon National Association for Family Welfare Planning, which is active in the fight against HIV / AIDS). On several occasions, Ndongo’s intervention prevented an LGBT arrestee from being imprisoned.
  • The development of a risk management plan, as part of the same CAMNAFAW project, which teaches LGBT people to avoid risks that could lead to an arrest.
  • Peer education programs and constant contact with diplomatic officials by community action organizations in Yaoundé, such as Humanity First, Affirmative Action and Lady’s Cooperation.

Yves Yomb at Alternatives Cameroon added that the causes of the decline in imprisonments are, in his opinion:

    1. The intervention of lawyers working to defend particular cases. In addition to Michel Togué and Alice Nkom, Saskia Ditisheim of Lawyers Without Borders / Switzerland has also worked on many cases in Cameroon.
    2. Pleas made for years by most groups representing the LGBTI community in Cameroon (Alternatives Cameroon, ADEFHO, Camfaids, Humanity First, Affirmative Action), which have been working since 2007 for the decriminalization of sex between consenting adults of the same sex.
    3. International pressure on Cameroon, which has made Cameroonian authorities a focus for criticism and sometimes forced them to react.
    4. Silent diplomacy by some embassies that have made LGBTI rights central to their diplomatic agenda regarding human rights in Cameroon.
    5. The fact that some aid programs to Cameroon have begun to negotiate locally for human rights, including the rights of LGBTI people.

Despite the improvement of LGBTI life in Cameroon’s major cities, at least regarding arrests and imprisonments, major problems persist.

An unknown number of LGBTI prisoners remain in rural areas, although in Yaoundé, according to Togué, only one remains. That case involves a lesbian convicted not only of violating “347 bis” but also of a sexual offense involving a minor.

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, Cameroon

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, Cameroon

Togué notes that the new Archbishop of Douala, Monsignor Samuel Kleda, does not follow the compassionate example of Pope Francis Pope. Like his colleague, Cameroonian Cardinal Christian Tumi, Kleda has called for war against homosexuality.

Harassment of LGBTI people continues. Only this month, the president of Humanity First Cameroon, Jules Eloundou, returning from a trip to Europe, was briefly kidnapped in an extortion attempt by a policeman at Yaoundé-Nsimalen airport.

On July 22, police at the Medong station in Yaoundé arrested a man on suspicion of homosexuality. They tried to force him to undergo an anal examination, but he refused.

“No, Cameroon has not become more tolerant,” says Yves Yomb of Alternatives-Cameroon:

“If the numbers of LGBTI people in prison have decreased, it’s because LGBTI rights violations have changed. We still encounter many cases of:

  • Scams
  • Blackmail
  • Entrapment
  • Physical violence

and these cases sometimes take place with the complicity of security forces (as was the case of the president of Humanity First at Yaoundé Airport on his return to Cameroon). The victims of these cases, when they dare to complain about the extortion, in turn tend to be accused of homosexuality, since that was the core of the extortioner’s scam. Which means that most of the victims of these cases suffer in silence and just refer cases to associations working with LGBTI. They don’t bring the case to the police.

“Also, newspaper articles and religious sermons continue to be outspoken about homosexuality, which helps to prejudice the general population against us and to pit one against the other. “

At the end of 2014, when the number of LGBTI prisoners in Yaoundé had fallen almost to zero, funding ended for Camfaids’ supportive visits to LGBTI prisoners, for its legal monitoring unit and for legal assistance that helped keep people out of prison. Those services had been funded by the French charity ESTHER.

For the future, Togué said, “Without a monitoring unit, it is difficult to made predictions. In terms of legal assistance through Camfaids, although no funds remain, my office remains on alert for any reported cases.”

Serge Douomong Yotta at Affirmative Action concluded:

“Attitudes are changing. The stakes are high in terms of health prevention and care of HIV among MSM and transgender people. The Global Fund, UNAIDS and PEPFAR [United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] provide technical and financial assistance to help the country deal with all these people. So more and more health authorities — and even members of the public — understand the different challenges of integrating human rights with health.

“But we need more time. I was shocked by what happened to Jules [Eloundou]. Targeted actions to denounce such cases should be developed and carried out.

“But in general, things are going well.”

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, Positive steps, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments