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Cameroon: Slain activist mourned; the fight continues

Memorial mass for Eric Lembembe. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
Memorial mass for Eric Lembembe. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Ceremony at Eric Lembembe's grave (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
Ceremony at Eric Lembembe’s grave (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Friends and family of activist journalist Eric Ohena Lembembe gathered in Yaoundé earlier this month to mark the one-year anniversary of his murder by celebrating his life and vowing to continue his fight against AIDS and for justice for LGBTI people in Cameroon.
The mass and memorial celebration was held on July 15 at the headquarters of Camfaids (the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS), which Lembembe co-founded and led. The event, organized by Camfaids, began with a wreath-laying ceremony at Lembembe’s grave in the Etoudi cemetery.
Those who gathered for the Eric Lembembe memorial service include (from left to right) Désiré Claude, Lembembe's former boyfriend; Eitel Ella Ella Joris, executive coordinator of Camfaids; and a representative from the U.S. embassy. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
Those who gathered for the Eric Lembembe memorial service include (from left to right) Désiré Claude, Lembembe’s former boyfriend; Eitel Ella Ella Joris, executive coordinator of Camfaids; and a representative from the U.S. embassy. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

It was attended by Lembembe’s mother, his sister, his former boyfriend Désiré Claude, diplomatic representatives from the embassies of the United States and France, LGBTI-friendly attorneys Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, and supporters from allied associations Humanity First, Lady’s Cooperation, and Adepev (Action for the Development and Fulfillment of Vulnerable People), where Lembembe also worked.
A priest from Kong chapel at Essos celebrated the thanksgiving mass, which featured music by the Sacred Heart choir.
Eitel Ella Ella, executive coordinator of Camfaids, welcomed visitors and recounted some of his memories of Lembembe, as did family members, friends, and representatives of Adepev and Humanity First.
Ella Ella said Lembembe was a lively, enthusiastic person who inspired love and respect as a “crown prince of the LGBT community” while his professional achievements made him one of the world’s greatest activists.
The family of Eric Lembembe visits his grave. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
The family of Eric Lembembe visits his grave. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

“We, your comrades and brothers in arms, hold dear the memory of this brave gladiator who died in defense of those who considered him part of their family,” said Ella Ella.
“With your sacrifice, you were able to change people’s attitudes and move mountains that were obstacles to the oppressed.”
Lembembe was the executive director of Camfaids. He worked in collaboration with several Cameroonian human rights and anti-AIDS organizations such as Alternatives Cameroon and the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals (Adefho). He contributed to a Human Rights Watch report on Cameroon in March 2013 and to recommendations made in May 2013 during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cameroon before the U.N. Human Rights Council. He was also a reporter for the blog Erasing 76 Crimes and one of the authors of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”
He was found beaten to death at home in Yaoundé on July 15, 2013.
A year after his murder, investigators have not found his killer. Human rights activists in Cameroon and abroad are calling for a renewed investigation into his death.
Cameroonian authorities’ mishandling of the investigation has been so incompetent and disrespectful that it might lead to new homophobic attacks on innocent LGBTI people by those who conclude that such crimes would not be punished, the activists say.
Mourners at the memorial mass for Eric Lembembe. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
Mourners at the memorial mass for Eric Lembembe. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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