Story with a moral: 2 gay tourists, 1 anti-gay merchant

Two tourists in Barbados come across a small protest against the country's buggery law.

Two tourists in Barbados come across a small protest against the country’s buggery law …

Two gay tourists arrived on a cruise in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Aug. 19 and decided to explore the beautiful capital. On their stroll they passed a shop at the same time as a group of local boys who, according to the tourists, looked gay.

The Barbadian shopkeeper hurled homophobic insults at the youngsters and then turned to the tourists and asked if they wanted to come in for a drink.

The visitors indignantly said, “Not from you!”

The shopkeeper was left dumbfounded and with a lot to think about.

The gentlemen saw our little Stand for Equality and Inclusion in front of the Parliament mounted by the brave Barbadian trans* activist, Alexa D V. Strauss-Hoffmann. They decided to join us, and were shocked to learn that Barbados has up to life imprisonment for private consensual male same-gender intimacy.

The moral of the story for Caribbean business people: If you treat local LGBTI people with disrespect, you may be chasing away foreign guests, and business.

... so the tourists join the protest. (Photos courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

… so the tourists join the protest. (Photos courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Posted in Americas, Commentary, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Cameroon: 290 march and pray for human rights

Rassemblement préparatoire pour la marche soutenant les défenseurs des droits humains au Cameroun le 15 juillet 2015. (Photo de CAMFAIDS)

Supporters gather on July 15, 2015, to prepare for that day’s march against violence targeting human rights defenders in Cameroon. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Last month, hundreds of Cameroonians marched in support of the country’s human rights defenders in a protest organized by Camfaids and its partners.

Camfaids (the Cameroonian Foundation for Aids) combats HIV/Aids and works to achieve recognition of the importance of guaranteeing human rights for LGBTI people.

The peaceful march by nearly 300 people was part of a two-day protest against violence targeting defenders of human rights in Cameroon. It was scheduled for July 15 in memory of Eric Ohena Lembembe, the LGBTI rights activist, journalist for this blog, human rights activist and executive director of Camfaids, who was found murdered on that day in 2013.

75 personnes ont visité la tombe du militant/journaliste Éric Lembembe le 14 juillet 2015. (Photo de CAMFAIDS)

A total of 75 people — family, friends and activists — visit the grave of murdered human rights defender / journalist Eric Lembembe on July 14, 2015, as part of the celebration of human rights defenders. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

The commemorative events in support of human rights defenders also included a visit to Lembembe’s grave, a panel discussion attended by 120, and a thanksgiving mass for dozens of people.

The theme of the day was “No to discrimination, assaults and assassinations of defenders of human rights in Cameroonian society. ”

Organizers said that event’s aims were to “challenge the authorities about the poisonous atmosphere surrounding human rights defenders” in Cameroon and to give moral support to the Lembembe family.

The marchers wore T-shirts in Cameroon’s national colors — green, red and yellow — and carried placards and banners bearing messages such as: “Stop violence against human rights defenders,” “Equal safety for all,” “Human rights defenders work with the state in its sovereign mission,” “Defenders fight for life, not for death” and “Rights are innate.”

Before the march started at 7:30 a.m., participants were urged to remain dignified, well-behaved and tolerant, without smoking, drinking alcohol or saying anything provocative.

Because the event organizers had obtained authorization from the prefect of the Mfoundi province, which includes Yaoundé, the march was escorted by police from Yaoundé’s Central Commissariat No. 1, including a police car and an officer on a police motorcycle.

The march was led by officials of Camfaids and by Michel Togue, a Cameroonian lawyer who defends LGBTI people. Among the marchers were members of the Lembembe family and leaders of Cameroonian human rights organizations,  including Trésor Progrès (from Yaoundé), Enfants d’Afrique (Yaoundé), Humanity First (Yaoundé), Cerludhus (Yaoundé), CEPROD (Yaoundé), Affirmative Action (Yaoundé), ADEFHO (from Douala), REDHAC (Douala), Cofenho (Douala), SID’ADO (Douala) and Alternatives Cameroun (Douala).

Des représentants des médias Ariane Télévision, Equinoxe Télévision et Afrique Média ont observés et rapportés sur la marche. (Photo de CAMFAIDS)

Media representatives from Ariane Television, Equinox TV and Media Africa reported on the march. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

 

Two observers from the National Committee for Human Rights and Freedom attended, along with representatives of Ariane Television, Equinox TV and Africa Media.

After the march, the panel discussion was held in the conference hall of the French Institute of Cameroon. The theme was “The Cameroonian defender of human rights in a socio-professional environment.”

The discussion was attended by 121 people, including members of the diplomatic corps, media representatives, leaders of local advocacy groups, and representatives of the National Committee for Human Rights and Freedom. The panel consisted of:

  • Attorney Michel Togue, who explained his own role and that of human rights defenders;
  • Sociologist Dr. Roger Onah, who explained the importance of human rights defenders for society;
  • Elisabeth Benkam, vice president of SOS Racisme and president of the Cameroon Union of Journalists, as an activist;
  • LGBTI activist Lambert Lamba, president of the advocacy group Cerludhus,  who described violence against human rights defenders.
Dans une conférence-débat, Me Michel Togué a expliqué le rôle de défenseurs des droits humains (Photo de CAMFAIDS)

In the panel discussion, attorney Michel Togué explained the role of human rights defenders. (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

Journalist Pondo Prince served as moderator.  Jean Jacques Dissoke was master of ceremonies.

Panelists suggested setting up a study committee that would urge the National Assembly to pass a law to protect human rights defenders.

The conference was covered by several media: radio (Africa 2, Kalak FM, LTM, FM Amplitude), television (TV Ariane, Equinox TV, LTM, Africa Media), and print (Le Messager, Nouvelle Expression, EDEN).

Une messe d’action de grâce a été dite dès 16h à 17h30 au siège de la CAMFAIDS car le regretté Éric Lembembe était d’obédience catholique. Au cours de cette célébration, le prêtre a prié pour le pardon des péchés de toute l’assistance tout en donnant des directives de vie chrétienne. Ce dernier insista sur le pardon et la tolérance envers le prochain car, dit-il« Dieu est miséricorde et est amour » . (Photo de CAMFAIDS)

A thanksgiving mass was held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Camfaids headquarters in recognition of the fact that Lembembe was a faithful Catholic. The priest at the mass prayed for the forgiveness of sins for all in attendance and urged them to live Christian lives. That includes practicing forgiveness and tolerance towards their neighbors, he said, because “God is mercy and love.” (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

 

In addition to Camfaids, partner organizations that organized and supported the events of July 14-15 were:

  • Trésor Progrès
  • Cerludhus (Cercle de Réflexion et de Lutte pour les Droits Humains et contre le Sida; or Circle of Reflection and Combat for Human Rights and Against Aids)
  • Enfants d’Afrique
  • Lady’s Cooperation
  • Goodwill Cameroun
  • CEPROD

The visit to Lembembe’s grave was organized by a committee headed by Angel Olina, president of Trésor Progrès.

The march organizing committee was led by Lambert Lamba, president of Cerludhus.

The panel discussion committee was led by Brice Evina, president of Camfaids.

The committee that arranged for the thanksgiving mass was led by Sandrine Bohn, coordinator of the gender section of Camfaids.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

U.N. makes history; ISIS makes a point of killing more gays

"Islamic State" logo

“Islamic State” logo

I wish activist/analyst Scott Long didn’t seem so instantaneously accurate in his pessimistic prediction about yesterday’s historic U.N. Security Council session, which focused on anti-LGBTI violence perpetrated by the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL.

Today he writes:

“My fear (I wrote two days ago) was that ‘the Security Council will only give more impetus to murder’: that ISIS, provoked by the ill-considered publicity around this move, would slaughter more people. I hope I’ll be disproven; I’d dearly love not to be right. But I’m afraid I am.”

ISIS reportedly threw nine civilians to their deaths from a tall building in Mosul, Iraq, after they were accused of homosexuality.

Long says that the men seem to have been “rounded up quickly [over the weekend] upon some urgent mandate.  It’s hard not to suspect this wave of killing was a pre-emptive answer to Monday’s UN Security Council meeting on gays and ISIS — which was making headlines in both Western and Arab media fully nine days earlier.”

For more information, read Long’s blog post, “New killings: ISIS answers the UN Security Council.”

Posted in Commentary, Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Barbados protests seek repeal of harsh buggery law

Barbadian trans activist Alexa Hoffman prepares for the Flash Stand for Equality and Inclusion on Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Barbadian trans activist Alexa Hoffman prepares for the Flash Stand for Equality and Inclusion on Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

On Wednesday, Aug. 19,  at 11:45 a.m., a small protest was staged outside the Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Organised by local trans* activist Alexa Hoffmann, the demonstration was dubbed a “Flash Stand for Equality and Inclusion.” It lasted for half an hour, and was mounted with the assistance of Jamaican LGBTI human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson. Two days later, on Aug. 21 at 12:05 p.m., the same protest was repeated for approximately 45 minutes and with a greater turnout.

On Aug. 19, in front of the Barbados parliament building, protesters seek the repeal of Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act in their first Flash Stand for Equality and Inclusion. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Tourist Adam Weise observes the Aug. 19 protest in front of the Barbados parliament building, which sought the repeal of Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act. See Weise’s comment (below) in which he describes his discovery of the protest and the decision by him and his husband to join it. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

The message of the protest focused on raising of awareness about Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 1992, which criminalizes any form of anal intercourse (buggery) even if between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom.

The common law enforcement and interpretation of this statute principally targets men who have sex with men (MSM), and contributes to the stigma and discrimination meted out to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Barbados. Under that law, persons who are convicted face up to life imprisonment. However, any attempt to effectively enforce the law risks violation of the privacy of consenting adults. The enforcement and interpretation of the law is discriminatory against MSM, as it would appear that any similar sexual act done between a male and a female, or even two females, would not come as a case before the courts.

In the past, organisations have been formed with the intent of advocating on behalf of the LGBT community. These groups made efforts to raise awareness of the existence and realities of LGBT individuals in mainstream society, and sought to combat the stigma and discrimination which these persons face. However, it would appear that the efforts made by these organisations have proven unsuccessful in effecting any notable social change beyond the general awareness of LGBT existence, and some small level of sensitisation.

As it stands, in spite of persons who say that they either tolerate or “accept” LGBT individuals, there are still many elements of social behaviour that continue to place these persons on a separate and lower level compared to the status quo. There is still a “we-against-they” mentality, and in many cases, the attitude is that LGBT persons should remove themselves from society, or otherwise not draw attention to themselves.

Many opponents of the LGBT advocacy movement have argued that laws like Section 9 have not been actively enforced for some time; however this still does not negate the fact that the laws are still on the books and can be enforced at any time at the discretion of law enforcement agencies. Until such time, MSM individuals are considered “un-apprehended criminals,” according to Tomlinson.

On Aug. 21, again in front of the Barbados parliament building, protesters seek the repeal of Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

On Aug. 21, again in front of the Barbados parliament building, protesters seek the repeal of Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

The Stand for Equality and Inclusion appears to be the first protest of its kind in Barbados. While showing a meagre turnout of less than five persons the first time, and a turnout of seven persons on the second iteration, both protests still drew the attention of passers-by — locals and tourists alike. It allowed for an opportunity to educate some persons on the mechanisms of the Sexual Offences Act, as well as to lay bare some of the social attitudes and realities which LGBT persons face in Barbados.

It also dispelled myths about the “Gay Agenda,” with placards such as “The real gay agenda is equality and love.” Other notable placards displayed during the protests bore slogans such as “Pride and Industry for All,” “Life Imprisonment for Love?” and “Privacy over Section 9,” all juxtaposed between rainbow flags and iterations of the Barbados flag.

According to Hoffmann, the idea of a peaceful protest or march would certainly be a good step forward for any activist or advocacy group in carrying out their work towards equality for sexual minorities, whether it is on a legislative, professional or societal front. While she admits that some objection to this strategy is to be expected from members of society, especially in the wake of recent events in North America, she is stressing that Barbados is “quite far from ready” to deal with matters such as marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples.

“It is more important to work on the social climate now as it regards the treatment of LGBT persons as included, equal members of society, before moving on to anything else,” she says.

For more photos, see Facebook galleries about:

Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

U.N. session on LGBTI killings by ISIS — ‘historic’ or mistake?

"Islamic State" logo

“Islamic State” logo

The U.N. Security Council today held “a historic meeting” — “the first Security Council meeting on LGBT rights,” in the words of Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The goal: to publicize and develop strategies against anti-LGBTI violence perpetrated in Syria and Iraq by the troops of the Islamist State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh and Da’ish.

“It’s of the utmost importance for the Security Council to act urgently,” announced Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, after speaking to the informal closed-door session of the Security Council.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. (Photo courtesy of The Nation)

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. (Photo courtesy of The Nation)

For the sponsors of the meeting, including Power and Cristian Barros Melet, Chile’s U.N. Ambassador, the gathering was an important step toward confronting and neutralizing an enemy that has claimed responsibility for executing at least 30 people accused of sodomy.

For others, the meeting was a waste of time — or worse.

“At best, the meeting will be useless. It’ll lead to that indolent repletion where people feel they’ve acted when they’ve actually done nothing. At worst, it’s going to cause more killings,” wrote Egypt-based activist/analyst Scott Long, who formerly worked for Human Rights Watch. Long stated:

Scott Long (Photo courtesy of HRW)

Scott Long (Photo courtesy of HRW)

“The Obama administration has no real way to counter ISIS’s killings of LGBT people, or most other human rights abuses the group commits. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t talk about the abuses. But it’s vital not to confuse talk with the ability to act. Discussions aren’t ‘historic.’ Change is. It’s cruel to LGBT people whose lives are at risk to celebrate so gushingly a discussion that has little chance of leading to change.

“Does anyone think that, given an easy chance to affirm its law and write its defiance of the Security Council in blood, Da’ish won’t take it?”

(See excerpts below from today’s IGLHRC press release and, below that, Long’s analysis of the Security Council meeting below.)

Historic UN Briefing on LGBT People Focuses on Persecution and Killings in Iraq and Syria

Jessica Stern, executive director of IGLHRC (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

Jessica Stern, executive director of IGLHRC (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

(New York) – During an historic briefing before the U.N. Security Council on violence against LGBT by ISIS, Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), urged world governments to act urgently to support people targeted by extremist persecution and cruel acts in Iraq and Syria.

Stern briefed the Security Council on the violence faced by LGBT people in ISIS-held areas and outlined immediate steps to protect individuals at greatest risk in the region.

At a press briefing following the closed Security Council session, Stern said: “Given the extreme and constant forms of attack against LGBTI people we think it’s of the utmost importance for the Security Council to act urgently.”

During the Security Council session, two men targeted by the Islamic State, one each from Iraq and Syria, also shared their experiences with the Security Council. One of the men “Adnan” spoke by phone to keep his identity unknown, because of security concerns.

A timeline by IGLHRC of alleged killings by ISIS as punishment for sodomy and other crimes of “morality” circulated overhead in the hearing room. View timeline: https://youtu.be/JRA0QD51UH0

Logo d'IGLHRC

IGLHRC logo

Stern urged the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and individual governments to act with urgency to assist individuals, including LGBT people, who are most in need of relocation. She urged the creation of safe houses in Iraq and also urged donor countries to support initiatives supporting psychosocial help for vulnerable individuals.

Stern said: “The heart of my message today is this: the international community must understand anti-LGBTI persecution as a component of how ISIS treats those it labels as ‘impure.’ We must recognize that these threats exist on a continuum of violence and discrimination before, during, and after conflict.”

Stern noted that even before the rise of ISIS and its terror campaign LGBTI people, “LGBTI Iraqis and Syrians have been persecuted by intolerance permeating all aspects of life. It was not only the State that abdicated responsibility: some families would rather harm their own children than see their so-called “honor” besmirched. Some have twisted faith to incite violence.”

Additional documentation and reporting by IGLHRC on violence against LGBTI people in Iraq:

 

The UN Security Council debates gays and ISIS: Why this is a bad idea

By Scott Long

(Excerpts from Long’s analysis on his blog “A Paper Bird.”)

I. Questions

On August 18, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL or by its Arabic acronym, Da’ish) assaulted history. They beheaded an 82-year-old archaeologist, the resident expert on the ruins in the occupied city of Palmyra. Two days earlier, on August 16, Syrian government warplanes assaulted daily life; Assad’s pilots bombed a crowded market in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus. They killed at least 96 people; hundreds more were wounded.

Here is a Google summary of searches worldwide for “Douma” and “Palmyra” over the past week. (I’m sorry for the graphs; they’re dull when so much shiny gore is available online.)

Worldwide Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 10.25.35 PMYou see a small crest of interest in Douma at first, like a stone dropped in a swimming pool; but Palmyra’s a tsunami. And when you look up searches for “Assad” and “ISIS” last week, it’s like a local creek against the Euphrates:

Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 10.33.36 PMStrange disproportion: one death trumps one hundred, depending on who did it. ISIS has become a malignant fetish that crowds out other realities. We live in a world of manifold atrocities; but our minds, hooked like a perverse fanzine, are all Da’ish, all the time.

On Monday at the United Nations, the United States and Chile are hosting an informal meeting of the Security Council, to discuss Da’ish — and how it has “targeted one particular community with seeming impunity and scant international attention: LGBT individuals, and those perceived to be LGBT.” That’s from the US note inviting other states to the session. The meeting will “examine what kinds of protections are needed for LGBT individuals, what the international community needs to do to stop the scourge of prejudice and violence, and – related to this – how to advance equality and dignity, even in conflict zones.” And then the US and Chile “hope to discuss the multiple political, military, and social lines of effort needed to degrade and destroy” ISIS.

I interviewed dozens of LGBT Iraqis in 2009, and I’ve been in contact with scores more since. I’d never deny this is an issue of utmost urgency (just as I don’t scant the horror of an elderly archaeologist’s vicious execution). Refugees from Syria and Iraq will speak at the meeting; their voices deserve to be heard. But who’ll be listening?

Who is this is going to help? If you know Iraq, you have to ask: can Obama really stop the murders? I question the wisdom of letting the US and the Security Council set themselves up now as standard-bearers against these atrocities. How much is this driven by a strategy to help LGBT people, and how much by that uncontrollable tidal wave of fear and fascination over Da’ish that sweeps along governments and NGOs like flotsam, drowning every other event or context? Is there a plan, or is everybody just happy to ride the panic?

At best, the meeting will be useless. It’ll lead to that indolent repletion where people feel they’ve acted when they’ve actually done nothing. At worst, it’s going to cause more killings. …

II. Strategy

NGOs mostly live by words; and the Obama administration shares with them a touching faith that history is made by merely talking about history. “This will be a historic meeting,” American Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told reporters last week. “It will be the first Security Council meeting on LGBT rights.”

The administration went all out in the media for the historic meeting, getting Frank Bruni to promote it in his New York Times column — “American officials involved in it arranged for me to talk” to participants, Bruni wrote. He hit the same notes:

[It’s] the first time that the council has held a meeting of any kind that’s dedicated to the persecution of L.G.B.T. people, according to Samantha Power … And it’s an example, she told me, of a determined push by the United States and other countries to integrate L.G.B.T. rights into all discussions of human rights by international bodies like the U.N.

It’s cheap to make fun of “discussions,” and the things endlessly integrated into them. Remember: “Jaw-jaw always is better than war-war,” said Winston Churchill. On ISIS, though, Obama’s strategy is to try both. He jaw-jaws about human rights, and drops bombs.

The bomb-dropping is pretty much the limit of his abilities on the military side; after the murderous mess the US already made of Iraq, there is neither capacity nor will for any on-the-ground intervention. But the bombs give the US neither control nor leverage over what happens inside territory it thinks of as distant targets. The military action is completely disconnected from the human rights talk. And History, so blithely invoked by Power, suggests the disconnect goes deeper. The massive 1970-73 US bombing campaign against Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge only made the insurgent army more radical, its indifference to human life more drastic.

Moreover, the bombs haven’t worked even in military terms. Da’ish is trying to build state structures in the areas it controls, but it’s quite capable of folding them up like lawn chairs, reverting to guerrilla mode, and melting into the landscape. …

Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan note that ISIS’s defeats come “mainly within enemy [ethnic or sectarian] lines rather than in its geostrategic heartlands across Syria and Iraq.” It overstretches trying to conquer Kurdish or Shi’ite areas; it wins when defending its Sunni empire.

In other words, the Obama administration has no real way to counter ISIS’s killings of LGBT people, or most other human rights abuses the group commits. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t talk about the abuses. But it’s vital not to confuse talk with the ability to act. Discussions aren’t “historic.” Change is. It’s cruel to LGBT people whose lives are at risk to celebrate so gushingly a discussion that has little chance of leading to change.

And there’s where the UN comes in. Since Da’ish captured Mosul fourteen months ago, the Security Council has grappled with a response. The UN is composed of states; it addresses itself to states; it deals with the crimes of insurgent forces mainly by asking states to act.

The difficulty of state action against Da’ish is redoubled when one of the states involved, Syria, itself stands accused of war crimes. The Security Council passed a few resolutions about ISIS in the last year. In August 2014, it called for financial sanctions against Da’ish and al-Nusra (the local face of al-Qaeda). The next month, with great fanfare, at a session spangled with kings and presidents and chaired by Obama personally, it demanded that governments suppress the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.

Another vote, in February 2015, tightened the financial screws by banning all trade with Da’ish, including oil smuggling and the traffic in looted antiquities. Meanwhile, foreign recruits still stream to the Levant. And you can gauge the Security Council’s impact by the fact that Da’ish murdered Khaled al-Assad, the Palmyra archeologist, because he refused to reveal the hiding place of antiquities that would rake in a fortune on the market. The illegal trade rolls on.

Obama chairs Security Council meeting on ISIS and global terrorism, September 24, 2014, with Samantha Power behinf him looking studious, and John Kerry.

Obama chairs Security Council meeting on ISIS and global terrorism, Sept. 24, 2014, with John Kerry and Samantha Power behind him looking studious.

The Security Council certainly isn’t contemplating a resolution on Da’ish and LGBT people; Russia would veto it. Nor is this meeting meant to lead to one. …

In the — purely hypothetical — event that LGBT issues found their way into a US-prompted ICC [International Criminal Court] indictment of ISIS, the contradiction with America’s exemption of itself and exculpation of Israel would be a front-and-center fact throughout the region. A polarization that implicates LGBT lives in power politics, and in the various hypocrisies of US policy, would do little for the safety of LGBT people in Iraq or Syria.

This … isn’t going to lead anywhere. There’s no strategy behind it. So why does the US want it now? I can tell you — in another graph.

Screen shot 2015-08-23 at 5.22.32 AM

That shows web searches for “ISIS” and “gay,” versus “ISIS” and “women,” since the start of 2015. The gays hold their own in this surreal competition most months; the spurts come at the points when shocking photos of executions spread on the web. From a woman’s perspective there are two reasons this race is rigged against her. First, gays form a more cohesive constituency, tuning their attention spans together, unlike the diffuse concerns of feminists and other women. Then come the pictures. Even when the New York Times and Human Rights Watch publish terrible, unbearable testimonies of enslaved Yazidi women, those rouse only gentle undulations on the blue line. They lack the power of photographs, the seduction and sheen of the unspeakable seen, the visual vertigo of identification.

And look at the last spurt, the perfect wave for the gays. That came in July, when a flood of awful execution photos was released. The US government attends to headlines. A month later, Samantha Power called the Security Council meeting.

There should be no competition between women’s rights and LGBT rights. But the imbalance in Google and in the government’s response is telling. In a melancholy analysis of `American failures over ISIS, Peter Harling and Sarah Birke write that the US doesn’t have a strategy — “a set of clearly-defined interests and goals achievable with available means.” It only has a narrative: images and gestures woven into a palliative, invented story.

The US … continues to desperately seek ways not to engage seriously with the region’s problems. It has developed a sophisticated narrative about a war on terror that thinly veils the absence of a genuine strategy. …. This is a reflection of broader, deeper trends in the Western political sphere. The policy- making process is increasingly dominated by public relations, as spectacular events prompt a rush to put out statements … [these] later inspire and constrain practical measures that must be made to fit into a narrative rather than into a strategy.

There’s your Security Council fairy tale. Brave Obama, bold leadership, coalition, noble victims, historic first. It’s a beautiful story: except, of course, that US policy is being made by the photos its enemies put out. It’s also clear whose good will Obama wants: gay Americans’, not gay Syrians’ or Iraqis’. Last month, the President announced a revamp of “strategy” against Da’ish: “shifting focus to counter ISIL’s public relations machine while training local forces to sustain progress made on the ground there.” Less bombing, more hearts and minds. But whose hearts and minds?

When Samantha Power wanted to tell her story about LGBT people’s rights, she didn’t call Al Hayat, or Al Jazeera. She didn’t call any media that people pay attention to in Syria or Iraq. Neither she nor the NGOs she works with tried to “counter ISIL’s public relations machine.” She called the New York Times.

III. Power

If the only problem were Obama’s need for publicity, it wouldn’t matter. I fear, though, that the Security Council will only give more impetus to murder.

ISIS’s appeal is twofold, and it has to do with power. Lewis observes that Da’ish is both an army and a government, “operating in both military and political spheres.” As an army, it holds loyalties because it gives recruits a personal sense of power that life has largely denied them. As a proto-state, it sustains control because it uses power in ways that, however irrational from outside, seem comparatively coherent to many in the chaos of Iraq and Syria.

You assert power by standing up to other powerful people — just as Da’ish’s recruits defy their childhood norms, their governments, and often their families to join the ISIS adventure. For the movement, standing up to the Security Council has no downside; the UN can’t hurt them. To continue a killing campaign that’s been publicly deplored by powerful states in far New York affirms the movement’s own claim to power. Murder says defiantly: Yes, we can. 

The public character of ISIS’s violence asserts an imaginative authority. Harling and Birke explain:

One of the particularities of the movement calling itself the Islamic State is its investment in the phantasmagorical. It has an instinctive understanding of the value of taking its struggle to the realm of the imagination as the best way to compensate for its real-world limits. …

This may explain, in part, how it is increasingly resorting to crimes that are not just horrific but spectacularly staged, such as the immolation of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh or the mise-en-scène of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts on a Libyan beach.

The Islamic State is at its most dangerous in its interaction with the psyche, the fantasies, the frustrations and the fears of others, from the converts it attracts to policy-makers and analysts.

These are ISIS sex slaves, if the Gateway Pundit website is to be believed.

These are ISIS sex slaves, if the Gateway Pundit website is to be believed.

What are these fantasies? That ISIS uses the allure of sex slaves to enlist sex-starved men has become a cliche. “Sexual repression in Muslim communities is the foremost reason behind these terrorist organizations’ popularity,” one analyst says. Sex is “a recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden,” the New York Times agrees. (Never mind that some recruits seem to be seeking sexual repression, not fleeing it.) These pop excuses ignore one of feminism’s important insights: that rape is about power, not just sex. To have a sex slave is to have a slave. Da’ish entices less with orgasms than with the delirium of ownership.

Da’ish’s displays of total power attract recruits who want to share in it. But for populations who live under the Islamic State, what makes it tolerable — even attractive — is that its authority is embodied in a legal system. The militias that plagued Iraq in its years of civil war kidnapped victims; corpses turned up days later, skulls pierced by power drills. The Islamic State reflects the rule of law, by contrast, however abhorrent the laws. The relative bureaucratic rationalization under ISIS is part of its state-building aspiration, and of its appeal. …

Does anyone think that, given an easy chance to affirm its law and write its defiance of the Security Council in blood, Da’ish won’t take it? …

It’s obvious that, however skilled Da’ish is at publicizing its own horrors, the atrocities of Assad’s government dwarf those of the Islamic State. The US and its allies choose to concentrate on the latter, not the former. Partly this is driven by the headlines and the Google searches, by Da’ish’s dominance of the imagination; but it’s also a policy decision. The US believes Assad is on the wane; whereas it sees ISIS as rising, and a major security issue. This may or may not be true, but humanity is utterly at odds with security here. The US does nothing to help Syrians who are dying; and, manipulating ISIS’s death toll as a tool of raison d’état, it does little for Da’ish’s victims either.

Screen shot 2015-08-19 at 11.10.40 PMThis cynicism’s effects show up elsewhere. I live in Egypt, a country where the US has some influence; yet the Obama administration does nothing about arrests and torture of LGBT people – or any of the other human rights violations that have burgeoned under military dictatorship. No … indignation. The contrast with Da’ish is depressing. Egypt is not a “security issue”: or rather, Egypt promotes security by torturing and killing people. Prattle about human security only weakens Egypt’s beneficent work bolstering the safety that counts, that of states in a pliant international order.

Increasingly, Western governments are taking on LGBT issues as their foreign-policy concerns, often, like the US, in a framework of “security.” It’s a good deal for LGBT NGOs based in New York or Geneva. They get recognition, and with it funding and power. It’s not always good for LGBT people on the ground who face danger. Their lives are suddenly tangled up with the politics and schemes of governments thousands of miles away. And they can be reviled, punished, killed in consequence. …

V. What is to be done? 

2014 map of ISIS-controlled territories. (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

2014 map of ISIS-controlled territories. (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

One thing that will surely be jaw-jawed in the Security Council meeting, and one area where it could lead to constructive action, is increased help for LGBT refugees from Syria and Iraq. LGBT people who have fled to other countries in the region — Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt — still face severe threats there. Two months ago in Egypt, a Syrian refugee was entrapped over the Internet, convicted of homosexual conduct, and eventually deported. The UN High Commission for Refugees has done nothing to protect other LGBT refugees in the country.

These people deserve accelerated resettlement to safe countries, and Security Council members would do well to urge that. Yet to say that LGBT refugees should be processed faster doesn’t mean they should be resettled instead of other refugees. If resettlement becomes a competition, where queers get berths and displace persecuted Christians, or Yazidis, or women, the perceived privilege can only deepen hatred of LGBT refugees. The danger is that Western governments who don’t want Syrians or Iraqis will take a small dollop of LGBT ones, then announce they’ve done their duty, and close their doors. I doubt whether the Security Council — whose permanent members, including the US, have woefully avoided their obligations to refugees — will be sensitive to this danger.

Refugee protections, though, won’t solve the situation in Syria and Iraq. International LGBT groups sometimes assume “helping people” simply means “getting them asylum.” Asylum is a vital human right; but, as I wrote two years ago, “Escape substitutes for protection. The asylum system – unwieldy, prejudiced, deeply flawed — serves as the nearest thing we have to a security plan for the international LGBT movement.” As intractable as the situation may seem, a real “historic step” would entail much more than mere discussions, and more than finding victims an escape hatch.

LGBT people’s rights can’t be lopped from the full context of the violence in Iraq and Syria. But this means recognizing the utter failure of the “security”-based solutions the US has promoted. We invaded Iraq at the behest of our own security state. We rebuilt a security state in Baghdad, and it imploded. Another security state sprang up under ISIS (Da’ish, Sarah Birke found, imposes its will mainly “by security services, just as it was under the Baathist regime in Iraq and continues to be in Assad’s Syria”). It may implode too, or its violence may keep it going. But the US, with its CV of disasters, can do little to hasten its disappearance.

Timidly I offer one specific and one general solution — and the US can’t do much about either. Those targeted as the “people of Lot” in Iraq and Syria aren’t large populations. They need places where they can live quietly, without being “out” in any Western way, without daily state harassment, and with some protection from violence in families or communities. They need to be left alone.

To get the governments to leave people alone would entail engaging with Iraqi (and Syrian) opinion on sexuality in ways that no state or international NGO has done so far, and furthering the very limited elite sympathy for LGBT victims that years of violence (especially in Iraq) elicited. It might involve finding tacit enclaves where let-alone policy was possible; parts of pacified Southern Iraq or Kurdistan could do, though such areas, already purged to extirpate diversity, would look with suspicion on Sunni or Arab migrants respectively. It’s all a long shot, but it’s also the best realistic hope for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Protesters carry national flags and an electric fan in Baghdad in August 2015. (Photo courtesy of VOA)

Protesters carry national flags and an electric fan in Baghdad in August 2015. (Photo courtesy of VOA)

More generally, the security model needs to go. Iraqis and Syrians want safety — from Da’ish, from militias, from common criminals, from bomb-mad militaries, and from the corrupt police. They also want governments that protect them from sickness and hunger. This month Iraqis are protesting, in 120-degree heat, for the state to furnish enough electricity to run air conditioners. We need to stop “integrating” welfare into a framework of security issues, and instead see security as a small part of the spectrum of welfare issues. New thinking about the state, a revival of welfare as the goal of government, must emerge from the dust and gore.

“European and American politicians finally have to consider the catastrophic consequences of uncritical general [reliance on] security [rather than welfare as] the basic principle of state activity.” — Giorgio Agamben

The catastrophe is nowhere more evident than in the Arab lands; the imported security-state model brought nothing but disintegration and death. LGBT people are among the innumerable victims. Resort to the Security Council will not help them. Securitizing rights under the aegis of foreign action only pits the victims permanently against the communities they come from. The New York discussions will continue, unstanched, unstoppable. So will the killings.

For more information, see Long’s full blog post, “The UN Security Council debates gays and ISIS: Why this is a bad idea.”

Photos and videos of ISIS/Daesh executions have been omitted from this article in order to limit the sensational publicity that ISIS/Daesh thrives upon.

 

Posted in Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Senegal: No ‘anti-homosexuality’ law? Jail for 7 for gay sex

Senegal's location in Africa.

Senegal’s location in Africa.

Seven men have been sentenced to six months in prison in Senegal after being convicted of homosexual activity in a private apartment.

In discussions with the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2013, the Senegal delegation claimed that no one is punished for homosexuality in Senegal, but only for homosexual activity.

Defense lawyers said that none of the defendants was found engaged in sexual acts.

But in Senegal, prosecutions of LGBTI people are frequently reported.

In this month’s trial, the BBC reported, the court in Dakar was told that “police caught the men having sex during a raid.” The Senegalese newspaper Le Quotidien gave a more detailed, less conclusive account of the police testimony: that two men were found together in an “uncomfortable position” and that five were found naked in the bathroom with one used condom.

Under Article 319 of the Senegalese Penal Code, “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex” is punishable by one to five years in prison and fines of up to 1,500,000 CFA francs (US $2,600 or 2,300 euros).

Senegal map

Senegal map

In 2013, a report by LGBTI rights organizations informed the U.N. Human Rights Council that Article 319 serves as the basis for arbitrary arrests by police. A simple complaint or rumors about homosexuality are enough for arrest. Moreover, the lack of independence of the judiciary and the strong pressure of public opinion based on moral and religious considerations leave the courts ineffective in protecting sexual minorities.

That report was submitted by the organizations ADAMA, AIDES Sénégal, Espoir and Prudence to the Human Rights Council in October 2013.

In response, the Senegal delegation said in 2013 that the country has no law against homosexuality and that Article 319 applies only to acts “against nature.” No one has been imprisoned in Senegal simply for his or her sexual orientation, the delegation said.

According to the BBC, the mother of one of the accused told the authorities her son was gay, but she failed to show up as a prosecution witness at the trial. Defense lawyer Abdoul Daff said the mother’s failure to appear in court should have caused the case to collapse, BBC said.

“There was neither material evidence nor testimony to corroborate the claims,” he said. “So we take note of this and we will see what to do next.”

The men were acquitted of a charge of marijuana possession, according to Le Quotidien.

The newspaper identified the defendants, none more than 30 years old, as Manga Thiam, Ndaraw Mboup, Diogomaye Sène, Mamadou Lamine Sow, Jérôme Do Santos, Massamba Bassène and Seydou Diagne. 

Le Quotidien also reported:

The homeowner, Youssou Diakhate, was away with his wife.

Diogomaye Sène said he had been invited to visit and was taking a nap when the police raided the home, accompanied by his mother. Ndaraw Mboup and Jérôme Do Santos also said they were sleeping when the police arrived.  Massamba Bassène said he was on the stairs at that moment.

Mamadou Lamine Sow, found in possession of a tablet computer containing pornographic films, said he was trying to get it to work. He said he had no idea what the computer contained.

According to police, Mamadou Lamine Sow was found in a room with another young man in an uncomfortable position.

Detectives said they found five young men naked in the bathroom, where there were condoms, one of which is already used, and marijuana joint.

The youths said they were hiding there from police.

The prosecutor said that the defendants were a group of homosexuals who were trying avoid punishment by denying the facts.

“There are acts that our society will never be ready to accept,” he said.

This article was revised on Aug. 24 to remove a statement that Senegal officials claimed that only same-sex intimacy in public is illegal. That mistake was based on an apparent mistranslation of the original statement in French.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Activists failed Roger Mbede; who killed him?

Roger Mbede

Roger Mbede

who was imprisoned in 2011 in anti-gay Cameroon for amorous text messages, was released from prison in 2012 in poor health, and died last year under suspicious circumstances at his family’s home.

These are excerpts from Corey-Boulet’s report on his investigation for Al Jazeera America:

Who killed Roger Mbede?

Mbede became the global face of the fight for gay rights in Cameroon when he was arrested but died alone and in poverty

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon — On the night of July 16, 2012, Roger Mbede walked out of the central prison in Cameroon’s capital city, having served 16 months of a three-year term for violating the country’s anti-gay law. Though Mbede, then 33, had entered prison a nobody, he was emerging an icon, a man whose story had come to exemplify the challenges facing sexual minorities in Cameroon and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The previous year, Mbede had been arrested and convicted under a penal-code provision imposing prison terms of up to five years for same-sex sexual acts. This in itself was not unusual. Cameroonian officials have carried out waves of arrests targeting sexual minorities for the last decade. …

Image of Roger Mbede from Amnesty International campaign on his behalf.

Image of Roger Mbede from Amnesty International campaign on his behalf.

But the specific claims against Mbede were flimsy even by Cameroonian standards. Instead of being accused of having sex with another man, he was arrested on the basis of three amorous text messages he sent to a government official. One of these messages confessed “an attraction to men,” while another declared, “I’ve fallen in love with you.”

In the years leading up to Mbede’s arrest, activists had struggled to attract much attention to the lack of gay rights in Cameroon. It soon became clear that Mbede’s case provided an opportunity to make up for lost time. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience, and the organization’s Write for Rights campaign generated up to 500 letters of support a day from all over the world, according to one of his lawyers, Alice Nkom. Human Rights Watch and All Out, a New York-based advocacy group, also took up the cause.

The international pressure likely contributed to the decision to grant Mbede provisional release while his case was appealed. But he soon realized that any attempt to resume his normal life would be complicated by his newfound notoriety.

Mbede remained the face of gay rights in Cameroon even after he was let out. On the ground, however, in his home village of Ngoumou, he was impoverished and ailing, desperate even for basics such as money for food.

Roger Jean Claude Mbede: "I feel rejected by everyone."

Roger Jean Claude Mbede of Cameroon was sentenced to three years in prison for homosexuality. (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe) Both Mbede and Lembembe are now dead.

 

On Dec. 12, 2013, David Cicilline, the Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, delivered a statement about Mbede in the United States House of Representatives to mark Human Rights Day. “I pledge to continue to follow his story and do what I can to secure his safety,” he said.

Mbede would die a scant month later, his final weeks shrouded in mystery. The news came as a shock to those who had worked on his case. According to the reports, Mbede was held in his village by his family, who were intentionally depriving him of medical treatment. Speaking to The Associated Press, Nkom said, “His family said he was a curse for them and that we should let him die.”

Cameroonian officials have never properly investigated this claim, and the evidence to support it is thin. But the decision by global campaigners mourning Mbede to focus on the family’s role in his death obscured a less dramatic yet still disturbing story — one of an international activist community that placed a high value on the symbolic utility of Mbede’s case but did very little to help him cope with the price of exposure. While Mbede was clearly a casualty of a hateful, homophobic law, a less obvious truth is that activists probably could have, but failed, to save him.

Shouts and insults

Born in Yaoundé in 1979, Mbede never knew his father, and his mother died when he was young. He was raised by an aunt and uncle who had nine children of their own but nonetheless welcomed Mbede into their home on the outskirts of the capital.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede displays the text message that led to his 3-year prison sentence. (Photo courtesy of allout.org)

In a photo for the AllOut campaign, Roger Mbede displays an English version of a text message that led to his 3-year prison sentence. (Photo courtesy of allout.org)

In an interview taped after his release, Mbede said he first realized he was attracted to men when he was around 10. He said he recognized at an early age that homosexuality was widely abhorred and that this prompted him to “fight a battle, a tough battle.” Yet those who knew him, including foreign campaigners and members of the local gay community, say his role as an activist was entirely accidental. No one in the country’s 10 or so active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations seems to have met him prior to his arrest, which was the first time he’d encountered any trouble related to his sexual orientation.

Michel Togué (Photo courtesy of Global Rights)

Michel Togué (Photo courtesy of Global Rights)

The official who eventually denounced Mbede to the police worked at the office of Cameroon’s president, and Mbede met him while applying for a job there. After a brief interview, Mbede sent the man a text message: “I feel a desire to sleep with men and I am attracted by your beauty.” After two subsequent messages from Mbede, the official arranged a meeting, then tipped off the police. Two plainclothes officers arrested Mbede not long after he showed up.

Mbede appeared before judicial officials one week after his arrest. “Everyone in the courtroom started to cry out and insult me — even the judge,” he later told Human Rights Watch. He had no lawyer at his trial the following day. “They didn’t ask me questions,” he said. “When I stood up to go to the bar, it was just shouts and insults.”

The case might never have attracted any publicity had it not been for Michel Togué, the only other local lawyer besides Nkom who regularly defends Cameroonians charged under the anti-gay law. Togué happened to be at the court the day Mbede was sentenced. Before Mbede was transferred from the court to the prison, Togué approached him and asked if he wanted to appeal. Mbede said yes, and Togué filed the next day. (Nkom joined Mbede’s team later.) …

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede urges support for Amnesty International

Roger Mbede with Amnesty International campaign posters.

Yaoundé’s central prison is by all accounts a rough place, and Mbede fared especially poorly. Inmates familiar with his story refused to share a cell with him, and he was often expelled to the courtyard, exposed to the sun and rain, said Lambert Lamba, a Cameroonian activist who became close with Mbede. Some called him “pédé,” a derogatory slang word derived from “pedophile” or “pederast,” and “diaper wearer,” a slur hurled at gay men based on the belief that anal sex renders them incontinent. Guards did little to protect him from violence, Lamba said. At the time of his release, Mbede had a scar on his brow where, he said, he had been hit with a wooden bench.

Mbede’s correspondence from prison suggests he wasn’t eager to embrace a struggle larger than his own. A letter to Nkom written in February 2012, nearly a year after his arrest, indicates he wanted only to keep his head down until his prison term was over.

“It is with eyes filled with tears and a heart completely saddened that I write you this letter,” he began, lamenting that the system seemed stacked against him. “Please go cancel the appeal. I don’t want to suffer any more from constant persecution from my enemies.”

Upon his release, Mbede’s health was his first priority. He underwent badly needed surgery for a testicular hernia, but the procedure was not entirely successful, according to friends and activists. He also tested positive for HIV. It was unclear where he contracted it, and he never got on a treatment plan. …

Commémoration des personnes LGBT morts par homophobie: Alim Mongoche, Eric Ohena Lembembe et Roger Mbede.

Cameroon commemoration in 2014 of deceased gay men who were victims of homophobia: Alim Mongoche, Eric Ohena Lembembe and Roger Mbede.

Fearing for his safety, Mbede moved in with Lamba for three months and then returned to his village. The relocation indicates that he was still figuring out what kind of life he wanted. Though he was primarily attracted to men, he sometimes slept with women and, about 10 years ago, fathered a son. When he returned to the village, he was accompanied by a woman who identified as a lesbian but, in need of a place to stay, had agreed to pose as Mbede’s girlfriend. Mbede told his family he was no longer gay. The woman, who asked not to be named, would become pregnant with Mbede’s second child inside of six months.

‘A bit of negligence’

Thomas Fouquet-Lapar in Paris.

Thomas Fouquet-Lapar in Paris.

In December 2012, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association [ILGA], a global federation pushing for sexual-minority rights, held its world conference in Stockholm, Sweden. By this point, most activists were aware of Mbede’s case and concerned for his welfare. Conference organizers decided to invite Mbede as a “special guest,” knowing he would then seek asylum, according to French activist Thomas Fouquet Lapar. The idea was hatched late, however, and it was not possible to process Mbede’s visa application in time, Lapar said.

On Dec. 17, the day after the conference came to a close, an appeals court upheld Mbede’s verdict. Mbede went into hiding, and his ambiguous legal status complicated subsequent efforts to get him out of Cameroon.

Jean-Eric Nkurikiye, a former Amnesty campaigner who worked on Mbede’s case, believes Mbede’s conviction made it illegal for him to leave, meaning the organization was in no position to help. But Togué, the appeals lawyer, said Cameroonian authorities would have needed to issue a specific order barring Mbede from traveling if they didn’t want him going anywhere. There is no evidence they did so.

Roger Jean-Claude Mbede et avocat Alice Nkom. (Photo d'Amnesty International)

Roger Mbede poses with activist attorney Alice Nkom. (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International)

In late 2012, a regional organization, the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network [REDHAC], drew up budgets for two possible escape plans for Mbede, both of which involved overland travel to Chad to avoid altercations with airport authorities, who were more likely than border officers to stop Mbede. From Chad, he would fly either to Europe or the United States. However, Patience Freida [Patience Mbeh], who works on LGBT issues for the organization, said it lost contact with Mbede while the budgets were being approved. “There was a bit of negligence in this case,” she said. Because members had no news of Mbede, she added, “We said to ourselves, ‘He must be out of danger.’”

In fact, Mbede believed his situation was becoming more precarious. In a January 2013 email to an activist at All Out, he reported having received a letter the previous week — it was apparently “slipped under his door” — that included a threat: “Be very careful and don’t be stupid. You risk losing your life, while those who are encouraging you will remain living.”

Around this time, Lapar, the French activist, turned to Dignity for All, a program run by a consortium of rights organizations that provides emergency assistance to activists and human-rights defenders endangered because of their work on LGBT issues. The program was created in September 2012 and receives significant funding from the U.S. State Department. Generally speaking, while the fund was designed for activists, exceptions for people like Mbede are possible, said senior program officer Mindy Michels. Lapar said Dignity eventually approved Mbede’s case and agreed to provide him with about $5,000, more than enough to pay for his travel, though the money was not disbursed until August 2013.

The plan then was for Mbede to travel to France. Dignity does not provide help with the visa process, however, and the French embassy in Yaoundé dragged its feet. Lapar, who is based in France, said he found little help on the ground in Cameroon as he tried to get Mbede’s papers in order. Local organizations had few resources and little influence, and international groups failed to coordinate their efforts, wasting valuable time.

To Lapar, this inability to mobilize at a time when Mbede was perhaps most in need of assistance reflects poorly on the priorities of global activists. “People can say a lot of things — ‘Oh, we’re so indignant about the sentence that he faced’ — but when it’s just about picking up a phone and calling an ambassador of a country to say we need this guy to be out, no one does it,” he said. “And it’s so easy.”

Final days

Marc Lambert Lamba (Photo courtesy of quijadaproducciones.com)

Marc Lambert Lamba (Photo courtesy of quijadaproducciones.com)

There are competing versions of how Mbede’s final weeks unfolded. In the most widely accepted account, Mbede’s family removed him from the hospital and held him in the village against his will, waiting for him to die. The source of this information is Lamba, who went to the village in early January, days before Mbede’s death, for a visit that quickly turned chaotic.

Soon after Lamba arrived, dozens of people gathered around as members of Mbede’s family questioned Lamba about their relationship as well as the extensive interest in their relative’s case. Lamba felt threatened. Two of Mbede’s cousins had machetes, he said, adding that they kept him there “for nearly 10 hours.”

At no point was Lamba permitted to see Mbede. Lamba said he left the village convinced the family had decided to let Mbede die. Several days after Mbede’s death, Lamba told The Associated Press that, during the course of his visit, family members “said they were going to remove the homosexuality which is in him” — a claim that is central for those who say Mbede’s death was the direct result of his family’s homophobia.

Today, though, Lamba says that because of the general confusion of the scene, he doesn’t remember anyone saying these things in so many words. “Nobody said that explicitly,” he recalled. While his broad claims may be accurate, his version of events appears far from the definitive account activists portray it as being.

Noel, a cousin with whom Mbede was particularly close, provides a different version of what happened. He said he understands why Lamba may have been intimidated during the confrontation. But he said Mbede’s relatives and neighbors were simply trying to understand what was wrong with him to see if there was any way to help. Noel denied his family wanted Mbede dead. To the contrary, he said, they simply couldn’t afford to pay for Mbede’s medical care.

The woman who was posing as Mbede’s girlfriend might have been able to provide an account of Mbede’s final days. However, she had left the village several weeks before, just four days after delivering their daughter. She said she was trying to find a place where Mbede could recover from his illness, since he seemed to be faring poorly at home.

What she does recall, though, undercuts Noel’s claim that Mbede faced no threat in the village. She said she remembers getting a call from Noel a few days before Mbede’s death, warning her to stay away. She said Noel told her there were certain members of his family who thought Mbede was cursed and might harm him. This woman said she is not surprised Noel neglected to disclose this information himself, citing his apparent wish to protect his family’s reputation.

A painting in memory of Roger Mbede hangs in the office of a Cameroonian LGBT organization. (Robbie Corey-Boulet photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

A painting in memory of Roger Mbede hangs in the office of a Cameroonian LGBT organization. (Robbie Corey-Boulet photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Given how much time has passed, and the absence of an official investigation, it may prove impossible to ever determine which story — Lamba’s or Noel’s — is closer to the truth.

Mbede was buried hastily in his family’s village, in a makeshift coffin cobbled together with wooden planks. Noel suggested waiting to see if some of Mbede’s international contacts would send money for a proper service, but the family concluded this was unlikely, given what was being said about them, and they were reluctant to pay to continue keeping his body in the morgue. They decided to just get on with it.

Activists honored him in different ways. All Out organized a “virtual vigil”: a petition calling on world leaders to do away with anti-gay laws. In Cameroon, one LGBT organization has paintings of Mbede hanging in its office. Another named a conference room after him.

These gestures mean little to his relatives and friends, however, one of whom lamented that Mbede was buried “like a dog.” …

Noel said Mbede’s aunt, especially, wonders how someone who became so well-known had, apparently, been forgotten so quickly. “She asks until today, ‘With all the relations he had, with all of his friends, what kind of friends are they?’”

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Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments