Cameroon tries to blame LGBT activist for his own murder

If you haven’t already contributed to help send Cameroonian activists to the Gambia to press for justice for LGBT people in their violently repressive country, please contribute now to the Indiegogo campaign Justice 4 Eric Lembembe.

Eric Lembembe (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Eric Lembembe

The government of Cameroon last week tried to besmirch the memory of courageous LGBT activist Eric Ohena Lembembe.

His tortured, mutilated body was discovered on July 15 in circumstances that clearly point to a vicious homophobic attack aimed at silencing a strong voice for justice and human rights for LGBT people in Cameroon.

But the government of Cameroon doesn’t want to admit that.  In the government’s first official response to the murder,  Cameroon’s ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, claimed that the descriptions of the murder as a hate crime and a homophobic murder were “just things that have been made up.”

He added, “Look at the details of this person’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Eric’s friends and colleagues have looked at his life, and they understand why he died: He was a threat to the homophobic establishment of the country. He was an outspoken voice for tolerance, for justice and for health for all Cameroonian citizens.  That made him dangerous, but the Cameroonian government won’t admit it.

Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, Cameroonian ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, Cameroonian ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

They associate homosexuality with criminality.  Of Lembembe, the ambassador said, “He might have committed crimes and he was the victim of a settlement of scores which was all too quickly attributed to the Cameroon Government.”

The government pretends not to see any evidence or homophobic motivations for the ongoing violence, harassment, lynchings, extortions, arrests and imprisonment of LGBT people in Cameroon.  Of Lembembe, the ambassador said, “What would be the advantage, the interest in killing somebody who is a homosexual? There would be no point.”

The ambassador’s full comments were as follows:

Cameroon is not heaven; it’s not paradise. No state in the world is a paradise, a heaven. Our world is made up of men and women who are not perfect. Nothing is perfect. But we have undertaken to do everything we can, to use all our strength, to gradually improve human rights.

The world wasn’t created in a day. I still recall what was said by the Foreign Affairs Minister with regard to homosexuality. Twenty years ago, this was absolutely taboo. It could not be spoken about. But with time, things have changed, as a result of which, homosexuality has become a principle.

And I therefore personally regret the overall tone that has suffused some of the comments made about Cameroon who have not seen that in Cameroon the issue of homosexuality is tricky. And as I say, as we have said, repeatedly, for our countries, for our civilizations, homosexuality is an extremely sensitive issue. For our cultures, for our habits. We can’t change matters overnight.

And if you look at statistics, well, we speak about one person who allegedly was a victim of violations because of his homosexuality. But there’s no proof that this gentleman was a victim because of his sexual orientation. He is a man like any other. He might have committed crimes and he was the victim of a settlement of scores which was all too quickly attributed to the Cameroon Government. What would be the advantage, the interest in killing somebody who is a homosexual? There would be no point. No one witnessed him having sexual relations.

The Government in Cameroon, the armed forces, the police, the security forces, has no power, no ability to go and investigate and inquire about what people do in the privacy of their own bedroom – man with man, or man with a woman. So I reject this alleged case of this young man who allegedly was found dead as a result of his homosexuality. Distinguished Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, these are just things that have been made up. Look at the details of this person’s life and you will understand why he died.

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, who worked with Lembembe, expressed outrage at the ambassador’s remarks.

“Homosexuality is not a reason to die in any country,” said Ogle, who is president of the St. Paul Foundation for International Reconciliation.

That foundation is working with Advocates for Human Rights to raise money to help send representatives from Cameroonian human rights organizations to the Gambia next month, where they will push for change at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Ogle said:

We have raised enough funds to sent two representatives to impress upon African leadership these attitudes are not acceptable. Homosexuality is not a reason to die in any country. We are now upping our goal to make sure we have a delegation of at least three Cameroonians to these conferences in October.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

6 Comments

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  1. “And as I say, as we have said, repeatedly, for our countries, for our civilizations, homosexuality is an extremely sensitive issue. For our cultures, for our habits. We can’t change matters overnight.”

    Yes Ambassador but if your Government and the Jamaican Government and so many other Governments continue to hide behind that general sentiment then nothing will change, it’s a cop out and they all know it.

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