'A new low by Cameroon's government'

Neela Ghoshal, HRW researcher (Photo courtesy of HRW)
Neela Ghoshal, chercheuse de HRW

The comments by the official state representative toward the late Eric Lembembe, who is no longer with us to defend himself against such vitriol, represent a new low by Cameroon’s government.

— Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on LGBT rights for Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch this week criticized the government of Cameroon for lies, lack of common sense, inhumanity, and inaction in the face of homophobic violence.

The message that Cameroonian regime sends by rejecting human rights recommendations is that “LGBTI people can be killed with impunity in Cameroon,” Human Rights Watch said.

These are excerpts from the HRW statement:

Cameroon: Official Blames Activist for His Own Murder

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.

Geneva, September 25, 2013) – Cameroon’s ambassador to Geneva, Anatole Nkou, told the United Nations Human Rights Council on September 20, 2013, that a murdered human rights defender was killed because of his “personal life,” Human Rights Watch said today.

Eric Ohena Lembembe was a human rights defender and journalist who focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. The government representative suggested that Lembembe might be a criminal who was killed in a “settling of scores,” despite the authorities’ failure to identify any suspects two months after his death, and despite the high rate of homophobic and transphobic violence in Cameroon.

“The comments by the official state representative toward the late Eric Lembembe, who is no longer with us to defend himself against such vitriol, represent a new low by Cameroon’s government,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. “Cameroon should be focused on improving its human rights record before the UN, instead of blaming the victims and asserting it has no obligation to protect sexual and gender minorities from violence and discrimination.”

Nkou made this statement after his government rejected nearly all recommendations put forward by Human Rights Council member states concerning Cameroon’s need to address violence, discrimination, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTI people. The recommendations were made as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, under which UN member states’ human rights records are reviewed by their peers every four years. Fifteen countries made recommendations to Cameroon for improving its treatment of LGBTI people. Cameroon accepted only one of those recommendations. …

Eric Lembembe (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Eric Lembembe (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have communicated concern to the government of Cameroon that Lembembe’s murder may be linked to his LGBTI rights activism, a concern that Nkou dismissed at the Human Rights Council as a “fantasy.” Nkou said, “He might have committed crimes, and he was the victim of a settling of scores which was all too quickly attributed to the Cameroon government.” Nkou’s conclusion that Lembembe’s “personal life” caused his murder reinforces a message made clear from Cameroon’s rejection of the recommendations: that LGBTI people can be killed with impunity in Cameroon, Human Rights Watch said. …

“In rejecting these common-sense recommendations, Cameroon has failed to uphold the basic principle that every person has the right to life and to security,” Ghoshal said. “It has distanced itself from a growing consensus, voiced by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Human Rights Council, that discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity are never acceptable.”

In a more encouraging move, Cameroon accepted Belgium’s recommendation to investigate police violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. In March, Human Rights Watch, the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, Alternatives-Cameroun, and CAMFAIDS issued a report documenting that security forces torture people to extract confessions concerning same-sex relationships. Cameroon should make good on its commitment and take immediate steps to hold these security officers responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

However, Cameroon rejected recommendations to end arbitrary arrests for consensual same-sex conduct. In response to UN member states’ arguments that Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality law violates its own constitution, as well as international law, Cameroon said that the law targets people who have sex in public, a claim that is patently false. Since the beginning of 2013, at least six people have been convicted for homosexuality; not a single one was caught having sex.

For more information, read the full HRW statement: “Cameroon: Official Blames Activist for His Own Murder.”

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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