New lawyers’ group fights violence and stigma in Cameroon

A new organization of legal experts has joined the fight for human rights in Cameroon.


From the African Human Rights Media Network


Stephane Aboa, executive coordinator of Défenseurs Sans Frontières

By Steeves Winner

A group of young lawyers and courtroom professionals has founded Defenders Without Borders (Défenseurs Sans Frontières, or DSF), a human rights organization working on behalf of vulnerable Cameroonian citizens, including young women, gay men and lesbians.

It also helps victims of discrimination and torture, people subject to arbitrary arrest, and detainees who lack legal and judicial support. Through education and advocacy, DSF aims reduce the frequency of violence and human rights violations against vulnerable people in Cameroonian society.

Another of its goals is the reduction of unemployment and illiteracy in the LGBTI community. Stephane Aboa, executive coordinator of DSF, says that goal also addresses the problem of LGBTI people forced to turn to prostitution to survive.

Officially recognized in November 2018, DSF began operation in January. Its official registration had been delayed for more than a year by Cameroonian authorities who were hypersensitive about the nation’s human rights situation because of the so-called Anglophone crisis in the north and southwest of Cameroon.

Within its first three months, DSF responded to four rapes and, in one case relocated one of the victims to a reception center for further medical and legal assistance.

Logo of Defenders Without Borders (Défenseurs sans frontières)

In February, DSF presented a sexual violence prevention workshop for about 75 children and a dozen adults at the Bastos Education Center in Yaoundé. The event included:

  • Training in human rights
  • A rights fair
  • An awareness circle
  • Distribution of t-shirts and comics that educated students about sexual violence.

DSF’s work this year also included:

  • An exhibit about human rights and health during the ASCOM communications award ceremonies in February.
  • Helping to organize the celebrations of Youth Day on Feb. 11 and the International Women’s Rights Day on March 8 in coordination with the French cultural assistance agency SCAC and the LGBT rights group Alternatives Cameroun.
  • Training workshops in connection with International  Women’s Right  DAY.
  • A workshop on prevention of gender-based violence in cooperation with Lukmef (the Martin Luther Jr. King Memorial Foundation), based in the English-speaking southwest region of Cameroon.
  • A workshop in coordination with a local lesbian support organization that seeks greater opportunities, improved health care, and basic human rights for lesbians and transgender women.
  • Distribution of HIV prevention materials, including lubricants and male and female condoms, to 83 people, both gay and straight, in Yaoundé.
  • Discussion of possible coordination of activities with the LGBT rights group CAMFAIDS and the Unity human rights watchdog project.
  • A meeting with staff of the American Embassy about a DSF study of sexual exploitation of girls in Yaoundé.
  • A meeting with officials from the Cameroon National Planning Association for Family Welfare (CAMNAFAW) to discuss assistance for sexually exploited girls and to prepare for Women’s RIghts Day.

Aboa says:

“We intend to work with all individuals and other associations that share our approach.

“Together, we can overcome homophobia through an intellectual approach, appropriate behavior and collaborators and intellectual partners, with ideas and proposals to evolve together towards a more intellectual world without violence or discrimination.”

Defenders Without Borders is a non-profit, apolitical, non-denominational and voluntary association. It is open to people without regard to race, creed, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, serological status, political opinion or disability. It is based in Yaoundé.

For more information, contact DSF at [email protected]

 

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]

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