Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

An asylum seeker from Uganda covers his head with a paper bag in order to protect his identity. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

Today, the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down that country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which had been signed into law in February of this year. And earlier this summer, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Africa’s regional human rights body, issued a landmark resolution calling on its member states to respect and protect the human rights of sexual minorities. Meanwhile, however, as friends and family of Cameroonian human rights defender Eric Ohena Lembembe recently gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of his brutal murder, the police investigation remains at a standstill.

Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act Struck down on procedural grounds
Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act imposed harsh penalties for “homosexuality” and “aggravated homosexuality,” and even criminalized “aiding and abetting homosexuality” and promoting homosexuality. A Ugandan LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights group has alleged in ongoing proceedings in U.S. court that American Scott Lively played a central role in lobbying for the legislation.

Ten petitioners, including academics, journalists, human rights groups, activists, and members of parliament from the ruling and opposition parties, challenged the law on several grounds, arguing that it violates the privacy and dignity rights enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution, as well as the right to be free from discrimination and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They also argued a procedural point, contending the act was adopted unlawfully because parliament lacked a quorum when it voted on the bill.

The Court considered the procedural argument first, and agreed with the petitioners. The five-judge panel ruled that the speaker of parliament acted unlawfully in allowing the bill to come up for a vote, because there were at least three objections that not enough members of parliament were present. “The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was a quorum,” the court ruled. “We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally.” The vote was unlawful, the court concluded, and therefore the act is null and void.

Because the court ruled on procedural grounds, rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed. The Ugandan government is considering whether to appeal the decision of the Constitutional Court to the Ugandan Supreme Court.

The Advocates and partners mobilize in wake of Cameroonian activist’s murder
Eric Ohena LembembeUganda is not the only country in Africa where laws, the justice system, and societal homophobia endanger LGBTI people and human rights defenders who work on their behalf. In advance of the African Commission’s 54th Ordinary session in October 2013, The Advocates for Human Rights and its partner organizations, Le Reseau des Defenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC), Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and L’Association pour la Defense des Droits des Homosexuels (ADEFHO), submitted a report to the African Commission detailing rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in Cameroon.

The report came on the heels of the brutal torture and murder of Cameroonian human rights defender Eric Ohena Lembembe, executive director of CAMFAIDS. Just weeks before his murder, as the report noted, Lembembe had spoken out about the dangers facing human rights defenders in Cameroon working on behalf of LGBTI people:

“There is no doubt: Anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”

Before the African Commission session, REDHAC and CAMFAIDS also participated in an NGO forum that culminated in an oral presentation to the African Commission and the NGO forum’s adoption of a resolution on violence and human rights violations based on imputed or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. The African Commission’s history-making resolution mirrors the resolution adopted by the NGO forum.

Coalition condemns Cameroonian authorities’ lackluster response to Lembembe’s murder, calls for thorough and fair investigation
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, along with CAMFAIDS, ADEFHO, REDHAC, Alternatives Cameroon, and MDHC, recently denounced the dysfunctional justice system in the case of Lembembe’s murder. One year after the murder, the investigating judge has summoned only Lembembe’s family members. Authorities never took any photographs or fingerprints at the scene of the crime. The medical certificate indicating the nature of the death does not mention the burns and other obvious injuries visible on Lembembe’s body. In what seems to be an attempt at intimidation, several of Lembembe’s friends and family members were placed in police custody early in the investigation.

Coalition members fear that the attitude of the police and judiciary authorities in the investigation reflects those institutions’ disregard for the respect and protection of LGBTI people’s human rights in Cameroon. “The Cameroonian authorities’ inertia in this case is all the more worrying that it might reinforce the sentiment of impunity of the authors of the crimes and persecutions against LGBTI people, and feed the stigma and discrimination against these people and the defenders of their rights,” added Michel Togue, a Cameroonian lawyer and Legal Advisor for CAMFAIDS.

The coalition renewed its call for Cameroonian authorities to conduct an independent, effective, rigorous, impartial, and transparent investigation in order to identify the perpetrators, bring them before an independent, competent, and impartial court in accordance with international and regional human rights protection instruments, and to apply criminal, civil, and/or administrative sanctions as provided for by the law.

African Commission’s landmark resolution condemns anti-LGBTI violence on the continent, calls for end to impunity
The African Commission’s resolution is particularly timely in light of the breakdown in the investigation into Lembembe’s murder. The Resolution on Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity  unequivocally confirms that violence and human rights abuses directed at individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity breach the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This is the Commission’s first official resolution on the issue of LGBTI human rights.

The Commission expresses alarm at the ongoing violence, abuse, and discrimination against sexual minorities by state and non-state actors as well as the failure of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. The Commission directs state parties to the African Charter to comply with their obligations to protect all Africans from human rights abuses and violence and urges them to enact and enforce laws to prohibit and punish violence directed at the LGBTI community and its defenders.

Laws and public attitudes in many African countries reflect and foster widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
The African Commission is responsible for setting the human rights standards to be observed by states that have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; essentially every African country except South Sudan and Morocco. A significant number of those states outlaw same-sex activity, and African governments continue to enact new repressive legislation, such as the Anti-Homosexuality Act that the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down today.

In January, the president of Nigeria signed a law that mandates a 14-year prison sentence for anyone entering a same-sex union and a 10-year term for anyone “who supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings.” “Supporters” would include health centers providing treatment and counseling for AIDS and other health concerns as well as civil society organizations and human rights defenders. The potential impact on HIV transmission and treatment alone is tremendous, yet public opinion appears to favor these laws.

According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than 90 percent of the population in Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Senegal consider same sex activity “unacceptable,” according to The Global Divide on Homosexuality. Over the past year, reports of mob violence, murder, rape, assault, arbitrary arrests, and detention have increased.

African Commission on Human and People's RightsAfrican Commission Resolution is groundbreaking step toward tolerance
In this context, the resolution is especially meaningful and groundbreaking. Taking a firm stand against the widespread intolerance of non-conforming sexual minorities, the Commission has articulated a legal basis for the protection against discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and advised its member states that their commitments to universal equality under the African Charter require them to respect the human rights of sexual minorities.

The resolution states:

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), meeting at its 55th Ordinary Session held in Luanda, Angola, from 28 April to 12 May 2014:

Recalling that Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) prohibits discrimination of the individual on the basis of distinctions of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status;

Further recalling that Article 3 of the African Charter entitles every individual to equal protection of the law;

Noting that Articles 4 and 5 of the African Charter entitle every individual to respect of their life and the integrity of their person, and prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment;

Alarmed that acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity;

Noting that such violence includes ‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail;

Further alarmed at the incidence of violence and human rights violations and abuses by State and non-State actors targeting human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in Africa;

Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by State and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;

Deeply disturbed by the failure of law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence and other human rights violations targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;

  1. Condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, arbitrary imprisonment and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;
  2. Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by State and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;
  3. Calls on State Parties to ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including the rights of sexual minorities; and
  4. Strongly urges States to end all acts of violence and abuse, whether committed by State or non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims.

Adopted at the 55th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Luanda, Angola, 28 April to
12 May 2014.

Julie Shelton
Julie Shelton

By Julie Shelton and Amy Bergquist. Guest-blogger Julie Shelton was the team leader on The Advocates for Human Rights’ trip to Cameroon in February 2013. The team conducted a pro bono needs assessment with over 35 Cameroonian organizations that work to promote human rights and rule of law. Shelton led the project to draft the shadow report to the African Commission on LGBTI rights in Cameroon. She was honored for her volunteer work on June 25 at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner.

More from The Advocates Post on LGBTI rights in Africa:

Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies for Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Top photo: Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review
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Minnesota Oromos and allies rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 9

When students in Ethiopia started protesting last month against the Ethiopian Government’s proposal to annex territory from the state of Oromia to facilitate the expansion of the capital city Addis Ababa, diasporans mobilized to show their solidarity. As federal “Agazi” security forces cracked down, opening fire on peaceful protesters, placing students on lock-down in their dormitories, and conducting mass arrests, Oromos around the world staged rallies and hunger strikes to raise international awareness and to call on the governments of the countries where they live to withhold aid and put pressure on the Ethiopian Government to respect human rights.

In the first three posts in this series, I discussed the Oromo diaspora’s mobilization to shed light on the human rights violations on the ground, the sharp criticism the government of Ethiopia faced during the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, and the steps the Oromo diaspora in Minnesota is taking to show solidarity and press for accountability in Ethiopia. This final post tells some of the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and also covers the Ethiopian government’s formal response to the UN review and offers some suggestions for next steps.

Not “voiceless,” but deliberately silenced by Ethiopian government
“We need to be a voice for the voiceless” has been a common refrain from the diaspora. But in my view, the students and others who are protesting in Ethiopia are far from voiceless. They have been bravely marching, placing their lives and academic careers on the line, to express their opposition to the government’s “Integrated Development Master Plan for Addis Ababa.” In the words of 2004 Sydney Peace Prize winner Arundhati Roy, “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

The government controls the media and telecommunications in Ethiopia, effectively placing a stranglehold on open debate and criticism of the government. Historically, efforts by western media, including CNN, to cover events on the ground in Ethiopia have been stymied. The government’s repression and intimidation also create obstacles for independent journalists trying to cover the story from outside the country. I spoke with one U.S.-based reporter who covers the Horn of Africa, and he explained that when he tried to confirm casualty reports, hospital personnel in Ethiopia refused to speak to him, fearing for their jobs.

https://www.oromiamedia.org/The Oromia Media Network (OMN), a Minnesota-based satellite news network that has been covering the student protests, offering commentary, and dedicating attention to the diaspora response, reported that on May 2, the Ethiopian government blocked access to its website, and on May 13,  began jamming OMN’s satellite transmission. Oromos in Ethiopia have turned to the OMN Facebook page, urging, “Please send us a new frequency.”

The Ethiopian government even attempts to silence social media. One Oromo messaged me on Facebook from an internet cafe in Addis Ababa, but he said that he didn’t feel safe going into too much detail, fearing that the government or people in the cafe were monitoring his communications.

He’s not being paranoid, and the OMN experience is nothing new. The government has used its monopoly control over telecommunications to conduct surveillance of regime opponents, as well as to block websites of opposition groups, media sites, and bloggers. Speaking of bloggers critical of the Ethiopian government, since The Advocates for Human Rights launched this blog series on May 5, I’ve been pleased to see a huge spike in visitors from Ethiopia. We’ve had over 700 views from Ethiopia, and so far there’s no sign that the government is blocking access to The Advocates Post. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

On May 5, I had a conversation with an Oromo in London who had just spoken with his sister, who the day before had fled to Addis Ababa from Madawalabu University in Bale Robe. She reported that the military had started beating students who were demonstrating at the university. She told her brother that students were unable to get the word out because cell phone and internet service had been turned off. She saw forces kill one student, but feared that there were more casualties. She was able to share the news with her brother only because she had fled 430 kilometers (267 miles) to the capital, where the phones hadn’t been shut off.

New reports that Ethiopian government is inciting inter-ethnic violence
I’ve read reports on social media that the Ethiopian government is provoking inter-ethnic violence by spreading false reports of attacks and planned attacks. With no independent media, it’s safe to conclude that

Flags of the Oromo and Ogaden people were on display at the May 9 rally in St. Paul, Minnesota
Flags of the Oromo and Ogaden people were on display at the May 9 rally in St. Paul, Minnesota

any reports on official media outlets in Ethiopia reflect the government’s efforts to shape perceptions of reality. When a vacuum exists where independent media should be, rumors—some likely fed by the government—can create fear and misunderstanding.

Outside Ethiopia, diasporans are actively combating efforts to divide opposition voices along ethnic lines. At the three-day rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in the United States, flags of the Ogaden ethnic group were proudly displayed beside Oromo flags. One of the chants was “Oromo, Ogaden, united, we’ll never be defeated!” And Oromos in the diaspora are urging their compatriots to target their protests at the Ethiopian Government, rather than at members of particular ethnic groups.

Diaspora ties are a lifeline for getting the word out

jimma
Federal “Agazi” security forces at Jimma University, where some of the first student protests took place. Photo credit: @mt21bmn, twitter.

The Ethiopian government is incapable of eradicating the close ties between the Oromo diaspora and Oromos in Ethiopia, and those ties have become a lifeline to get the word out. Here’s just some of what I’ve heard:

  • One Oromo family living in Minnesota has been sponsoring a student who attends Ambo University, helping his family cover his tuition and fees. On May 1, the Minnesota family received a tragic call. The student had been peacefully protesting with his friends and dormitory roommates when police opened fire, gunning him down. The friends called his family in Oromia to report that he had been killed, and the family called the sponsors in Minnesota to share the sad news. The report from the student’s friends was critical, because the government hadn’t released the young man’s body to his family.
  • Another Oromo had spoken with family members who directly witnessed events in Ambo. They reported seeing at least 30 student protesters killed. They also told of many local, Oromo police officers refusing to participate in the violence, and most of those officers were taken to jail en masse. Another Oromo reported a similar situation for Oromo police officers in the town of Nekemte.
  • I spoke in person with an Oromo who has a personal connection to Ambo University. He requested that I not share the nature of that connection, for fear that it would place people in danger. A few days after the shootings, he heard from friends in Ambo that people had just discovered three bodies of protesters who had been discarded in the woods adjoining the university.
  • I spoke with another Oromo living in the United Kingdom who said he had been following the situation in Oromia closely through social media. He spoke with his family in Bale Robe on May 5, who reported that on May 2, they saw security forces haul away two trucks full of student demonstrators. People in Bale Robe don’t know where the students were taken. And his family also reported that in a village nearby Bale Robe, villagers had risen up because of the crackdown on students, prompting security forces to take over the village on the night of May 1 and beat the villagers. One pupil who fled to Bale Robe had reported what had happened. Another Oromo living in the United States reported that 40 people who were injured at Madawalabu University and in Bale Robe were hospitalized, some in critical condition. He also reported that federal security forces were searching homes in neighboring villages to try to hunt down students who had participated in the protests.
  • A Minnesotan Oromo told me that her cousin, an agriculture student at Alemaya University, reported that he was not allowed to leave the dorm to go back to his family. Oromos in Minnesota heard similar reports from students at Haramaya University, who reported that they were being detained in their dormitory rooms and were not allowed to leave. One Oromo reported that on May 7 police forcibly dispersed a protest by high school students in Haramaya and arrested 15 students.
  • One Oromo in the diaspora has forwarded me a steady stream of graphic photos of victims, along with photos from protests, notices at universities in Oromia cancelling classes, and a document from the mayor of Addis Ababa cancelling a request for a protest. One notice from the administration at Asella medical school called for an emergency meeting to try to prevent a protest planned by students and staff. He reported that the students and staff rejected the call and decided to go ahead with the protest as planned. In Nagelle, he reports, 47 students were arrested after they asked school administrators for permission to stage protests.
  • A college teacher who had previously been jailed for over two years after being swept up in mass arrests reported via email that people in western Oromia had fled to the bush to save their lives. He said that there was a great deal of tension in the capital city as students at Addis Ababa University were gearing up for another round of protests.
  • One Oromo in the diaspora reported that 26 students from Addis Ababa University had been confirmed as arrested, and that hundreds of students were leaving campus because of harassment from security forces.
  • Another person on the ground sent some encouraging words: “I am hearing [about] the protest going on in Minnesota by [the] Oromo diaspora, it is very energizing. Please help and stand by us. Please don’t be silent in this tough time.”
  • One Oromo in the diaspora reported that he had learned from credible sources on the ground that “the crackdown against Oromo students has intensified.” On May 14, three protesters from Wollega University were killed and over 200 wounded by security forces in Nekemte Najjo, in western Oromia. On May 15, 152 protesters were wounded in the western Oromia town of Najjo, and large numbers were injured in the nearby town of Gorii. On May 16, nine students in Adama were expelled for life, and eight more were barred from school for five years. Nine students were detained and their whereabouts was unknown.
  • Another Oromo diasporan reported hearing from friends who had fled their universities but were afraid to go home, fearing that the Agazi forces would arrest and torture them. “We are in the forest with no food, no shelter, only suffering. We can’t imagine going home because if we did, we’d die.”

These communications between people on the ground and the diaspora could come at great risk. “Intercepted emails and phone calls have been submitted as evidence in trials under the country’s flawed anti-terrorism law.” This fear is palpable to diasporans who are receiving the news. One of the Oromo diasporans who contacted me cautioned that if I were to use his real name in this blog post, his family back in Ethiopia would “be in big danger within 24 hours.”

Remote monitoring can help manage the overwhelming flow of information
Despite these risks, there has been a steady flow of photos and videos on social media showing protest footage, as well as injured protesters, broken-down dormitory room doors, and even graphic images of people who have been killed. Some individuals in the diaspora and diaspora websites have been compiling this information, and the new #OromoProtests website has emerged as both an information portal and a mobilizing tool for diasporans and allies.

But as the U.S.-based reporter I spoke with observed, there is a lot of information in circulation, but it’s hard to “triangulate” it to verify the journalistic “Five Ws.” Late last week, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) confirmed diaspora reports that federal security forces killed at least three Wollega University student-protesters and have detained hundreds of students.

The Advocates has received several requests for assistance from the Oromo diaspora about how to keep track of information in a systematic way:

We in the diaspora are so overwhelmed with information about arrests, wounding and deaths coming out of Ethiopia. But we do not seem to have institutions that are tracking, documenting, and sharing this information in an appropriate manner. [Do you have] any suggestions for models or examples we can use to set something up just temporarily until we find some more reliable way of managing information?

Remote monitoring is challenging, but critical when human rights violations occur in places like Ethiopia. Our remote monitoring chapter in Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities, offers some suggestions and resources. And our chapter on additional monitoring tools identifies other tools, like the Ushahidi open-source software, which was first deployed to map and document user-generated reports of violence after the 2007 elections in Kenya.

Grilling at the UN: The Ethiopian Government responds

The Ethiopian Government's delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos
The Ethiopian Government’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos

My second blog post in this series highlighted the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Two days later, the UN issued its report of the UPR working group on Ethiopia, which serves as the Government of Ethiopia’s formal response to the review. In the report, the government identifies recommendations it accepts and others it rejects, as well as a few it wants until September 2014 to think about. Here’s how the Ethiopian Government responded to the recommendations I highlighted in that second post:

Accepted recommendations

  • Violence and mistreatment by security forces
    • Finland: Continue efforts to ensure that clear, independent and effective complaints mechanisms are in place for individuals’ complain[t]s concerning mistreatment by security and law enforcement authorities.
    • Rwanda: Intensify efforts to build the capacity of law enforcement authorities on the basic rights of the citizens.
  • Forcible resettlement of farmers and pastoralists
    • Austria: Equip the national human rights institutions with the necessary resources and capacities to effectively monitor the human rights situation and to independently investigate, provide appeals and redress for alleged human rights violations in relation to the resettlement of communities through the Commune Development Programme.
    • Bolivia: Promote and protect the rights of the peasants and other persons working in rural areas.
    • Rwanda: Strengthen measures taken at national level to ensure food security in the country.
    • Malaysia: Step up efforts to improve health services for all its citizens, especially in the rural areas.
    • Thailand: Consider adopting universal health-care coverage to ensure health-care provision for all, with particular attention given to vulnerable groups and those living in rural areas.
    • Morocco: Intensify its efforts to make segments of the society benefit from equitable economic growth.
  • Ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution
    • Armenia: Further promote tolerance and dialogue between different ethnic and religious groups.
    • The Holy See: Keep encouraging inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue so that Ethiopia’s pluralism of traditions and cultures remains an enriching and valued dimension of the country and continue improving the outreach to all ethnic communities to actively participate in the political process so as to strengthen Ethiopia’s democracy and prevent potential conflicts.
    • Bolivia: Continue the actions aimed at the eradication of acts of racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance.
    • Nicaragua: Increase efforts and adopt all the necessary measures for the fight against discrimination in all its forms, particularly against minorities, among them the most vulnerable children and women.
    • Burundi: Improve the existing activities and mechanisms to strengthen inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.
    • Canada: Protect and promote the right of the Ethiopians to practice their religious faith or beliefs, including by enhancing the dialogue between different faith communities to address inter-religious tensions.
    • Sudan: Further intensify efforts to ensure equal access to quality education, and expand primary education to children in their mother tongue.
    • The Maldives: Continue efforts to strengthen quality of education and access to education and make basic education free for all, especially in rural areas.
  • Freedom of expression and association for opposition political parties and human rights defenders

    • Japan: Take steps to guarantee the political rights of its people, the freedom of expression, association and assembly, in particular.
    • Finland: Take further measures to ensure the safety and freedom of action of human rights defenders.
    • Nigeria: Continue to grant all political parties unfettered access to the print and electronic media for fair elections.
    • Switzerland: Ensure that the right to participation of all persons promoting and protecting human rights is guaranteed.
  • Restrictions on civil society, media; anti-terrorism measures
    • Norway: Establish mechanisms for meaningful participation of civil society at the federal and regional level in the process of implementing and monitoring the National Human Rights Action Plan and take concrete measures to ensure that efforts to counter terrorism are carried out in full compliance with the Constitution and international human rights obligations, including respect for fair trial guarantees and freedom of expression.
    • Ireland: Review its legislation to ensure that any limitations on the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline, are in full compliance with Article 19 of the ICCPR in particular by providing for a defence of truth to all defamation cases.
    • South Korea: Take measures to ensure the increased freedom of expression of journalists and media workers.
  • Due process
    • Switzerland: Respect the right to a fair trial, notably by ensuring that legal procedures are respected.
  • Disappearances, torture in detention facilities
    • Bhutan: Further improve the conditions of prisons to make them more conducive to the rehabilitation of inmates as per the comment of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
    • Russia: Improve the prison system and the situation of prisoners based on the 2013 report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on the Situation of Human Rights in the country’s prisons.
    • Kyrgyzstan: Introduce a definition of torture in its Criminal Code that cover all of the elements contained in article 1 of the Convention against Torture.
  • Expand engagement with UN special procedures
    • Spain: Accept the outstanding requests for visits from the special procedures and respond to the communications sent by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which are awaiting replies.
    • Hungary: Strengthen its cooperation with UN Human Rights mechanisms, including by permitting visits from mandate holders.
    • The Netherlands: Grant full access to Special Rapporteurs and Special Procedures Mandate holders to visit the country, notably the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Education, the Right to Food and Violence against Women.

Recommendations the government asserts are “already implemented”

  • Namibia: Extend free primary education throughout the country.
  • Canada: Fully protect members of opposition groups, political activists and journalists who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly from arbitrary detention.
  • France: Take the necessary measures in order for the law on media and access to information to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and provide the proper framework for appeals within the 2009 anti-terrorist law in order to guarantee the respect for fundamental rights.
  • Denmark: Remove any structural and institutional impediments that hinder the implementation of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation.
  • Slovakia: Repeal provisions of the legislation that can be used to criminalise the right to freedom of expression.
  • Paraguay: Allow independent observers access to places of detention.

Rejected recommendations

  • Violence by security forces, torture and disappearances
    • Costa Rica: Take urgent measures to investigate the numerous reports of torture and extrajudicial executions committed by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.
    • Tunisia: Authorize the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to visit all places where persons may be deprived of their liberty.
    • Hungary: Ratify OP-CAT and grant ICRC and other independent observers immediate, full and genuine access to all detention facilities.
    • France: Ratify the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
    • Denmark: Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
    • Estonia: Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
    • Paraguay: Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
    • Austria: Improve conditions in detention facilities by training of personnel to investigate and prosecute all alleged cases of torture and to ratify the OP-CAT.
  • Ethnic and other discrimination
    • Namibia: Further enhance the institutional and financial capacities of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission to effectively carry out its mandate vis-a-vis the affected communities, especially its working relations with the Oromo, Ogaden, Gambella and the Somali Communities.
    • Argentina: Extend measures to combat discrimination to the entire vulnerable population, which is victim of stereotypes and discrimination, particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation, and thus amend the criminalization established in the Criminal Code relating to that sector of the population.
  • Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and Charities and Societies Proclamation
    • United States: Repeal the Charities and Societies Proclamation in order to promote the development of an independent civil society able to operate freely and conduct a full review of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, amending the law as necessary to ensure that it strengthens the rule of law and is applied apolitically and in full compliance with Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
    • Sweden: Remove vague provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that can be used to criminalise the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association and ensure that criminal prosecutions do not limit the freedom of expression of civil society, opposition politicians and independent media.
    • Norway: Amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow civil society to work on human rights issues, including women’s rights, without restrictions related to the origin of funding.
    • Ireland: Allow civil society organisations to complement Government programmes in preventing violence and harmful practices against women and girls and also amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation to ensure that restrictions on freedom of association are removed, including restrictions on potential sources of funding for civil society.
    • Australia: Amend its Charities and Societies Proclamation to facilitate the effective operation and financing of non-government organizations and narrow the definition of terrorist activity within international practice to exclude journalism.
    • France: Contribute to reinforce the role of civil society and suppress the administrative constraints and financial restrictions imposed by the 2009 law.
    • The Netherlands: Amend and clearly redefine provisions in the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in order to lift restrictions on the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.
    • Belgium: Revise the Charities and Societies Proclamation and Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to create a framework conducive to the work of NGOs and other civil society organizations, and ensure the protection of journalists and political opponents from all forms of repression.
    • The Czech Republic: Amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation so that all NGOs can operate freely without restrictions stemming from the structure of their funding.
    • Austria: Ensure that the provisions of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation are in compliance with international human rights standards, including the freedom of expression and assembly; and revise the 2009 Anti-Terrorism proclamation and the 2008 Mass Media Proclamation bring them in line with international human rights standards.
    • Slovenia: Repeal the provisions of the media and anti-terrorism legislation that infringe on the protection accorded to freedom of expression by provisions in Article 29 of its Constitution and on Ethiopia’s human rights obligations.
  • Freedom of expression and association, media freedom
    • Switzerland: Put an end to the harassment of journalists and release those detained without any valid grounds.
    • Hungary: Create a conducive environment for independent civil society to conduct civic and voter education, monitor elections and organise election debates, by lifting all undue restrictions on activities and funding of NGOs.
    • Slovakia: Take necessary measures to ensure respect for the right to freedom of association, including by repealing legislative and administrative restrictions on the activities of NGOs.
    • The Czech Republic: Immediately release all journalists detained for their professional activities, both those arrested recently and those jailed earlier, such as Mr. Nega and Ms. Alemu; amend the Mass Media Proclamation so that the space for free media is widened, and refrain from invoking the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle independent journalists; and ensure inclusive campaigning before the 2015 elections and grant all political parties equal access to the media.
  • Engagement with UN special procedures
    • United States: Permit the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to travel to Ethiopia to advise the Government.
    • Slovenia: Respond favourably to all outstanding requests for a visit by the special procedures and consider issuing a standing invitation to the special procedures, as recommended previously.
    • Montenegro: Strengthen its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including by extending a standing invitation to all thematic special procedures.
    • Uruguay: Extend an Open Invitation to all the mechanisms and special procedures of the Human Rights Council.

“Pending” recommendations

  • Australia: Implement fully its 1995 Constitution, including the freedoms of association, expression and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups and non-government organizations.
  • Mexico: Monitor the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in order to identify any act of repression which affects freedom of association and expression and possible cases of arbitrary detention. In addition, develop activities necessary to eliminate any excesses by the authorities in its application and eliminate all obstacles to the development of non-governmental organizations, in particular, the financial procedures for those financed with resources from abroad, and promote the participation of civil society in the activities of the State.
  • United Kingdom: Take concrete steps to ensure the 2015 national elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010, especially around freedom of assembly and encouraging debate among political parties and invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to visit Ethiopia.
  • Botswana: Ensure the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary, in conformity with international standards.
  • Spain: Issue a permanent open invitation to the special procedures and adopt measures which guarantee the non-occurrence of cases of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention, and among them, establish an independent national preventive mechanism against torture.

You can make a difference
Reports from the diaspora suggest that the situation on the ground in Oromia is going from bad to worse. Students continue their courageous protests, while the Ethiopian Government expands mass arrests and expulsions and reportedly is attempting to incite inter-ethnic conflict. But there are several things the Oromo diaspora and people who want to show solidarity can do to help:

  1. Educate yourself about the Oromo Protests and the history of human rights violations in Ethiopia. The #OromoProtests website has some great infographics. Read the International Oromo Youth Association’s appeal letter. Watch IOYA President Amane Bedaso’s interview on Sahara TV. One Oromo on the ground sent an email pleading for help: “We are between life and death. Please don’t forget us. We are people of this world. Things are going out of control.” You can spread the word, and help get the hashtag #OromoProtests trending on Twitter.
  2. aidIf you live in the United States or another country that provides aid to the Government of Ethiopia, write to your elected representatives to inform them about what’s going on, call on your government to condemn the Ethiopian Government’s response to the student protests, and urge them to withhold funds. The #OromoProtests website has some sample letters, and the Advocacy chapter of Paving Pathways has more guidance for effective outreach. If Ethiopia rejected your government’s UPR recommendations, be sure to highlight that fact in your advocacy.
  3. Support efforts to conduct systematic remote monitoring of the situation on the ground in Ethiopia. For starters, offer to assist the International Oromo Youth Association, which has been tracking events closely.
  4. Support diaspora media organizations like the Oromia Media Network that are working to get the word out. As OMN notes, the Ethiopian Government “has shut down all independent newspapers in [the] Oromo language and those tending to address unique concerns of the Oromo people. As a result, despite being the official language of the Oromia region, not a single independent newspaper is published in Afaan Oromo. Neither are there independently run radio or television stations broadcasting in one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages with over 40 million native speakers.” So getting OMN back on the air in Ethiopia is critical.
  5. Take advantage of some of the UPR recommendations the Ethiopian Government accepted:
  6. Lobby your government to press Ethiopia to accept any “pending” UPR recommendations, particularly the United Kingdom’s recommendation to invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Ethiopia.
  7. Oromos in the diaspora who are in close contact with family members of students who have been killed, injured, arrested, or disappeared can work with them to submit urgent action letters to UN and African Commission special procedures, as a coalition recently did on behalf of bloggers who have been jailed in Ethiopia. Part D of Chapter 11 in Paving Pathways provides more information on using urgent action letters to raise awareness at the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms when emergency situations arise.

What will you do to make a difference? Please share your suggestions and requests in the comments!

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

This post is the fourth in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1 describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 2 highlights the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Part 3 explores the Oromo diaspora’s strategies for showing solidarity with the Oromo students while pushing for human rights and holding perpetrators accountable for the violence against peaceful demonstrators.

More posts in this series:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Take Notice: Nigeria Abductions Are Not an Anomaly

Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead
Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead

Like many other people, I am outraged by the April 14 abduction of hundreds of young girls from their school in northeastern Nigeria by the insurgent group Boko Haram. The group attacked again on May 6, kidnapping eight more girls–this time from their homes–to prevent them from attending school. While we do not know exactly where the girls were taken or how they are being treated, it is likely that many of them will be raped and sold into sexual slavery. Some of the girls are as young as 12, and as a mother I can only imagine the nightmare the girls and their parents must be living.

I join the calls to the Nigerian government, the Obama administration, and other world leaders demanding that they do what needs to be done to free the girls and bring those responsible to justice. But bringing the girls home is only the first step in answering the contorted message the kidnappings were designed to send: that women are property and girls should not be educated.

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who has spoken out against the kidnappings, reportedly asserted at a conference in March that the Boko Haram insurgency is an “anomaly” in the socio-religious environment of Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims live in harmony with each other and with people of other faiths. I do not dispute that position and sincerely hope that he is right. But while extremist organizations such as Boko Haram may be anomalous in Nigerian society, the assault on girls’ education globally is not.

We live in a world where, for some girls, simply learning to read is a courageous and life-threatening act of defiance.In March 2013, a principal in Karachi, Pakistan was killed when grenades were hurled into his school, which specialized in enrolling girls. A teacher in a different part of Pakistan was gunned down in front of the all-girls school where she had taught only a week earlier. In the spring and summer of 2013, over 400 girls in Afghanistan fell ill from suspected gas poisonings in at least half a dozen schools. The assassination attempt against Malala Yousafzai for promoting girls’ education in Pakistan is well-known.

The net enrollment rate in 2008 for girls in secondary school in Nigeria was just 22%. In northern Nigeria, where the kidnappings occurred, only 3% of girls finish secondary school and more than 50% are married by the age of 16.  The situation in Nigeria is sadly representative of a wider pattern. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, girls in Pakistan had a secondary school enrollment rate of 29%, as compared to 40% for boys. Rates are even lower in Chad, where only 5% of girls received a secondary education, as compared to 16% of boys. Nor is the problem endemic only to countries with a majority Muslim population. In Nepal, school enrollment rates for boys are 14 percentage points higher than for girls. These statistics reflect a cultural undercurrent that creates powerful disincentives for girls to educate themselves, ensuring that women remain powerless, objectified, and vulnerable to forced marriages and sexual slavery.

I do not mean to suggest that we have it all figured out here in the United States. Sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses are on the rise, femicides are seventh in line as causes of early death among females in the United States, and our most recent census report confirmed that—despite decades of working for equality—women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. But I know that I am lucky. I am a shareholder in a successful law firm that not only supports me, but has been lauded as one of the best in the nation for women attorneys. I have been successful, first and foremost, because I was born into a family that never questioned whether I would go to college; it was simply assumed.

But is it possible to change cultural norms in other countries? And even if we could, what place is it of ours? To answer the second question, we are no longer isolated on this planet. The diminution of women everywhere affects all of us, by preventing economic growth, destabilizing societies and even planting the seeds that allow terrorism to flourish. Education is a fundamental human right that belongs to everyone, boys and girls, everywhere. It is everyone’s responsibility to address harmful cultural practices that result in human rights violations. We can and should work towards universal education in all parts of the world.

NepalPics 292-c
Student of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Sankhu-Palubari Community School, near Kathmandu, Nepal

The notion that there is nothing we can really do is wrong. Since the fall of the Taliban, the enrollment of girls in primary school in Afghanistan has risen from virtually none to approximately 37%.

I know from personal experience that norms against educating girls can be changed. In 1999, the Advocates for Human Rights founded a school in a village in Nepal where education rates for children were extremely low. The school’s basic admission criteria were that the students must be low income, and the student body must be 50% girls. Parents of these children, when interviewed, expressed sincere doubts about the value of education for their children—especially the girls. Over time these views have changed dramatically. When I visited the school in 2011, the parents  no longer questioned why they should educate their children. Instead, they demanded that The Advocates expand the school to include more grades. Many of the girls who have graduated from our school are now studying at the University. It’s only a drop in the global bucket, but it’s a start.

By: Dulce Foster, attorney with Fredrikson and Byron, is a long-time volunteer and supporter of the Advocates for Human Rights. She has provided immeasurable leadership for the organization’s Nepal School Project and for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Project.

In her legal practice with Fredrikson and Byron, Foster defends, investigates, and advises clients in criminal and civil matters involving financial fraud, healthcare fraud, corruption, FCPA, trade secrets theft, illegal immigration, False Claims Act and other regulatory concerns.

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

hunger strike

Last Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of people poured into the Oromo Community of Minnesota’s meeting hall in St. Paul. They gathered for a forum to discuss how the Oromo people living outside Ethiopia–the Oromo diaspora–could show solidarity with Oromo students in Ethiopia, whose peaceful protests over the past two weeks have been met with gunfire and loss of life.

Minnesota’s Oromo diaspora movement embraces diversity, is united by a common cause

The Oromo Community of Minnesota hall was packed for the forum on Sunday.
The Oromo Community of Minnesota hall was packed for the forum on Sunday.

The people who had gathered represented great diversity, but were also united by a common cause. As best I understood at the time (I had not yet enlisted Kinini Jegeno, the young man sitting next to me, to interpret), the gathering began with three different religious leaders–a Muslim, a Seventh Day Adventist, and another Christian–leading prayers for the people who had been killed and injured. (As I noted in my first blog post in this series, the Oromo people are split almost equally between the Muslim and Christian faiths.)

One speaker asked all of the women in the audience to raise their hands, noting that they were well-represented and should make their voices heard. And one of my former students remarked that many Oromo youths were also actively engaged in the forum, and were not deferring to their elders as is often the case in such gatherings.

Global Oromo diaspora looks to Minnesota’s “Little Oromia” to take the lead

The stakes were high. Jaafar Ali, a journalist in the Oromo diaspora who lives in Norway, reminded the audience that the Oromo diaspora calls Minnesota “Little Oromia” because it is home to the largest Oromo population outside of Ethiopia. Ali emphasized that Oromos around the world were hoping Minnesota could lay the groundwork for a successful response.

Community adopts a grassroots approach

DSC_7270
My tireless volunteer interpreter, Kinini Jegeno, summarized much of the 3-hour meeting for me.

Although the President of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, Mathias T. Gudina, convened the meeting, he made it clear that he was there to facilitate, not to lead or tell the group what to do. He encouraged members of the community to come forward and share their ideas for showing solidarity with the protesters and responding to the mass arrests, restrictions on free expression and assembly, and federal security forces’ use of lethal force.

Each speaker had up to 2 minutes to take the microphone and offer suggestions. Several dozen people took the floor, and many called for the Oromo community to set aside differences and work together toward their common goals. The audience sat in rapt attention, eagerly hearing each suggestion, and sometimes breaking out in applause or cheers of support.

Oromos unite to advocate for victims, justice

After nearly three hours of comments, the organizers took a brief recess and then reported back with a list of all the ideas that members of the community had offered. By consensus, they arrived at several concrete action steps.

Nearly every action step could be supported by resources in The Advocates for Human Rights’ diaspora toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities. That’s no coincidence. We developed the toolkit in response to decades of requests from diaspora communities about how they can be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin or ancestry. In considering advocacy strategies, diaspora communities may want to consult the first part of Chapter 7: Advocacy, which discusses the importance of defining advocacy goals, the steps to developing an advocacy strategy, leadership and organization, framing messages, mobilization, and measuring progress.

Here are some of the action steps the group selected, along with some relevant resources from Paving Pathways that might be of assistance as the Oromo diaspora works on implementing its plans:

1. Hold a rally on Friday, May 9, at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, starting at 9:00 am

May 7, 2014 rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Caaya Tokkummaa Oromoo Masrii, facebook)
May 7, 2014 rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Caaya Tokkummaa Oromoo Masrii, facebook)

The group discussed whether to shift the rally to Thursday to accommodate religious observances, but instead they decided that the rally would begin on Friday and continue on throughout the weekend, so people of all faiths could participate. Indeed, most Oromo diaspora groups around the world are staging rallies on Friday, including groups in 11 U.S. cities (Chicago, Columbus,  Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Washington, DC), 6 Canadian cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Vancouver, and Winnipeg), and 10 other countries: Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yemen.

The Oromo diaspora in Egypt elected to hold its rally on Wednesday, generating some initial media interest. And in conjunction with the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia’s human rights record, on Tuesday Oromos in the Washington, DC area rallied in front of the Ethiopian Embassy:

Paving Pathways’ advocacy chapter includes a section on public advocacy that explains the role of rallies and other actions designed to raise public awareness about human rights issues.

2. Hold a hunger strike May 9-12

Hunger strikes have gained attention as an important part of the immigration reform movement over the past few years. Diasporans may want to take a look at the strategies developed by the “Fast for Families” campaign.

Amane Bedaso, President of the International-Oromo Youth-Association, posted a photo on facebook (top) to announce her plans to participate in the hunger strike May 9-12. Photos on social media sites like facebook, twitter, and instagram can help generate awareness about a hunger strike or similar campaign. See Appendix C of Paving Pathways for best practices on using social media for effective human rights advocacy.

3. Raise funds for medical and burial expenses for victims and their families

Remittances from diasporans to the Global South amounted to over $400 billion in 2012, with $656 million flowing into Ethiopia in 2013. Many remittances assist friends and family members with living expenses, school fees, and business start-up costs. But in times of tragedy, remittances can help victims of human rights violations regain their health or mourn their dead.

The Oromo Community of Minnesota is a 501(c)(3).
The Oromo Community of Minnesota is a 501(c)(3).

Diaspora organizations that gather funds and send them to individuals or groups in their countries of origin should be mindful of the relevant laws, both in the country where the diaspora group is based and in the country where the funds are sent. For example, the Oromo Community of Minnesota, as a registered 501(c)(3) organization, can offer donors certain tax benefits.

Chapter 11 of Paving Pathways, on capacity-building, includes information about forming a non-profit, financial management, fundraising, and complying with the law. Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation–roundly criticized during Tuesday’s UN review and described on page 309 of Chapter 11–subjects Ethiopian organizations to harsh sanctions if they work on certain human rights issues and receive more than 10% of their funding from outside the country. So diaspora groups should be careful to avoid triggering those sanctions when they provide funding to groups inside Ethiopia.

4. Engage in advocacy with elected officials

Community members offered their advocacy suggestions for nearly 3 hours (Photo credit: Big Z, facebook)
Community members offered their advocacy suggestions for nearly 3 hours (Photo credit: Big Z, facebook)

The Oromo community members at the forum agreed that they needed to engage in advocacy targeting their federal lawmakers in the United States, particularly because the US government provides substantial funding to the government of Ethiopia. The Advocacy chapter of Paving Pathways includes a section on how diaspora groups can conduct advocacy targeting the government of the country where they live. Those strategies include: writing to elected officials; meeting with officials or their staff; legislative advocacy; and holding a congressional briefing to educate lawmakers and legislative staff about an issue of concern.

5. Work on bringing the perpetrators to justice

Chapter 8 of Paving Pathways explores strategies for promoting accountability for human rights violations. The most accessible accountability mechanism is often in the country where the human rights violations occurred. But as Botswana pointed out at the UN review on Tuesday, Ethiopia does not have an independent judicial system. And as Finland and Montenegro noted, Ethiopia lacks effective, independent complaint mechanisms for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities.

Chapter 8 describes alternative accountability mechanisms that may be available outside the country where the violations occur, including criminal prosecutions and civil litigation under the laws of other countries, travel restrictions, and international criminal tribunals.

6. Establish a crisis response team

One thoughtful young Oromo woman, an alumna of South High, encouraged the group to establish a worldwide crisis response team that would be in place to respond to urgent situations such as the recent violence and arrests in Oromia. She noted that if a team were in place, it could be deployed more quickly to implement effective strategies to address breaking events.

Human rights defenders like the students and other protesters in Oromia often face threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence from security forces. Appendix Q is a toolkit of resources for human rights defenders on the ground. It includes information about emergency grants, advocacy tools, intergovernmental emergency response mechanisms, regional networks of human rights defenders, and international non-governmental organizations that assist human rights defenders who are in need. Part D of Chapter 11, on capacity-building, goes into more depth on safety and security issues, and explains how to use emergency response procedures at the United Nations and at regional mechanisms like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect human rights defenders and enlist help when serious human rights violations are happening or imminent.

7. Create committees on media outreach, finance, and legal advocacy

It’s important for people involved in an advocacy campaign to collaborate, share expertise, and organize their work so the campaign does not rest on the shoulders of just a few people. Chapter 7 of Paving Pathways includes a section on media advocacy, and Chapter 11 covers financial matters. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 explore avenues for legal advocacy in the context of accountability, advocacy with the United Nations, and advocacy with regional human rights mechanisms. A legal advocacy team might also lead the important work of conducting systematic remote monitoring of human rights violations, and of documenting them in a report–topics covered in Chapters 5 and 6 of Paving Pathways.

8. Write a press release

As many governments recognized at the UN on Tuesday, journalists in Ethiopia are not allowed to operate freely, and many have been jailed for their work. Diasporans from closed societies like Ethiopia can help get the facts out by acting as liasons between their personal contacts in their country of origin and the media in the country where they live. In addition to a section on media advocacy, Paving Pathways includes a sample press release.

candle

Little Oromia is united and ready to show the world the strength of its ideas, enthusiasm, and passion as it moves forward. We at The Advocates for Human Rights hope Paving Pathways will serve as a helpful resource as the Oromo diaspora comes together to advocate for justice, accountability, and human rights in Ethiopia.

This post is the third in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1 describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 2 highlights the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Part 4 tells the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family members on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and recaps the Ethiopian Government’s response to the UN review.

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

Top photo credit: Amane Bedaso, facebook

More posts in this series:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

LGBT_activist_attacked_in_St.-Petersburg

When I was in high school, U.S.-Soviet “space bridges” were popular: a studio audience of Americans would connect up live with a studio audience in the USSR, and they’d pose each other questions with assistance from celebrity hosts like Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner. In July 1986, during a “women to women” space bridge between Boston and Leningrad, a middle-aged Boston woman asked the Soviet audience whether their TV commercials were sexually suggestive, as American ads were. In Leningrad, a blonde woman took the microphone and responded solemnly: “Cекса y нас нет, и мы категорически против этого.” (“There is no sex here, and we are categorically opposed to it.”) You can watch the exchange here:


Her response prompted howls of laughter from others in the Leningrad audience, but the phrase stuck. Even today, you can hear Russians repeat the saying, “In the USSR there is no sex.”

So in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, when the mayor of Sochi proclaimed, “У нас в городе геев нет,” (“In our city there are no gays,”) I’m sure plenty of Russian speakers joined me in a nostalgic chuckle. Russians have long been a bit prudish on matters of sex. But Russia’s new law banning “gay propaganda” reflects more than mere prudishness. It is part of a concerted effort to deny the very existence of Russians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI). And some Russians have taken it upon themselves to actively and openly persecute people who are LGBTI, or who support LGBTI rights.

Times have changed

When I lived in Moscow, from 1990-1992, LGBTI people were generally left alone. One of my good friends, a gay American studying at Moscow State University, wore a pink triangle pin all the time and never faced any negative repercussions. “No one ever bothered me for the triangle or for being gay,” he recalled. “In fact, it seems harder to be gay in Russia now than it was then. Sure it was all sort of underground, but people weren’t all whipped up like they are these days.”

Indeed, much has changed since then. In 1993, the Russian Federation repealed the Stalin-era law criminalizing consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. But in recent years, “anti-gay sentiment has exploded in Russia . . . , fed by economic woes, government corruption, and crumbling infrastructures,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

After the Russian Duma passed laws last summer prohibiting “gay propaganda” and banning some international adoptions to countries that recognize marriage equality, LGBTI advocates in Russia reported a sharp uptick in anti-gay violence.

Vigilante violence incited

Members of Pussy Riot performing in Red Square Photo credit: Denis Bochkarev, Wikimedia Commons
Members of Pussy Riot performing in Red Square
Photo credit: Denis Bochkarev, Wikimedia Commons

The Russian government’s crackdown on dissent has fueled private acts of violence directed at government critics, as well as at LGBTI people and their allies. In Sochi on Wednesday, for example, as members of the performance art collective Pussy Riot prepared to perform, a group of men surrounded and attacked them with traditional Cossack whips. (A Duma member from the Zabaikalsk region of Siberia recently called for a law allowing gays to be publicly flogged by Cossacks.) Pussy Riot has long been critical of the Putin government and has spoken out against the gay propaganda law.

Although the popular Russian social media site В Kонтакте (VK.com)–especially the VK-based online LGBTI teen support group Дети-404 (Deti-404)–can be a lifeline for gay youth, homophobic harassment is commonplace on the site.

With the help of VK and other social media, and spurred by prominent Russians like Putin who repeatedly conflate gay people with child molesters, Russian neo-Nazi groups and other gangs have taken it upon themselves to go on “safaris” to “hunt” gays. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released this graphic, disturbing video explaining how some of the vigilante groups operate:

Occupy Pedophilia, one of the neo-Nazi groups featured in the video, claims to have 30 branches and to have kidnapped and assaulted nearly 1,500 gay Russians over the last 18 months. The group asserts that it is targeting child molesters, but most of its targets are young gay men, and anti-gay rhetoric and symbols feature prominently in the group’s attacks. According to the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, the group uses VK to target teenagers who reply to same-sex personal advertisements. Group members beat up and humiliate their victims, and then question them about their sex lives; despite the group’s purported interest in tracking down pedophiles, they never make references to children in these videotaped interrogations. The group coordinates its attacks and recruits new members through VK, where it has over 90,000 followers and regularly uploads videos showing victims being violently attacked and humiliated. YouTube returns over 23,000 search results for the group.

An ABC news broadcast last week focused on another group that calls itself “Morality Patrol,” which uses a roaming van to videotape people coming and going from a gay bar in Moscow. Then, there’s another group, called “God’s Will,” which calls for gays to be stoned to death.

And there have been other troubling acts of vigilante violence:

Journalist Elena Kostyuchenko Photo Credit: Valerij Ledenev, flickr
Journalist Elena Kostyuchenko
Photo Credit: Valerij Ledenev, flickr
  • At her first gay pride parade in 2011, journalist Elena Kostyuchenko was punched in the skull, causing her to partially lose her hearing. The police detective assigned to her case, who has seen a video of the attack and knows the name of her assailant, asked her lawyer, “Why would she go to the street?”
  • On the subway escalator after the attack, members of “God’s Will” caught Kostyuchenko’s girlfriend in a headlock and punched her five times in the face.
  • In May 2013, a young man in Volgograd was allegedly raped with beer bottles and had his skull smashed after he came out to a group of friends.
  • In June 2013, a gay man was kicked and stabbed to death by a group of friends in Kamchatka; they then burned his body.

“The latest laws against so-called gay propaganda, first in the regions and then on the federal level, have essentially legalised violence against LGBT people, because these groups of hooligans justify their actions with these laws,” Igor Kotchekov, head of the Russian LGBT Network, recently told the Guardian. “[This vigilante violence] is an action to terrorise the entire LGBT community.”

Violent vigilantes enjoy impunity

These Russian anti-gay vigilante groups operate openly, and even post videos of their exploits on social media sites, but Russian authorities don’t seem to take the violence seriously. On the eve of the start of the Sochi Olympics, BBC Channel Four released “Hunted,” a 50-minute documentary about these vigilante groups. The Russian embassy in London lashed out, calling the film part of a “well-engineered campaign of slander” and “hate propaganda” designed to damage Russia’s reputation just before the games.  In noting that the head of Occupy Pedophilia had been arrested and charged with extremism, the embassy appeared to defend the group, saying, “As its name suggests, [it] targets only paedophiles both straight and gay.”

Occupy Pedophilia groups have “so far enjoyed almost total impunity for their treatment of homosexuals. None has been prosecuted and the group even appears to have tacit official support. Edited versions of the gang’s videos have even been broadcast on a local television station.”

(U.S. extremists are also coming to Russia’s defense. Scott Lively, who campaigned for propaganda laws in Russia and other countries, called the Human Rights Watch video a “hoax,” asserting that LGBTI “activists are masters of public deception.”)

In Russia, victims of vigilante violence fear reporting these attacks to the police, knowing they may face even more violence at the hands of law enforcement, and fearing that filing a report will “out” them to family, colleagues, neighbors, or employers. And when they do report the attacks, police dismiss them and say the victims brought the violence upon themselves. According to Kochetkov, of 20 homophobic attacks that were recently reported to the police in Russia, only “four were investigated and only one resulted in a court case.” One attorney representing a victim of a homophobic attack reported that she and her client were attacked by a group of skinheads as they tried to enter the courthouse: “We called the police, but they didn’t come.”

“Gay propaganda” law prompts more Russians to join the vigilante bandwagon

Citizen “complaints” fuel much of Russian authorities’ enforcement of the propaganda law:

  • Timur Isaev trolls social media and uses a videocamera to identify LGBTI people and then report them to authorities. He specializes in tracking down LGBTI teachers, outing them, and getting them fired. He also targets teachers who are LGBTI allies. He also stalked a support group for LGBTI families online, and then reported an upcoming meeting to the police, suspecting a minor would be present. He even tracked down a 14-year-old girl in the small town of Dyatkova after she held a solo demonstration against the propaganda law, and reported her to her school’s principal. The girl was disciplined by a government commission, which threatened to take her to court if she continued to express her views in public. Isaev boasts that he has contacted relatives and school principals of more than a dozen openly LGBTI teens.
  • Vitali Milonov, a local St. Petersburg lawmaker, filed several complaints with authorities about Deti-404 online support group founder Elena Klimova, who faced a potential fine of 100,000 rubles and a shut-down of her site. A district court acquitted her this morning, but Milonov has vowed to appeal the decision.
  • A teenager in Arkhangelsk complained to authorities after seeing online images of an activist’s protest in Kazan, over 1,000 kilometers away. The teenager said he was prompted by his father, who was bitter because his wife had left him for another woman. The activist was fined 4,000 rubles.
  • A group of parents in Smolensk is charging their children’s school with violating the propaganda law because a teacher of 7- and 8-year-olds last Friday encouraged her students to make Valentine’s Day cards for each other, and said that it didn’t matter whether the recipients were boys or girls.

And in the Khabarovsk region, a parent group complained to their school about a new 6th grade student who was “unusual” and “acted gay.” The parents asked the school to intervene and cease the 12-year-old boy’s “sexual harassment”–even though he had never done anything to any other student. The day after the parent group raised the issue in a meeting with the student’s homeroom teacher, the boy’s parents withdrew him from the school. Similar incidents are reported in other rural schools in Russia, according to Khabarovsk Commissioner for Children’s Rights Svetlana Zhukova.

This post is the fourth in a five-part series in The Advocates Post about LGBTI rights in Russia and the Sochi Olympics. Part 1 took a look at why the Sochi Olympics in 2014 are important to LGBTI rights in Russia and the rest of the world.  Part 2  examined the provisions of Russia’s propaganda law, its effect on children, and its origins. Part 3 explored how Russian authorities are enforcing the propaganda law. Part 5 will analyze a variety of approaches that human rights advocates in Russia and around the world are taking to press for reform of these laws.

More posts in this series:

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies for Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World

For information about vigilante violence directed at LGBTI people in Cameroon, read The Advocates’ shadow report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and these related posts:

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

By: Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

Top photo courtesy Roma Yandolin, Wikimedia Commons

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

African Commission on Human and People's Rights

A delegation from the government of Cameroon is appearing this week before the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to delve into human rights conditions in Cameroon and to respond to questions.

Reflecting grave concerns about violence that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon, the NGO Forum hosted by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies last weekend adopted a resolution condemning this human rights abuse. The resolution will therefore be presented to the African Commission for consideration during the closed portion of its session next week.

The Advocates for Human Rights’ partner organizations, Le Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), participated in the NGO Forum. During the Commission’s review of Cameroon this week, Patience Ngo Mbe of REDHAC delivered an oral statement on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon. Our friends at African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) and Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) also released a report on violence based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa in conjunction with the resolution being brought before the NGO forum.

Following the session, the African Commission will announce any resolutions it has adopted and will issue concluding observations and recommendations to the government of Cameroon about a myriad of human rights abuses in Cameroon. It is our hope that the Commission will home in on violence perpetrated because of actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution adopted by the NGO Forum is the product of several years of planning and advocacy by African non-governmental organizations. It reads as follows:

Resolution on Violence and Human Rights Violations against Persons on the Basis of their Imputed or Real Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Africa

Recalling that Article 4[o] of the Constitutive Act of the African Union recognizes respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity as a guiding principle of the African Union;

Recalling also that Articles 3 and 28 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognize the equality of every individual under the law and the right of every individual to equal protection of the law, and the duty of every individual to respect and consider his fellow human beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance respectively;

Recalling further that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirm the inherent dignity of all human beings that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status;

Noting that Article 29[7] of the African Charter requires every individual to preserve and strengthen positive African cultural values in his relations with other members of society in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation;

Noting also that Article 45 of the African Charter, which mandates the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, protects human and peoples’ rights in Africa;

Noting further that Article 60 of the African Charter requires the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to draw inspiration from the content of other international treaties and laws, and further noting that articles 2(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which all African states are party, as well article 2 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) establish the principle of non discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, as elaborated respectively by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and that

U.N. treaty bodies and Special Procedures, including the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other inhuman, degrading and cruel punishments and treatments, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have consistently held that the International Bill of Rights includes protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;

Expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination committed against individuals because of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity, which include arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail, violent attacks such as rape and other sexual assault, physical assaults, torture and murder;

Further alarmed at the incidence of violence and human rights violations and abuses by State and non-state actors targeting human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

Deeply disturbed by the unwillingness of law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence and other human rights violations targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;

Hereby:

1              Condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, persecution and imprisonment of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

2              Condemns exclusion of individuals and communities from the enjoyment of rights and the full realization of their potential because of their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity;

3              Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by state and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;

4              Strongly urges States to end impunity for acts of violation and abuse, whether committed by state or non-state actors, by enacting appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identities, ensure proper investigation and diligent prosecution of the perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures favorable to the victims.

Shadow Reports Submitted

In related action, The Advocates and its partners also submitted reports in advance of the 54th Ordinary Session for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ consideration, including:

1. A report on the violation of rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with CAMFAIDS, REDHAC, L’Association pour la Défense des Droits des Homosexuels (ADEFHO). The report describes the widespread persecution of and discrimination against people on the basis of perceived and actual sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. A report on the rights of women in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with Ecumenical Service for Peace, addressing four forms of violence-rape, domestic violence, breast ironing and, female genital mutilation, as well as the issue of women’s access to employment. The report demonstrates that Cameroon does not do enough to protect and promote the rights of women.

3. A report on the death penalty and detention conditions was submitted in partnership with Droits et Paix. This report shows that despite a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, Cameroon continues to sentence people to death and retains the possibility of carrying out these sentences. The report also describes serious human rights violations in the country’s detention facilities.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Eric LembembeThe International Justice Program doesn’t get to travel to Geneva very often, but thanks to the United Nations’ live webcasts, we can usually see and hear all the U.N.’s human rights action as it happens.

On Friday morning, I was eager to watch the U.N. Human Rights Council’s consideration of the Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon. I was especially moved when one of our colleagues from Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) took the floor to speak on behalf of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association and recounted the July 15 discovery of a tortured and murdered Eric Ohena Lembembe, who, before his death, was CAMFAIDS’ executive director.

The CAMFAIDS’ representative had a lot to say during the allocated one and a half minutes, in part because of what CAMFAIDS has been through since May 1. In May and June, there was a rash of break-ins and even arson at the offices of attorneys and organizations that work on behalf of LGBTI people in Cameroon. The attorneys and other activists have faced escalating anonymous threats.

On July 1, Eric spoke out about the increasingly dangerous situation facing human rights defenders in Cameroon working on behalf of LGBTI people. “There is no doubt: Anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said. “Unfortunately, a climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government, reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”

The Advocates, volunteer attorneys, and partners in Cameroon working hard for change
Along with two volunteer attorneys from the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, we’ve been working intensely over the past two months with colleagues from CAMFAIDS, as well as two other Cameroonian NGOs, to write a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon.

The pace of the Human Rights Council’s UPR process is slow. Governments around the world made recommendations to the Government of Cameroon during an “interactive dialogue” back on May 1. Many countries recommended that Cameroon repeal Article 347 bis, the law that subjects a person engaged in sexual conduct with someone of the same sex to up to five years in prison. Only on September 20, more than four and a half months later, did the Government of Cameroon have to state whether it accepts or rejects those recommendations. (In the end, it accepted only one recommendation that mentioned homosexuality: a recommendation from Belgium to investigate police violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation.) And Friday was the only step in the process in which NGOs get to take the microphone at the U.N. to speak on the record, directly to the government under review.

Human rights defender Eric Ohena Lembembe is tortured and murdered
At the Human Rights Council on Friday, the CAMFAIDS’ representative described what happened to Eric just two weeks after he had spoken out about the increased dangers human rights activists in Cameroon were facing:

On July 15 at 5:45 p.m. in Yaounde, I discovered the dead body of my colleague, our colleague, with the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, CAMFAIDS. He was a friend and activist for health; a human rights defender for LGBTI persons, a journalist and a writer. His name was Eric Ohena Lembembe. He was locked in his room after having been tortured and killed.

This crime took place after a series of attacks, threats, and arrests made against members of the LGBTI community and their defenders. Eric Ohena Lembembe denounced in his articles and publications these attacks and the instigators of them. He was harassed verbally on the telephone, by email and by SMS. He was even arrested and placed in detention. But he didn’t take these threats into account, and it cost him his life.

Since this crime, the insecurity situation for the LGBTI community has continued to get worse. I would like to thank the Government of Cameroon for its participation in the UPR, but at the same time we would like to draw attention to the silence with respect to the situation of abuse of LGBTI persons and their defenders.

We urge the government to implement the recommendations it accepted to investigate violence and threats against HRDs and of the rights of LGBTI persons, but also the recommendations they rejected to defend LGBTI persons. We call for an investigation into the killing of Mr. Ohena Lembembe. We call for the perpetrators to be sought out, prosecuted, and convicted. We would like the government to investigate, prosecute, and convict those responsible for the series of threats and attacks against human rights defenders who work for human rights. We call for the government to condemn all manifestations which incite homophobia and crimes.

Human rights defenders around the world face threats and harassment from both private parties and the government. The Advocates has developed a toolkit of resources for human rights defenders to use to enhance their safety and security. But the plight of human rights defenders in Cameroon who work on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity is particularly dire.

In wake of Eric’s murder, the government of Cameroon sets its sights on human rights defenders, rather than Eric’s murderers
The government’s investigation into Eric’s death has been lackluster. Authorities have not released the results of the coroner’s autopsy report. The police have made no arrests. Instead, police detained several of Eric’s colleagues for three days interrogate them about  their own sexual practices. And government officials have lashed out at Cameroonian human rights defenders for stirring up matters in the western media.

One of the most disturbing statements came from a commissioner on Cameroon’s National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms. A CAMFAIDS’ representative heard her speak on a radio broadcast on September 4, just days before the representative was set to travel to Geneva to speak before the Human Rights Council. First, the commissioner defended Article 347 bis, asserting that it “reflects the opinion of the Cameroonian society.” Then, she issued a warning to human rights defenders who work on LGBTI issues:

Cameroonians who denigrate their country abroad in international bodies and then complain that they are insecure when they return to their home country — they themselves are responsible for what happens. They know they will be put down.

Her ominous words echoed in my head as the CAMFAIDS’ representative bravely took the microphone September 20, facing a delegation from the government of Cameroon.

At the UPR, government of Cameroon attempts to sully Eric’s memory
Many other NGOs made statements on a variety of topics, but in response, the government of Cameroon’s ambassador to the U.N. spoke only in an attempt to deny the realities facing human rights defenders and to sully Eric’s memory:

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 . . . .

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.

Inadvertently, this government representative may have stumbled upon a nugget of truth at the end of his statement.

Eric was tortured and killed because he worked courageously as a human rights defender
The details of Eric’s life show that he was a courageous human rights defender. He was a fierce advocate who fought to end government-sanctioned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

If the government of Cameroon ever conducts a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Eric’s torture and murder, it will likely find that he was targeted not because he was gay, but because he publicly spoke out against homophobia and criticized the government of Cameroon for condoning threats and violence against human rights defenders of the LGBTI community in Cameroon.

Jennifer and Alice NkomWhat’s next for human rights defenders working with and on behalf of LGBTI Cameroonians?
Since Eric’s murder, threats against human rights defenders have escalated. Some anonymous messages state simply, “You’re next.” But the movement to end persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation in Cameroon will not be silenced. “It has become more difficult; I must die, and I will,” said Alice Nkom, one of only two lawyers in Cameroon who will defend people charged under Article 347 bis. “Because many died for us to be free today–free to be a woman, to be a black woman, to do what I do. So we must continue.”

The movement’s next step, if funding allows, is to take its case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which will review Cameroon’s human rights record October 22-25 in the Gambia. There, our colleagues from Cameroon hope to press Africans to stand up for the rights of LGBTI Africans

Our comprehensive report to the African Commission about LGBTI rights in Cameroon reaches the following conclusions:

  •  Human rights defenders in Cameroon who serve and support people who are LGBTI are increasingly vulnerable and insecure, and the Government of Cameroon plays an active role in creating a climate of impunity for people who endanger and harass these human rights defenders.
  • Enforcement of Article 347 bis (the law that criminalizes same-sex conduct) violates prohibitions on arbitrary arrest, torture, and ill-treatment, and violates individuals’ rights to privacy and security, as well as their right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Criminalization, discrimination, and stigmatization of same-sex sexual conduct in Cameroon undermine efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
  • Private parties and non-governmental organizations perpetrate acts of violence and harassment directed toward sexual minorities, and government officials at all levels foster a climate that contributes to such persecution.
  • Cameroon’s criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is a colonial legacy steeped in European ethnocentric views of African sexuality.

Get engaged; get involved
Amy BergquistTo read the full report, coauthored by The Advocates, CAMFAIDS,  the St. Paul’s Foundation for International ReconciliationLe Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC), and L’Association pour la Défense des Droits des Homosexuels (ADEFHO), click here. The report notes that in September 2012 men in security force uniforms kidnapped and raped the niece of REDHAC executive director Mrs. Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, in an attack she believes was intended to punish her for her human rights work. In April 2013, unidentified assailants attempted to kidnap her son from his school. Mrs. Ngo Mbe has received death threats by text message.

If you are interested in assisting with translating parts of the report into French, please contact Amy Bergquist at abergquist@advrights.org.

Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.