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.