Cameroon: Leading LGBTI Human Rights Defender Fatally Attacked

For Immediate Release Media Contact: Roberta Sklar
16 July 2013 917-704-6358, rsklar@iglhrc.org

(Douala, Cameroon)—The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) learned yesterday of the tragic death and alleged murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a Cameroonian journalist, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights defender, and the executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS).

According to reports told to Damian Ugwu, IGLHRC Africa Regional Program Coordinator, currently in Cameroon, Lembembe’s friends went to his home on Monday because they had been unable to reach him throughout the weekend. They found his door locked from the outside and observed his legs through a window. They contacted the police who arrived on the scene, broke open the door and found him dead.

Signs of bruising on Lembembe’s body, including burns from irons pressed into his legs, suggest that he was tortured.

After recent attacks on Yaoundé-based human rights organizations, Lembembe said earlier this month, “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.”

“Everyone is devastated, sad, and emotionally distraught,” said Ugwu after speaking with local human rights defenders and friends of Lembembe. “Some could not sleep because of fear. They think, ‘I could be next.’ No one knows what happened to Eric or who killed him, so people are afraid they might meet the same fate. Given the recent spate of homophobic attacks in Cameroon, there is strong speculation that Eric’s death is connected to his sexual orientation and his work.”

Lembembe’s death follows anti-LGBTI violence over the past month including the arson attack on the office of Alternatives-Cameroun by unknown assailants. Additionally, the office of Michel Togue, a human rights lawyer, was reportedly broken into and documents stolen. Togue and Alice Nkom have both received repeated death threats for their defense of LGBTI individuals before the courts.

Anti-LGBTI discrimination is widely in evidence in Cameroon. “Both State and non–State actors in Cameroon harm LGBTI people,” said Ugwu. “People do not express surprise at this kind of incident. It is only because people know Eric that there is attention. But LGBTI people who are not well-known or who are not activists are regularly subjected to otherwise invisible intimidation and violence.”

The LGBTI movement in Cameroon is strong and made of diverse organizations. The movement’s priorities, including those by CAMFAIDS, have increasingly articulated concerns beyond public health and HIV/AIDS to more explicitly address the rights of LGBTI people.

According to Ugwu, many LGBTI rights defenders and community members are now examining their safety and security.

“Some might go underground for a while,” said Ugwu. “We spent a lot of time talking about this issue today. Almost everyone had something to say. I could hear one or two saying they would tone down their activism or operate from home instead of coming to public places where they might be associated with the LGBTI movement. Eric’s death is very painful to the movement, but I do not see this as stopping LGBTI Cameroon in the long-term. I see a very committed movement.”

Background

Homophobic and transphobic discrimination and violence in Cameroon is well-documented.

A 2012 joint submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council by seven Cameroonian organizations including CAMFAIDS, supported by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and IGLHRC, documents at least 18 instances of people being detained or arrested based on sexual orientation or gender identity under Article 347 bis of the Cameroonian Penal Code between 2010 and 2012.

The 2010 report, Criminalizing Identities: Rights Abuses in Cameroon based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by two Cameroonian organizations, Alternatives-Cameroun and L’Assocation pour la Défense de l’ Homosexualité (ADEFHO), along with HRW and IGLHRC further details the unique brand of abuses that people suffer on the grounds of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity in Cameroon.

For more information, visit: http://www.iglhrc.org/region/cameroon