Calls for consequences after death of Cameroonian gay activist | Africa | DW | 19.07.2013
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Calls for consequences after death of Cameroonian gay activist

The late Eric Lembembe was the executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and an outspoken activist who defended the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

Eric Ohena Lembembe's lifeless body was found in his home in Yaounde on Monday (15.07.2013), after he could not be reached for several days. His partner, 26 year-old Frederick Mveng, is devastated by the death.

"When I went to the mortuary, I did not have the courage to look at his body,'" said Mveng who is now in hiding for fear that what happened to Lembembe may happen to him too. Lembembe was apparently tortured before being killed.

Lembembe was the executive director of the Cameroonian AIDS Foundation and an outspoken advocate of gay rights in a country where homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Saskia Ditisheim, president of Lawyers Without Borders Switzerland (ASF) expressed shock at the murder and vowed to bring the perpetrators to book.

A photo of four hands of two lesbians. (Photo: EPA/DAI KUROKAWA)

Most homosexuals and lesbians in Africa prefer to remain anonymous

"I am afraid that this crime will go unpunished and I will do every thing to find the authors," Ditisheim said while on a visit to Cameroon. She accused the country's leadership of ignoring the plight of homosexuals, allowing them to be jailed without cause.

She cited the case of a young man who has been in jail for five months for "walking like a woman. Therefore, the police said, you must be gay."

Lawyers also hiding

Ditisheim arrived in Cameroon at a time when the gay community has raised alarm over increased death threats from unknown people. 65 year-old Nkom Alice, a lawyer who defends gay people, has had to go into hiding for fear that her life is in danger. She told DW that her work has been hampered by uncooperative government forces.

"We are still hiding. When you complain, the authorities will do nothing just because you are gay or you are defending gay people. The authorities do nothing to protect you, to give you hope," she complained.

The death of Lembembe has triggered a lot of public discussion in the country. Although many people are opposed to homosexuality, they do not agree with gay people being the target of violence.

"A normal man should not go with another man. A man should go with a woman, so I do not accept that practice but I am against those who commit crimes, be they against homosexuals or not,'" one woman in Yaounde told DW's correspondent Moki Kindzeka.

Gay issues are human rights issues

The death of the gay activist has focused attention on the way Cameroon handles human rights issues especially concerning same-sex relationships. Lawyer Nkom says society needs to respect the rule of law and uphold the integrity of the courts as a channel to resolve disputes.

"We have courts, we have tribunals, and we suppose that we are in a state of law here. If you do not agree with somebody, or if something is illegal, we have courts for that," she said'

An illustration of two male gender signs followed by a heart.: (Photo:Andrzej Tokarski -

Gay and lesbian rights are not recognised in many African countries.

The government of Cameroon has on several occasions made it clear that homosexuals are not welcome in the country. Two years ago, it called on the European Union to stop giving financial assistance to associations that fight to protect gay rights.

Human Rights Watch has also called on the government of Cameroon to investigate the cause of Lembembe's death.

‘'Cameroonian authorities should immediately conduct an effective and thorough investigation into the torture and killing of Eric Ohena Lembembe,'' it said in a statement.

So far the government has remained silent and a request by DW's correspondent for a statement was rejected.

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