Monday, 17 January 2011

Cameroon protests EU's support for Cameroonian LGBT, France urged to defend

Me Alice NkomAlice Nkom image via Wikipedia

By Paul Canning, part translation by Dan Littaeur

  • violent threat made against LGBT rights advocates
  • calls for arrest of prominent advocate
  • EU funding draw government protest
Cameroon's Foreign Minister Henri Eyebe Ayissi summoned the head of the EU delegation in Cameroon, Raoul Mateus Paula, 13 January to protest their funding of  LGBT groups that "violate the laws of Cameroon."

The EU is funding the 'Project for Assistance and Guidance to Sexual Minorities' with €300,000. The project is backed by the associations Sid'ado, Cofenho (the Collective of Families of children with homosexuals), and Association to Defend Homosexuals (ADEFHO), the main LGBT rights group founded by Alice Nkom, a  well-known Cameroonian lawyer. Nkom is the only lawyer operating in Cameroon who defends the rights of LGBT people.

Ayissi asked that the EU reconsider the funding, because "the people of Cameroon are not ready or willing to go in this direction of development of these practices on its territory."

He said that the EU is "violating the provisions of the Vienna Convention governing priorities and consular cooperation between states."

In response Alice Nkom, said she was "saddened by the government's reaction," and that she did not see how the funding violated Cameroonian law. ADEFHO has been legally registered under a 1990 law on freedom of association since 2003.

Headlines in local newspapers have declared a diplomatic row with the EU.

A representative of Cameroon's Ministry of Communication suggested on the television show Canal Plus 9 January that Nkom should be arrested as she was "guilty of crimes against Cameroon's law, sovereignty, and independence."

Nkom tells Africa Presse (part Google translation) that the government has just accepted nearly 64 billion CFA francs (c€100m) from the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on the basis that the fight against HIV/Aids will include efforts targeted at Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM). She noted that the government had been pressed by the Global Fund on criminalisation of homosexuality and had acknowledged that discrimination did not help the fight against HIV/Aids.

The Ministry of Health has said that the Global Fund money "will help the country intensify it’s awareness programs directed towards the most vulnerable groups, such as MSM and others."

She also noted that the Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, had spoken of homosexuality as a 'private' and not a state issue. He said:
“Stop here! Cameroun is a modern state which I constructed. Even the freedom of expression stops where the private lives of people is concerned. You have no reasons to interfere.“
Nkom said that Biya had "strongly confirmed the commitment that Cameroun undertook in its constitution: firstly, in making the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man non preamble and part and parcel of the constitution; secondly, in its commitment to protect, not only minorities whatever they may be, without saying “excluding such and such minority”, but equally in protecting people's residence from being spied upon about their sexual relations by anyone. Without an external intervention, even of a judge."
"In the entourage of the President of the Republic, there are ministers that lie to him in what they do. And I think that the position of the Foreign Minister is an illustration of the willingness to spread lies about the President and to make it appear he is doing against his rightful work – a noble image of Cameroun to the world," she said.
"The Foreign Minister is followed the unleashing of passions aroused by the article published in your columns [Africa Presse]," she said. "He clearly did not take the time to reflect and to find out what were the [international] commitments in this area of Cameroon. The image of Cameroon to the outside will take a hit."

"How can we deny the defense of a class of individuals in trouble with the law or a law? How can we say that we can defend the worst criminals and not homosexuals?," she said.

"Why am I threatened with a trial because I defend people that are persecuted, that we arbitrarily harassed, illegally poisoning their life in their own country, who are denied citizenship, denied even the most basic human dignity, that we all share? How you can tell me to blush because I defend them? Mon Dieu ! (My God!)"
"I am ashamed for Cameroon. It has got to stop. Cameroonians must stop this cacophony."
"You were seen with an earring, they stop you. We see that you have a beautiful body because you go to the gym, they say you're gay and you are being arrested. I do not agree with that. I refuse that. I would fight against it. All the time."
A spokesperson for a coalition of Cameroonian youth organizations, Sismondi Bidjocka Barlev, has declared a "fatwa" against LGBT people, accused the Cameroonian authorities of "passive complicity", called on youth to "track them [LGBT], denounce them, without any pity, not a single bit" and for mass protests outside of the EU office in Yaoundé and the arrest of Raoul Mateus Paula.

Nkom has shrugged off the threat of arrest saying in an e-mail to a group of Cameroon's leading gay rights activists:
"I believe I will be arrested in the coming days, but I will not lose sleep over this or, especially, abandon what we have begun together."
The Paris LGBT Centre said that it "calls on French and international institutions to ensure [Nkom's] safety and to intervene before it is disturbed."

Act Up-Paris and ADEFHO urged the Cameroonian authorities to "stem the flow of hate against homosexuals, as well as members of ADEFHO" and asked the French government to "publicly condemn  violence against sexual minorities and their advocates in Cameroon as elsewhere in the world."

Update, 23 January: In a joint statement, Spanish group Fundación Triángulo and ADEFHO said:
Alice Nkom’s physical wellbeing was publicly threatened on STV2 Television in Cameroon when, on 11 Jan 2011, Kengouum Celestin, a lawyer in Cameroon, said: “I have friends that have told me that they are waiting to run into you in some dark corner of the city to ‘have some major fun action with you’.”

These words were directed at Mrs. Nkom. The threats have gone “in crescendo” in the last few days both against members of the organization as well as Mrs. Nkom herself.
Ten Cameroonian human rights NGOs have urged the government to reconsider its position and meet its international commitments on human rights.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has written a letter to President Paul Biya of Cameroon (pfd) to express deep concern.
"Act swiftly to protect Madame Nkom, ADEFHO, all LGBT organizations and all LGBT people from violence, including by swiftly condemning hate speech by members of government and civil society and preventing the possibility of mob violence targeting human rights defenders and LGBT people," they wrote.

HT African Activist
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