Yaound�, capital of Cameroon

The torching of the offices of a gay rights group in Cameroon is among a recent spate of attacks against human rights defenders supporting LGBT equality in the country.

Last week, unidentified assailants set fire to the Alternatives-Cameroun office in Douala. 

Among the oldest LGBTI organisations in the country, the group provides HIV testing and counselling services, and advocates for equal rights.

On the morning of June 26, staff arrived at the access centre and found that a fire had destroyed most of the furniture, as well as computers and medical records of clients who had come in for HIV testing.

“There is no doubt: anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Eric Ohena Lembembe, executive director of CAMFAIDS, a Yaound�-based human rights organisation.

“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.”

On June 16, assailants also broke into the Yaound� office of a prominent human rights lawyer, Michel Togu�, stealing a laptop, confidential legal files, flash drives, and Togu�’s passport.

Togu� has taken on several high profile court cases defending people charged with “sexual relations with a person of the same sex”. He has received dozens of death threats over the last nine months, including threats to kill his young children. Another lawyer who represents LGBTI clients, Alice Nkom, has received similar threats.

A large sum of money in Togu�’s desk drawer was left untouched, although the drawer was opened, suggesting the attack was not an everyday robbery.

On June 1, assailants broke into the office of human rights group REDHAC and stole computers and flash drives, leaving other valuables untouched.

Like Togu�, REDHAC’s executive director, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, has received death threats by text message. On April 5, unidentified assailants attempted to abduct her son from school.

In all cases, the human rights defenders have filed complaints with the police about the break-ins, but no arrests have been made.

On May 1, fifteen member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council recommended that Cameroon improve its respect for the human rights of LGBTI people and those who defend them. Seven countries also recommended improving conditions for rights defenders more generally, including by investigating threats and acts of violence against them.

“This troubling spate of attacks against human rights defenders, including people promoting basic rights for sexual and gender minorities, makes it all the more critical for Cameroon to take the [United Nations Human Rights Council] recommendations seriously and fulfil its obligation to protect all citizens,” commented Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s refusal to accept recommendations to protect LGBTI people, combined with its general disregard for human rights defenders, contributes to a poisonous climate in which both state and non-state actors believe they can harass and threaten LGBTI rights defenders with impunity.”

Consensual same-sex conduct is criminalised under the Cameroonian penal code. At least 28 people have been prosecuted under the law since 2010.

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