Six human rights groups have joined together to call on the Government of Cameroon to denounce and prosecute a spate of attacks on human rights groups in the country that advocate for LGBT people and people with HIV.
Affirmative Action, Alternatives-Cameroun, the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals (ADEFHO), the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, and international human rights group Human Rights Watch made the call for action today.
In the most recent attack on 26 June unknown persons set fire to the office of Alternatives-Cameroun, the oldest LGBT community organization in Cameroon, in Douala.
Staff arrived in the morning to find that fire had destroyed most of the furniture in the office as well as computers and the medical records of clients who had come in for HIV testing.
10 days before that the Douala office of human rights lawyer Michel Togué was burgled with confidential information stolen but a large sum of money that had been left in the office went untouched.
Togué had chosen to take on several high profile cases where men and women had been accused of having sexual relations with a person of the same-sex and received dozens of death threats as a result, forcing him to send his family overseas.
Two weeks prior to that burglary the Douala offices of the Central African Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC) were burgled with computers and storage drives stolen.
Complaints have been made to police about all three break-ins but no arrests have been made.
The groups believe the attacks form an organized pattern of harassment against LGBT rights defenders in the staunchly Christian Central African country.
‘The police have a responsibility to protect all Cameroonians and to investigate all crimes,’ Alternatives-Cameroun executive director Yves Yomb said.
‘But we are seeing what appears to be selective disinterest in enforcing the law and holding perpetrators accountable. We continue to go to the police and file complaints when these incidents occur, but our trust is waning.’
‘There is no doubt – anti-gay thugs are targeting those who support equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,’ CAMFAIDS executive director Eric Ohena Lembembe 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 attacks follow on the heels of the March release of a report by Alternatives-Cameroon, Human Rights Watch, CAMFAIDS and ADEFHO which detailed torture of people suspected of homosexuality by Cameroon’s security forces.
In May the United Nations Human Rights Council held its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the state of human rights in Cameroon, with 15 countries urging Cameroon to improve LGBT rights in the country and 7 urging the country to actively punish the illegal persecution of LGBT persons.
Human Rights Watch urged the Government of Cameroon to heed the recommendations of the UPR.
‘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 UPR recommendations seriously and fulfill its obligation to protect all citizens, Human Rights Watch senior LGBT rights researcher Neela Ghoshal said.
‘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.’