LGBT Groups Worldwide Step Up Pressure on Human Rights

August 19, 2013

Cameroon’s LGBT community has been demanding that authorities act to stop homophobic violence in the wake of July’s torture and murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, 34, a journalist and executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS.

“It’s a shock in the community,” said Yves Yomb, 32, a fellow Cameroonian activist, responding to the murder. “We really ask about the security of gay leaders in Cameroon with this crime. Since I started my LGBTI activism, I’ve never been as afraid as I am now.”

Like Lembembe, Yomb has stood up for justice in the country that, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), prosecutes people for consensual same-sex conduct more aggressively than almost any other in the world.

Once rejected by his father—who did not speak to him for two years when Yomb revealed his sexual orientation—he now assists other LGBT Cameroonians facing family and community scorn as the director of the Douala-based organization Alternatives-Cameroun.

Alternatives, featured in the 2012 film Born this Way—which documents the lives of LGBT Cameroonians—is one of six groups seeking fundamental change in the country, where danger is ever-present for those in same-sex relationships or working on same-sex issues. Alternatives’ office itself was the target of an arson attack in June, 2013.

Cameroon’s government brought charges against at least 28 people and convicted more than one-third for homosexual conduct between 2010 and 2012, according to research by HRW and Alternatives. Convictions have been based on little or no evidence, and some confessions have been extracted by torture.

Alternatives and four other Cameroonian organizations along with HRW and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), submitted these and other data in a 2012 report to the United Nations, which periodically reviews its member countries’ performance on human rights.

The report’s presentation to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council led 15 countries in May 2013 to recommend that Cameroon decriminalize same-sex activity between consenting adults—to which the government must respond in October 2013.

Cameroon is one of more than 35 countries in Africa and 78 worldwide where same-sex acts are illegal. Anti-homosexuality laws also lead to the death penalty for some cases in five countries and parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Nigeria was the site of a 2012 meeting organized by the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)—an organization seeking to protect lesbian and women’s rights defenders in 19 countries—prior to the government’s 2013 passage of a law that, under the pretext of prohibiting same-sex marriage, extended existing penalties for consenting same-sex relations to anyone who speaks up for, meets with, or forms a group to support LGBTI rights.

CAL also worked with organizations in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Botswana during the year to submit their first reports addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

A separate U.N. body, the Human Rights Committee, heard in 2012 for the first time from a representative of the trans community in Turkey, which has the second highest rate of transphobic murders in the world.

Şevval Kilic, representing the organization LGBTT Istanbul, along with five local partners and IGLHRC, urged that Turkey “enactlegislationonanti-discrimination and equality, ensuring that it includes a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on all the grounds.”

In February 2013, 70 members of the Turkish Parliament requested the first inquiry into the country’s LGBT human rights, a significant change that Kilic believes will result in SOGI-based discrimination being added to a Turkish hate crimes law.

“In Geneva and beyond, the judges have ruled,” says IGLHRC executive director Jessica Stern. “It’s now in the hands of the very governments that have trampled LGBT rights to take seriously the recommendations of international bodies to protect those within their borders.”

Several nations responded positively in 2012 to international recommendations: Both Chile and Moldova enacted anti-LGBT-discrimination laws—a step that had been recommended during their U.N. human rights reviews. Lesotho, which had earlier rejected U.N. members’ calls to decriminalize homosexuality, did so in 2012.

In addition, the U.N. refugee agency in October published guidelines clarifying the criteria for granting asylum to LGBT individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries, and a U.N. committee vote in November resulted in a U.N. resolution condemning SOGI-based “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.”

This vote followed a campaign by a group of organizations—including IGLHRC, HRW, Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE), and ARC International, among others—to reinstate the words “sexual orientation,” which had been removed from the resolution in 2010, and added “gender identity” for the first time.

Among the countries in which Comité IDAHO reported that events were organized for the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia were Burma and Haiti, as well as Morocco, which launched a campaign to repeal the country’s criminalization of same-sex relationships.

In honor of Human Rights Day, December 10, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon praised Argentina for passing some of the most progressive legislation in the world on gender recognition. He criticized so-called “anti-propaganda” bills that had been set in motion to criminalize public discussion of homosexuality in Ukraine, and in Russia where the law was passed in June 2013.

“Let me say this loud and clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else,” he said. “They, too, are born free and equal. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their struggle for human rights.”