Friday 2 August 2013

Cameroon's HIV response stifled following murder of leading HIV activist

On 15 July, renowned HIV and LGBTI activist, Eric Ohena Lembembe, was found dead in his home in Yaoundé,  Cameroon. He had been brutally tortured and then beaten to death in an attack believed to be politically motivated

Cameroon has been described as one of the world’s most violently anti-gay nations, and prosecutes consensual same-sex conduct aggressively. Lembembe’s murder is one in a number of recent attacks targeting LGBTI and other human rights activists in Cameroon and is symptomatic of an escalating climate of instability in the country.

Lembembe was Executive Director of The Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and also a prominent journalist and blogger who frequently spoke out about the climate of hostility and fear faced by Cameroon’s LGBTI communities. He was a partner in the implementation of a Global Fund-financed HIV/AIDS grant targeting men who have sex with men, sex workers and truck drivers.

In his work for CAMFAIDS, and in his writing on the Erasing 76 Crimes blog (a reference to the 76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal) Lembembe frequently reported on the rising violence against LGBTI people and the impact this has on restricting access to HIV services. 

The hostile climate for LGBTI people in the cities of Cameroon has been intensifying over recent months. In the week following the murder, LGBTI and HIV organisations of Cameroon announced they were suspending all activities until the safety of Cameroon’s LGBTI communities could be guaranteed.

‘The associations have decided to stop working because of the climate of insecurity that prevails in Cameroon,’ said Yves Yomb, Executive Director of the HIV organisation Alternatives-Cameroon.  ‘It was urgent that we stop so we would not be further exposed to danger. We will work with our partners to see how we can improve working conditions and especially the security of our organizations and members.’
To draw attention to the situation, Cameroon’s LGBTI and HIV organisations formed a new coalition and issued a Memorandum calling on the support of the international agencies involved in funding education and advocacy programs across the country.

The Memorandum was dispatched on 22 July to USAID; Care Cameroon; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Cameroon National Association for Family Welfare (CAMNAFAW). The full text is reproduced below:


In this memorandum, the associations supporting the LGBTI community of Cameroon announce the creation of a coalition that speaks for them with a unified voice.

The purpose of this coalition is to communicate as one with development partners, regional authorities and international organizations about strategic issues facing Cameroonian organizations.

In the fight for the rights of sexual minorities in Cameroon, the long-decried climate of homophobia has intensified and now has reached a critical point.

The pursuit of our various missions (prevention of STIs / HIV, medical care, advocacy for rights, support of people imprisoned for their sexual orientation and / or gender identity) requires a minimum level of security, institutional support and financial support.

At present, the high level of insecurity in Cameroon has unfortunately led to the murder of Eric Lembembe Ohena of CAMFAIDS. We also note that serious threats have been made against the locations and members of our organizations, to the point where continuing our current work unchanged would be dangerous.

For this reason, we are asking you for additional financial and institutional support to ensure:
  • A plan for securing our organizations, officers and members (the costs of around-the-clock guards for our center, insurance, and purchase of surveillance equipment).
  • Creation of an emergency fund to defend our organizations and activists.
  • Establishment of a common activity center in Yaoundé where maximum security can be provided.
Because of the dangers of the current situation, in cities of Yaoundé and Douala we are forced to suspend immediately the projects we have with USAID through Care Cameroon and with the Global Fund through CAMNAFAW. Minimal services will continue to be provided to our clients.
We reject a partnership that reduces our associations to simply a labor force that must work in precarious, dangerous conditions.
The perpetrators of Eric’s murder have not been determined.

‘We are deeply saddened by this brutal murder,’ said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. ‘We are committed to supporting the essential work done by organisations like Eric's that focus on the right to health.’

‘Community-based organizations are a vital component of the HIV response that can provide services,' Dr. Dybul added. ‘Communities supported by similar organizations, such as LGBT people, face disproportionate rates of HIV infection all over the world.’

See Also:
Global Fund Condemns Killing of LGBT Activist in Cameroon (Global Fund media release)
Cameroon: LGBTI Rights Activist Found Dead, Tortured (Human Rights Watch media release

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