Cameroon has denied claims that prominent gay rights and HIV campaigner Eric Ohena Lembembe was murdered because of his sexuality and activism.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council during Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review on Friday 20 September, an unnamed ambassador to the country denied there was any evidence that Mr Lembembe was murdered due to his sexuality, suggesting instead that he may have been a criminal who fell victim to a “settlement of scores.”
Mr Lembembe, former executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), was tortured and murdered at his home in July. A friend reported that his neck and feet were broken, and that he had been burnt with an iron.
Just two weeks before his death, he had spoken out against the increasingly dangerous situation for gay rights activists in the country, denouncing the “climate of hatred and bigotry in Cameroon, which extends to high levels in government.”
Addressing Mr Lembembe’s murder, a Cameroonian ambassador told the UN Human Rights Council:
There’s no proof that this gentleman was a victim because of his sexual orientation. He is a man like any other. He might have committed crimes and he was the victim of a settlement of scores which was all too quickly attributed to the Cameroon government.
What would be the advantage, the interest in killing somebody who is a homosexual? There would be no point. No one witnessed him having sexual relations. The government in Cameroon, the armed forces, the police, the security forces, has no power, no ability to go and investigate and inquire about what people do in the privacy of their own bedroom.
So I reject this alleged case of this young man who allegedly was found dead as a result of his homosexuality. Distinguished Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, these are just things that have been made up. Look at the details of this person’s life and you will understand why he died.
According to the campaign group, The Advocates for Human Rights, a member of Cameroon’s National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms said gay rights activists should know they will be “put down” if they criticise the country.
Amy Bergquist, a staff attorney for The Advocates for Human Rights, described the government of Cameroon’s investigation into Mr Lembembe’s death as “lacklustre,” citing the authorities’ failure to release the results of the coroner’s autopsy reports.
The police have yet to make any arrests, and were criticised after they held several of Mr Lembembe’s CAMFAIDS colleagues for questioning this summer.
The ambassador’s statement was delivered during Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review, in which almost all of the UN Human Rights Council’s proposals to tackle homophobic discrimination, abuse and violence were rejected.
Human Rights Watch described the government’s position as “shameful.” The rejected recommendations included a proposal to repeal section 347 of the penal code, whereby those found guilty of same-sex sexual acts can be imprisoned for up to five years.
Cameroon is notorious for its high levels of homophobic abuse and violence, and has one of the highest prosecution rates for same-sex conduct in the world. In 2013, six people have been convicted for homosexuality, despite none being caught in sexual acts.