Alice Nkom: Fighting for the rights of homosexuals

In Cameroun, homosexuals are persecuted, discriminated against and incarcerated. Legal attorney Alice Nkom has founded a non-governmental organization that campaigns for the rights of this victimized minority, with the goal of putting an end to what she calls "anti-homosexual apartheid".

“I love you.” Jean-Claude Mbédé texted these three small words to his partner on his mobile phone – three words that were the death sentence for the 34 year-old homosexual, because sexual acts between same-gender partners are forbidden in Cameroun. Article 347a of the Cameroun Code of Criminal Law declares homosexuals as fair game.

“That has to stop,” Alice Nkom demands. She is a lawyer in Cameroun, and for more than ten years now she has been fighting for the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersexual people (LGBTI). In 2003 she founded the non-governmental organization “Association pour la Défense des Droits Homosexuel(le)s” (ADEFHO). With it, Nkom fights for the rights of this persecuted minority: “For me, it wasn’t an option to just sit back and watch the rights of my fellow humans be trampled on.”

Sexual acts between same-gender people are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment in Cameroun. Little in the way of proof is required for an arrest. Often a kiss, a false accusation or quite simply “suspicious” clothing suffices. And Cameroun is by no means an exception here. The persecution of gays and lesbians in Africa has increased dramatically in recent years. Homosexual acts are considered a criminal offense in no less than 36 countries south of the Sahara.

But homosexuals in Cameroun not only have to fear the authorities; they also suffer serious indignities in their everyday life. The media, politicians and religious leaders stir up hatred against them within the community. Many families reject and alienate their sons or daughters when they out themselves. They are spat on or physically attacked in broad daylight. Often they are ostracized, blackmailed or threatened with being reported to the police. “Violence against homosexuals is seen as an act of bravery that has a wholesome effect on the common good,” Nkom says. “The situation in Cameroun is almost beyond hope.”

With her non-governmental organization ADEFHO, 69 year-old Nkom offers help to persecuted homosexuals. As a lawyer she advises them in legal matters and defends them before court, and the victims can also obtain information and medical or psychological assistance from the ADEFHO.

Her work is not without perils for Nkom herself either. She repeatedly receives death threats, and the authorities have also tried to intimidate her with potential prison sentences. But the human rights activist doesn’t allow herself to be unsettled. She accuses the government in Cameroun of practicing “anti-homosexual apartheid”. In an online campaign, she appeals directly to the government, demanding that it abolish the anti-homosexual article 347a in the Code of Criminal Law. She insists that all people arrested based on 347a be set free.

This year, Amnesty International has honored Alice Nkom with its human rights award. She expressed her happiness about the distinction at the awards ceremony: “I share it not only with the people I support in Cameroun, but with all those around the world who defend human rights.”

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