UPDATE: 2/18/14: Dr. Richard Released: Details via Colin Stewart’s Blog “76 Crimes”.
POSTED: 2/17/14 –
On Friday a LGBT activist (funny how a person providing health care services to LGBT people in Sub-Saharan Africa by default is an activist) was arrested in Douala. Alternatives Cameroon – which serves as drop-in center for LGBT people to get some health services and preventative care – is one of the amazing organizations we met with last week. Speaking with one member over lunch, I found out they have applied for a grant from USAID (they had gotten one a couple of years ago) to continue doing their good work with the LGBT/MARPs community. Alternatives is called a “beacon of hope” by amfAR – by providing LGBT services in a “challenging” environment.
Challenging is generous. Very, very generous.
Now their members are under threat. This from Colin Stewart’s blog 76 Crimes:
Police in the Deido section of Douala, Cameroon, arrested the vice president of the anti-AIDS pro-LGBT-rights group Alternatives-Cameroon on Feb. 14 after receiving an accusation that he is a homosexual.
The man who was arrested, identified as Dr. Richard, remained in detention today, awaiting word on what charges he would face.
Because of the arrest, Richard, a doctor, was unable to work on Feb. 15 at the association’s Health Center, where he was scheduled to oversee a health screening campaign for MSM (men who have sex with men) as part of Cameroon’s National Strategic Plan against HIV and Tuberculosis.
Alternatives is the only drop in center for MSM/LGBT MARPs in Douala. Health services are crucial. In a recent article in The Lancet the connection was made between the discrimination and barriers to health care for LGBT persons:
In Cameroon, he estimates that somewhere between 30% and 50% of MSM may be infected with HIV and other countries with high HIV burden have also had challenges in providing supportive health services. “It’s interesting because we were asking ourselves why health workers weren’t doing more so we interviewed some in Malawi and we found they…were worried if they’d be legally liable as aiding and abetting, so there was a real fear about providing services”, he says.
CAMFAIDS, a human rights, health and LGBT group is doing amazing work with the prisoners. Every week or so a representative from CAMFAIDS comes to the prison to see how the LGBT population is doing.
(I will call him Robert) Robert was feverishly taking notes during our talk in the Governor’s office. He was speaking to each of the prisoners getting information presumably to relay to their exiled lawyer in Washington DC. There is little else CAMFAIDS can do besides be the face in the prison’s endless wilderness, bring food when they can and offer 10 minutes of comforting conversation.
Another group doing amazing work in Cameroon is REDHAC – Reseau Des Defenseurs Des Droits Humains – or – Human Rights Defenders Network. They defend the defenders. It is at their offices in Douala where we met with members from REDHAC, CAMFaids and Alternatives-Cameroon. These are brave people. Truly brave. The executive director of REDHAC had to send her children away from Cameroon after receiving death threats to her family – she remains behind to “finish the work” she said. The men of Alternatives know the risks of talking – as do all the members gathered during our meeting. Their message to me as I write was to be transparent and to just “tell the truth”. They put no caveats on anything they were telling me. They know the risks of being public in Cameroon as well as outside Cameroon.
I am worried too that there isn’t a more vocal response against all the anti-gay activity happening in Sub-Saharan Africa right now: Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria. I am not sure what it takes to make the connections – connect the dots across Africa (and the world) and speak out forcefully against these human rights violations. President Obama denounced the Uganda bill – why not also issue a statement about Cameroon? John Kerry spoke out about the atrocities in Nigeria – what about Cameroon? Cameroon where more LGBT people are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned than any other Sub-Saharan African Country. I don’t know what it will take I really don’t.
What I do know is that places like CAMFAIDS, REDHAC and Alternatives-Cameroon will continue on despite arrests, threats and the outside world’s (thus far) practically speaking blind eye.