18 March 2014

Africa: Cameroonian Gay Rights Activist Wins Top Award

Cameroonian lawyer and gay rights activist Alice Nkom is the winner of Amnesty International's Human Rights Award 2014. In Berlin she visited a memorial to gays murdered under the Nazi regime.

The rain patters down on Alice Nkom's blue headdress, but the 69-year-old does not seem to notice. Motionless she stands in front of a gray metal cube that has been erected in memory of homosexuals murdered during Germany's Nazi era.

The monument at the entrance of Berlin's Tiergarten was built in 2008 and Nkom was determined to see it. Through an opening she peers into the interior of the memorial. A black and white film shows two men kissing each other. "It is very touching for me to see such a thing in a public place," said Nkom. "In my country it would be inconceivable."

Advocate for gays and lesbians

Nkom comes from Cameroon. For eleven years, the lawyer has been defending men and women sitting in prison because of their sexual orientation. Same-sex love is a crime in the Central African country. According to section 345a of the Cameroonian penal code, a person caught in a "homosexual act" can face up to five years in prison. In reality, it takes only a suspicion to land somebody in jail.

Nkom has often been the last hope for those hoping to escape such harsh sentences. Together with the organization, ADEFHO, which she founded, she fights for the rights of gays and lesbians in Douala, Cameroon's largest city.

In Berlin Alice Nkom wanted to visit a memorial and see how gay people live in Germany

Her commitment has made her known all over the world. On Tuesday (18.03.2014) she was awarded Amnesty International's Human Rights Award for 2014. Despite her busy schedule in Berlin, where she received the award, she arranged to have three hours free of interviews or meetings with politicians so that she could discover "gay Berlin." Amnesty International has organized a tour for her.

Threats by text message

The award has given her courage, she says. "This gives me a voice that can get heard everywhere." Despite death threats she has been receiving while in Cameroon, the award is encouraging her to continue with her work.

Despite death threats, Nkom has vowed to continue defending gays and lesbians in Cameroon

Public hostility towards gay rights activists in Cameroon began one and a half years ago, Nkom said. "Before, I had to fight only against the government, which wanted to withdraw my lawyer's license." But in 2012, the situation the situation deteriorated. Well-known journalist Eric Lembembe was found dead in his apartment, his face disfigured. Nkom has been receiving text messages and emails telling her to stop defending homosexuals; otherwise, her family would be in danger. The lawyer has two children and eight grandchildren.

Visiting Berlin's gay museum

"Such threats will never deter me," said Nkom. Her tour of gay Berlin takes her to the world's first museum devoted to the history of homosexuals. On the walls, there are pictures by gay artists, but also photographs of demonstrations against discrimination in Germany. "Germany has come a long way - from Nazi concentration camps to freedom for homosexuals," Nkom said thoughtfully. This could also happen in Cameroon. But pressure from the West is needed.

DW.DE

Related Subjects Berlin Wall, The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), LGBT Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights

Keywords Human rights, ALice Nkom, Berlin, Amnesty International, Cameroon, Homosexuals, gay, lesbian

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