The recent announcement of Jean-Marc Berthon’s scheduled visit to Cameroon has spurred a controversy that has become a focal point of global discussion. Jean-Marc Berthon, a representative of the French government who stands at the forefront of advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights worldwide, has faced opposition from the Cameroonian government, which is known for its strict anti-gay laws.
Jean-Marc Berthon, who carries the esteemed title of France’s first-ever LGBTQ+ rights ambassador, a position he’s held since his appointment in October 2022, has an extensive career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dating back to the 1990s. In his role as an ambassador, Berthon has tirelessly strived to promote and safeguard LGBTQ+ rights on a global scale.
His scheduled visit to Cameroon, which was slated to take place from June 27 to July 1, was supposed to be part of an event hosted by the French Institute in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital. The main agenda of his visit was to chair a conference dedicated to fostering conversations on gender and sexual identity, topics that are often considered taboo in Cameroon due to the prevailing anti-homosexuality legislation.
The Cameroonian government, known for its stringent stance against homosexuality, opposed Berthon’s planned visit and activities. A diplomatic notice was dispatched to the French ambassador in Cameroon to express the government’s firm resistance to Berthon’s visit and his proposed agenda. The notice, which was viewed by the press on Wednesday following its Monday dispatch, revealed the government’s opposition to all of Berthon’s planned activities, including the conference.
The foreign minister of Cameroon, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, reiterated the country’s rigid position on homosexuality, emphasizing that in Cameroon, it “qualified as a crime of common law.” Despite these stern words, the French embassy has yet to release a public statement in response to this matter.
Cameroon, similar to many African nations, enforces punitive measures against same-sex relations, which can result in prison terms of up to five years. Of the 54 African countries, only 22 have legalized homosexuality. Human Rights Watch reports an increasing trend of abuse, including violent attacks and arbitrary arrests, directed at the LGBTQI+ community in Cameroon.
Further amplifying the suppression of LGBTQI+ rights, the National Communication Council of Cameroon recently issued a warning to the media against the promotion of homosexual content. The global LGBTQI+ community and their allies have been on high alert following the recent passing of one of the world’s most severe anti-LGBTQ bills in Uganda. The law imposes hefty prison sentences and even the death penalty for same-sex activities.
In the midst of this escalating controversy, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya is expected to visit France for French President Emmanuel Macron’s Summit for a New Global Financing Pact. This will mark his first visit since 2019. Meanwhile, the world waits and watches how the situation surrounding Jean-Marc Berthon’s proposed visit unfolds, highlighting the ongoing struggle for LGBTQI+ rights globally.