Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

The Hilltop


Cameroonian Pioneer Continues Human Rights work at United Nations

UN PFPAD Vice Chair Alice Nkom at the United Nations in NYC. Photo courtesy of Nkom.

An international human rights leader continues to break barriers as an African woman, bringing attention to the importance of African women, youth and men in the African diaspora at the United Nations (UN).

In an interview with The Hilltop, global trailblazer and human rights defender, Alice Nkom, who currently serves as the Vice Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD), shared her thoughts on the second Session of the Permanent Forum.

“We are meeting to discuss issues of importance to the African diaspora, including reparatory justice, pan-Africanism, data collection, and public health and well-being. Our discussions and recommendations will be critical,” Nkom said in the UN General Assembly Hall.  

Nkom is a prominent Cameroonian defense lawyer and a campaigner for the decriminalization of same sex relationships. Over several decades, Barrister Nkom has fought for social justice on the African continent and around the world.

An alumna of the University of Toulouse in France and the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, formerly known as the Federal University of Yaoundé, Nkom is the first female lawyer in Cameroon, and has an innate relationship with and understanding of marginalized populations.

“Barrister Nkom has been a defender of the poor and a fighter for human rights and democracy in Cameroon, where traditionally no one defends the LGBT cause,” Dr. Jean-Bosco Tagne, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, said. 

“Alice Nkom is very courageous, fearless and eager to fight for everyone’s rights,” Tagne continued. Born in Cameroon, Tagne is currently a U.S. citizen who believes the impact of Nkom’s work is tremendous and has been felt across Africa. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“She has been everywhere for causes all over Africa, and is now championing people in the diaspora to return to their respective country without any fear,”  he added. 

The second session of the PFPAD took place between May 30 – June 2, 2023, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The intergenerational convening included members from across the African diaspora who work in the multilateral, public, private, nonprofit and civil society sectors.

Over 900 members of civil society and representatives of UN Member states called for the recourse and remedy to the eras of slavery and colonialism and centuries of illegitimate racial subjugation of people of African descent. Delegates also called for a second UN International Decade for people of African descent, and the removal of racial discrimination within the UN system as well as in developed nations, citing the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA).

Adopted at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held Aug. 31 – Sept. 8, 2001, the DDPA is the UN’s blueprint to combat racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia globally.

In an amazing sequence, members of the African diaspora repeatedly called for global reparations for underdeveloped states such as Haiti and other nations in the Caribbean and Africa. Delegates from across Latin America and the Caribbean raised the importance of former European island colonies in the Global South.

In a world, where corporations have more rights than people, human rights – which can be social, political, economic and cultural – are particularly important. “On the ground, people have told me the UN is diminishing. Where is the world going if trust in this institution continues to decline?” Nkom said in her opening address to delegates of the PFPAD.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“We should note that every sector is multifaceted,” Nkom said. “Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves if all of the facets have been fully leveraged on the local level which is the essence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its universality and for its implementation.”

Explaining the meaning behind her speech, the Vice Chair of the PFPAD told The Hilltop that she believes the UDHR essentially and implicitly includes all people and as such “necessitates UN engagement with civil society, academia, as well as the philanthropic, private and public sectors and member states.”

“We’re talking about international structures that most countries have agreed to,” Nkom said.  “If countries agree to processes but are not held accountable, how will rule of law work?”

Recognizing across the world people lose their lives and are hanged, persecuted, and pushed to suicide due to the public response to homosexuality, long ago Barrister Nkom decided to lend her voice to fight for the dignity for sexual minorities, eventually founding the Association for the Defense of Homosexuality (ADEFHO) in 2003.

Kevin Besong is an International Criminal Law student, human rights activist, and volunteer at the Bright Future Organization, an LGBTQI+ rights organization based in Kamonyi, Southern Province, Rwanda, who believes Nkom’s work is significant in Africa because she humanizes  marginalized populations.

“Barrister Nkom’s work is important and has brought humanity and visibility to sexual minorities. Her work has shown a different view of who LGBT+ people are in Cameroon, and in Africa,” Besong said.  

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Even though she is an elder, lawyer, and early advocate for inclusion and humanity despite our distinctions, Nkom has received countless insults and threats to her life for speaking about inclusion and human rights for all. Upholding that one’s sexual preference does not reduce their humanity, Nkom has championed that ‘LGBT rights are human rights’, and has continued this advocacy at the UN.

“Certain persons of African descent that identify as LGBT+ are affected by stigmatization and discriminatory laws that have already been enacted or recently enacted,” Nkom said. “Therefore, we say ‘no’ to all forms of exclusion and discrimination.”

“Although she continues to receive death threats to her phone for advancing the human rights of all, Nkom is fearless, nurturing and embodies motherly wisdom and courage and upholds that members of the LGBT+ community are human beings,” said Besong.  

Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, UN PFPAD Vice Chair Nkom and DaQuan Lawrence at UN Headquarters in NYC. Photo courtesy of DaQuan Lawrence

UN resolution 75/314 outlines the establishment of the UN PFPAD, and defines the core duties and responsibilities of the 10 PFPAD members. The Permanent Forum is responsible for selecting a Chair and a Vice Chair among members of the Permanent Forum at each session and submitting an annual report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on its activities.

At the second session in New York, Nkom was reelected as Vice Chair. According to the PFPAD mandate, the Chair, Vice-Chair and Rapporteur are responsible for preparing a summary of the Forum’s discussions, which are to be made available to all participants in the Forum. Former Vice President of Costa Rica, Dr. Epsy Campbell-Barr serves as the Chair of the PFPAD, while Dr. Michael McEachrane serves as the Forum’s Rapporteur.  

“At each session, we select our leadership, and our regional rotation is very important in order to ensure proportionate representation,” said Nkom. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the PFPAD can be leveraged at forthcoming sessions.”

Reflecting on her experience at the second session of the PFPAD at the UN headquarters, and the public policy and international law recommendations made by civil society members and UN Member states, Nkom considered future generations.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“This is very important work that we are doing for the future of people of African descent. I appreciate all of the recommendations, interventions, and suggestions made by civil society delegates,” Nkom said.

Dr. Vickie Casanova-Willis is a special consultant for the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) and the Communications Co-Chair for the PFPAD’s International Civil Society Working Group, and believes Barrister Nkom’s work transcends the boundaries of gender, language, age, race, ability and sexual orientation.

“Alice Nkom’s life proves age does not define one’s ability. Since becoming Cameroon’s first woman lawyer, and years of invaluable human rights advocacy, to her current role as Vice Chair of the PFPAD, she has led by example for decades,” Casanova-Willis said.  

With over five decades of experience,  Nkom continues to inspire Cameroonians, members of the African diaspora and people around the world and would like her advocacy to be associated with elegance, beauty and greatness.

Despite varying perspectives and interpretations of her advocacy for humanity, it can be argued that Barrister Nkom is a stellar example of a decent human being. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

You May Also Like