Cameroon is suffering under an "anti-homosexuals apartheid," a lawyer who has spent a decade defending gays and lesbians in the West African nation, where same-sex relations are illegal, has said.

"When a country uses weapons, the police and all available legal and prison means against a section of its population, while it has a commitment to protect," it is apartheid, Alice Nkom told the AFP news agency in an interview.

The 69-year-old lawyer will receive a human rights prize from the German branch of Amnesty International in Berlin on Tuesday.

Homosexuality is banned in Cameroon, where it has carried a prison term of five years since 1972.

The comments by the lawyer came weeks after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill prescribing a 14-year jail term and life imprisonment for homosexual offences.

Nigeria has also enacted anti-homosexuality legislation despite condemnation from human rights groups and Western nations.

'Human rights problem'

Amnesty International says the public in Cameroon remains hostile to gays and lesbians, and a mere suspicion is often enough to lead someone to being hauled in front of a court for homosexuality or to be sentenced.

Nkom, who also drew a comparison between the situation of homosexuals and that of slavery in the US until the 19th century, described the situation for gays in Cameroon more widely as "a human rights problem".

Paraphrasing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's comments, she said: "Every time a homosexual is negatively affected, it's a negative effect on all of humanity."

Sexual relations between same-sex couples are currently illegal in at least 76 countries, 36 of which are in Africa, according to Amnesty.

But Nkom disputes the idea that homophobia is an intrinsically African problem.

Pointing to the example set by South Africa's late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, she said that on the contrary the continent's values were anchored in non-discrimination.

She urged Western countries to stand firm in challenging African discrimination against gays, AFP reported.

"Europeans are wrong to get intimidated when Africans say to them 'don't interfere' or 'it's you who brought us that'," she said, referring to critics who claim that homosexuality is a Western import.

She pointed in particular to Museveni who said in an interview after signing the bill that homosexuals were "disgusting".

"You cannot let him carry out such a barbarity on a section of his people without saying anything," Nkom said, calling for sanctions against the Ugandan leader and his family, including a visa ban for foreign travel.

Homophobia runs deep in Uganda where known gay men and women do not only run the risk of getting jailed but are also often discriminated against when it comes to employment.

Source: Agencies