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Cameroon High Commission stalls on our petition. A wasted lunchtime?

For the past two months Amnesty supporters have been adding their signatures to a letter to President Paul Biya of Cameroon calling on him to repeal laws that criminalise homosexuality and to protect sexual minority groups in the country from abuse. All-in-all nearly 400 signatures were collected from across the country. Last week we tried to deliver them to the High Commission of the republic of Cameroon in London.

We had written some weeks ago seeking an appointment with the High Commissioner (the equivalent of an ambassador for a Commonwealth country). No answer. So we'd followed up with a phone call. The High Commissioner would not be able to receive us because he was to be in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, we were told. And, no, no-one could suggest a suitable date for an appointment after his return.

But no matter. We hand in actions all the time when commissioners and ambassadors are not available. A meeting is always preferable of course, but handing petitions in to an official of any kind allows us to follow up and push for an answer later down the line. We decided to deliver it on Tuesday, and e-mailed the High Commission to let them know, in the hope that they would find some official who could discuss the situation with us. No answer again.

So we turned up in the pleasant sunshine of Holland Park. We first spoke to a receptionist who seemed to double as a visa processor (if the random-looking piles of passports all over the counter was anything to go by), who directed us through to a small office.

The official we met was adamant that our letter could be delivered only directly to the High Commissioner, as in placed in his hand. And because he was not in the High Commission, but hadn't left the country, and hadn't therefore appointed an alternative (known as a chargé d'affaires), there was no-one to accept the letter.

Could we have a date for a meeting with the High Commissioner? No, the High Commissioner's diary secretary was also in Glasgow, and no one else could do this.

Thus we failed to deliver the petition. We posted it instead! - I don't think that even a High Commission official can refuse to accept a mailed item. We hope it will then be forwarded to President Biya in Yaoundé

The entire, slightly farcical attempt to stonewall us (excuse the pun) by the High Commission suggests the Cameroonian authorities are very sensitive to criticism in this area, and had decided the last thing they wanted was an actual conversation on the issues. Knowing this is useful. So perhaps there'll be more action on this soon. Watch this space!

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