Human rights activists in South Africa, France and the United States descended on Cameroonian embassies on Monday to express their anger at a pattern of arrests and harassment of gay men and lesbians in the African nation of Cameroon.
More than 30 people have been arrested in Cameroon in the last two years on charges of homosexuality, despite an October 2006 ruling by the United Nations that termed such arrests to be arbitrary and unfair. Dozens of students, particularly girls and young women, have been expelled from schools as result of their real or perceived sexual orientation.
“Challenging the legal system that continues to criminalize homosexuality must be a top priority for all human rights organisations,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “We hope these actions will draw attention to the blatant abuse that occurs not only in Cameroon but in countries all over the world.”
In France, LGBT groups led by Les Pantheres Roses stood in solidarity with Alternatives-Cameroun, a Cameroonian LGBT rights group, in front of the Parvis des Droits de l’Homme in Paris, to protest the human rights violations. They also delivered a letter of concern to the Ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon.
In Washington, D.C., Amnesty International and Liberation for All Africans, an African LGBT Diaspora group, also delivered a letter of protest to the Cameroonian diplomatic representation.
And in Pretoria, IGLHRC led more than 100 protesters in a demonstration outside the Cameroon High Commission.
In May 2005, 17 men and women were arrested at an open-air bistro in Yaounde. Eleven of them spent more than a year at the Kondegui Central Prison before seven of them were convicted. Alternatives-Cameroun has documented the cases of more than 13 other men currently being detained in Cameroon under Article 347 bis of the penal code, which prohibits consensual same-sex relationships.
On November 7, 2007, three men appeared before a Cameroonian high court facing charges of homosexuality after being detained for more than three months without bail. The men were arrested in Bonapriso, Douala, on the night of August 31, 2007, by police officers making random arrests in search of armed robbers. After being beaten at the police station, one of the men confessed to being homosexual and implicated his two colleagues.
“As soon as the shadow of homosexuality enters into a case due process goes out of the window,” said IGLHRC Program Associate Joel Nana, who has been monitoring the cases.
People currently detained on grounds of homosexuality all have cases riddled with irregularities and have been subject to procedures that are inconsistent with the new Cameroonian code of penal procedure. After arrest, alleged homosexuals are detained for investigation for longer time periods that the law prescribes. If they are lucky enough to find a lawyer, then they undergo an endless number of trials.
“This is a tactic that the court frequently uses in the cases of gay men and lesbians,” said Sebastien Mandeng, human rights researcher at Alternatives-Cameroon, the national LGBT organization. “They needlessly prolong the process with no legal justification in order to unofficially punish and imprison the accused.”
Last year, 30 young girls aged 14 to 22 were expelled from the Eyengue Nkongo High school in Douala for being lesbians. One of the students’ parents filed a complaint against another student for misleading her child. They were arrested together with two other students and sent to the New Bell prison in Douala, where they spent more than four months in jail.
In October 2006, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that detention on the basis of sexual orientation in Cameroon constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN human rights body called on the government of Cameroon to adopt necessary measures to remedy the situation, including the possible repeal of Article 347.
The human rights groups Alternatives-Cameroun, Amnesty International, IGLHRC, Les Pantheres Rose, and OUT are calling for the repeal of Article 347, the release of all individuals detained under this law, and an end to official discrimination based on sexual orientation in Cameroon.