A new report compiled by four human rights organisations has revealed a litany of horrific abuses suffered by people suspected of being gay in Cameroon.
This unnamed Cameroonian man was arrested,
charged with homosexual conduct, and denied access to a
lawyer in 2010 after he met two male friends in a hotel lobby.
The organisations – Alternatives-Cameroun, Association for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians (ADEFHO), the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and Human Rights Watch – found that at least 28 people have been prosecuted for same-sex conduct in Cameroon since 2010.
The groups described most cases as being marked by grave human rights violations, including torture, forced confessions, denial of access to legal representation, and discriminatory treatment by law enforcement and judicial officials.
The 55-page report, Guilty by Association: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of Cameroon’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, presents 10 case studies of arrests and prosecutions under article 347 of Cameroon’s penal code, which punishes “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” with up to five years in prison.
The report found that most people charged with homosexuality are convicted based on little or no evidence and includes numerous cases in which the law against homosexual conduct was used for settling scores, showing how the law is easily subject to abuse.
Dozens of Cameroonians do jail time solely because they are suspected of being gay or lesbian, the groups stated.
“It’s regrettable that our country stands out as one of the few countries in the world that regularly prosecutes people for same-sex conduct,” said Dominique Menoga, executive director at CAMFAIDS, a YaoundÃ©-based organisation.
“Cameroon’s government says it’s committed to respecting human rights, but its actions, when it comes to sexual and gender minorities, suggest exactly the opposite.”
Nearly every “homosexuality” prosecution investigated by the four organisations was marked by serious due process violations and other rights abuses.
Suspects were regularly arrested solely on the basis of rumour and without warrants, in violation of Cameroon’s criminal procedure code.
Police in Cameroon claim that the law exists for the purpose of punishing people who engage in same-sex conduct in public, but in all of the cases known to the four organisations, there was not a single case in which a suspect was caught having sex in public.
Because most “homosexuality” arrests are not based on information from witnesses or other evidence, law enforcement officials rely heavily on confessions, often extracted through torture and ill-treatment.
One 17-year-old arrested by police in YaoundÃ© said, “The investigator beat me on the bottoms of the feet, 50 strokes with the back of a machete.”
A man in Limbre told the organisations that when police arrested his friend on suspicion of homosexuality, “They beat him with an iron belt, asked him to swim in the gutter, and burned plastic bags on his chest.”
A man arrested by police in Douala claimed police forced him to sleep naked on the floor and beat him with clubs on his feet so severely that his toenails fell out.
In several cases, men arrested for homosexuality were reported to have been subjected to anal exams.
Judicial officials frequently fail to uphold their obligation to interpret the law with objectivity, relying instead on their own biases. Two men in YaoundÃ© were convicted because gendarmes found condoms and lubricant in their house while purportedly searching for a stolen laptop.
When two young transgender people in YaoundÃ© were arrested, a judge said their choice of alcoholic beverage – Bailey’s liqueur, which the judge regarded as a “woman’s drink” – constituted proof of their homosexuality. They were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Their conviction was subsequently overturned by an appeals court. But the same court recently upheld the conviction of Roger Mbede, who was charged with homosexuality for sending a text message to another man reading, “I’ve fallen in love with you.”
“No one should be sentenced to prison time because they blurt out a confession to stop torture, or because a judge doesn’t like what they drink, how they dress, or what kind of text messages they send,” said Neela Ghoshal, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The way the law is enforced in Cameroon seems to suggest that if you’re suspected of being gay or lesbian, human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and the right not to be tortured, no longer apply.”
The report also documents repeated death threats received by two human rights lawyers, Alice Nkom and Michel ToguÃ©, due to their defense of clients charged with homosexuality. Both lawyers have alerted the authorities, but law enforcement officials appear to have taken no action to investigate the threats against the lawyers.
President Paul Biya stated at a news conference in Paris in January 2013 that “minds are changing” with regard to homosexuality in Cameroon, but he made no commitment to take concrete steps to decriminalise homosexual conduct.
“We are calling on our government to stop waiting around helplessly for minds to change, and instead to show a bit of courage,” said Yves Yomb, executive director at Alternatives-Cameroun.
“The government should decriminalise same-sex conduct, withdraw charges against those who are currently being tried for homosexuality, and inform the public that this is a matter of upholding fundamental rights.”