Cameroon President Seeks End to Arrests For Being LGBTI

Published: June 4, 2014

The president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, has made a commitment “to work to stop the arrests of people on the basis of their supposed sexual orientation.”

He took that position in a private meeting two months ago, Cameroonian activists say.

Biya’s commitment occurred at a side meeting with a group of gay rights advocates at the Africa-European Union summit held in Brussels, Belgium, on April 2-3.

Since then, Biya has ordered Cameroonian police to stop arresting people on the basis of their sexual orientation, the activist group Aids Acodev Cameroun says.

It is possible that the country’s police have received that message and are complying with the order. Most police and court news about LGBTI people in Cameroon since April has involved ongoing cases and people who are in prison, not new arrests.

In the recent past, Cameroon has been one of the world’s most repressive countries for LGBTI people, with dozens of people arrested and jailed.

Cameroonian law provides for prison sentences of up to five years for same-sex sexual activity. The law is supposed to apply only to cases of same-sex intercourse in which a couple is “caught in the act,” but the law has often been interpreted as justifying imprisonment for people who are merely suspected of being homosexual. Biya’s new position might eliminate arrests based on that misinterpretation of the law, but might allow occasional arrests to be made on the basis of alleged same-sex intercourse.

Although Biya’s commitment was made verbally, not in writing, a reference to it appeared in an article in the Cameroonian newspaper Tribune Verte on May 27. The story, an op-ed piece by Blondel Silenou, was entitled “Homosexuals support the nomination of Paul Biya for a Nobel Prize.” [JPG file showing the article in French]

The article was posted on AIDS Acodev’s Facebook page.

In the article, Adonis Tchoudja, president of AIDS Acodev, asserted that “president Biya is a man of peace, everyone knows this. His tolerant character demonstrates that he is a great man. He deserves respect and recognition.”

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