Cameroon: Same-Sex Relations Bring Attacks, Arrests

Published: November 4, 2010

For Immediate Release

(Yaoundé, November 4, 2010) – Cameroonians are attacked by police, politicians, the media, and even their own communities if they are suspected of having sexual relations with a person of the same sex, four human rights organizations said in a joint report released today.

The government should take urgent action to decriminalize such consensual conduct and to ensure the full human rights of all Cameroonians, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, said Alternatives-Cameroun, l’Association pour la défense des droits des homosexuels, Human Rights Watch, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The 62-page report, "Criminalizing Identities: Rights Abuses in Cameroon Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," details how the government uses article 347 bis of the Penal Code to deny basic rights to people perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). The report describes arrests, beatings by the police, abuses in prison, and a homophobic atmosphere that encourages shunning and abuse in the community. The consequence is that people are not punished for a specific outlawed practice, but for a homosexual identity, the groups said.

"The poor and the young, who often have no way to get legal assistance, suffer the most from Cameroon’s abusive atmosphere," said Steave Nemande, president of Alternatives-Cameroun. "Even after they get out of jail, families and friends often reject them. They are denied education, jobs, even a place to live. Their lives are ruined."

The report, based on 45 interviews with victims, documents abuse by police, including beatings on the victims’ bodies and even the soles of their feet. Prison guards ignore abuses by other prisoners, including beatings, rapes, and urinating and defecating on the victims’ possessions.

Those arrested under article 347 bis are routinely held without charge in excess of the minimum time allowed by Cameroonian law, the groups found. Judges may sentence them to prison time without credible evidence that they engaged in a homosexual act. Even when judges have dismissed charges, prosecutors have sometimes charged the accused again before they could be freed.

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