Pressure grows on Cameroon to drop anti-gay law

Cameroon faces growing international pressure to end its repression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  The pressure is coming from the United States, the European Union, and from international human rights organizations.

Robert P. Jackson, U.S. ambassador to Cameroon
Robert P. Jackson, U.S. ambassador to Cameroon

The United States ambassador to Cameroon, Robert P. Jackson, said:

[Gays and lesbians] are human beings, and I refer to this issue because it is a human rights issue. Cameroon is the only CEMAC [Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa] country that outlaws homosexual acts. Last year, a Cameroonian court sentenced two young men to five years in prison for “being homosexual” – even though Cameroonian law does not say that homosexuality is illegal. The court relied on subjective assumptions that would not pass as evidence in most courts of law. They were found guilty not because of what they did, but because of how they dressed. [He is referring to the case of Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome, who are awaiting a decision on their appeal. It is reportedly scheduled for Oct. 19.]

In another case, a young man [Jean Claude Roger Mbede] was sentenced for having sent a sexually suggestive text message. Where does the Criminal Code say that is a crime? Through judgments like these, which critics assert are not even in keeping with Cameroon’s own laws, Cameroon’s judiciary is defining the country’s image abroad.

The European Union’s delegation to Cameroon issued this statement:

The Delegation of the European Union to Cameroon is fully engaged in favour of the full respect of human rights in Cameroon, among others the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Cameroon President Paul Biya (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Cameroon President Paul Biya (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A group of national and international organizations fighting for human rights and against AIDS sent an open letter to Cameroon President Paul Biya on Oct. 8, calling on him to repeal the law against homosexual activity and to release LGBT people who are imprisoned because of it.

Under Section 347a of the Criminal Procedure Code in Cameroon, same-sex relations are punishable by up to five years in prison. The open letter states that Section 347a conflicts with international human rights treaties that Cameroon has signed and that supposedly supersede it.

The majority of people on this blog’s list of those imprisoned or awaiting trial for homosexuality are from Cameroon.

The international online activist group has been mobilizing oppposition to Cameroon’s anti-LGBT law.

At last count, 116,970 people had signed an petition asking  Biya and Minister of Justice Laurent Esso to free Mbede and suspend enforcement of Section 347a. A second letter to Biya, endorsed by  gay-friendly Cameroon attorney Alice Nkom and signed by 74,680 people,  seeks the repeal of Section 347a. Executive Director and Co-Founder Andre Banks said:

The statements by the U.S. Ambassador and the Delegation from the European Union in Cameroon send a direct message to President Biya and other Cameroonian officials who support the on-going persecution of people who seem ‘too gay’… This week, Cameroon has an opportunity to affirm its commitment to human rights by speaking out against discriminatory, anti-gay laws and finally freeing Francky and Jonas.

Amnesty International has also been campaigning for the release of Mbede, who is out of prison temporarily for medical treatments. He is also awaiting a decision on his appeal.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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