UN group urges Cameroon to suspend anti-gay law

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The United Nations human rights office today called on Cameroon to stop arresting and imprisoning people on suspicion of being lesbian or gay.

Under current Cameroonian law, homosexual activity is punishable by up to five years in prison, plus a fine.

Under that law, eight people are currently held in Cameroonian prisons and many more are awaiting trials that could lead to imprisonment.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the “UN human rights office is deeply concerned by reports from Cameroon of the harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment of individuals on suspicion of being lesbian or gay.”

“The law as it stands is in breach of Cameroon’s international human rights commitments and violates rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination, both of which are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

He stated further:

While the penal code relates specifically to sexual conduct, we are seriously concerned that it is being applied in a broad-brush way to prosecute many individuals on the basis of their appearance, their mannerisms, style of speech or general conduct. In 2011, for example, Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé was convicted of suspected homosexual conduct after the authorities discovered he has sent a text message to another man that read “I am very much in love with you”. Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome were convicted on the basis of evidence of their appearance, which was perceived as effeminate, and the fact that they had been seen drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream. All three have appeal hearings next week.

It is especially worrying to receive reports of anonymous threats being made against human rights defenders working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. A prominent Cameroonian lawyer, Alice Nkom, who has defended in court many of those charged with homosexuality-related offences in recent years, has received a multiple threats to her life and well-being and the well-being of her family. Civil society organizations that have spoken out on behalf of LGBT people have also been threatened and intimidated.

The Government of Cameroon has a duty to end these abuses. It should provide adequate protection to human rights defenders working to protect the rights of LGBT persons. It also should also use the ongoing review of the penal code to put forward amendments to Article 347 bis, with a view to bringing the article into compliance with Cameroon’s international treaty obligations. It is regrettable that the draft revised code under discussion would go in the opposite direction: strengthening penalties for same-sex relations and conflating homosexuality with non-consensual sexual practices and pedophilia.

In the meantime, we are calling for an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of all persons suspected of homosexual behaviour under Art. 347 bis of the current penal code and access to justice for those already detained.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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