Gay life in Cameroon: Battered, with no legal recourse

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Marc was injured by his abusive former friend, but has no legal recourse against him. (Photo by Erin Royal Brokovitch)
Marc was injured by his abusive former friend, but has no legal recourse against him. (Photo by Erin Royal Brokovitch)

In Cameroon,  gay victims of violence have no recourse to the justice system because of the repressive law known as Section 347 bis.

According to that section of the Penal Code, same-sex intimacy is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of up to 200,000 CFA francs (about US  $400).

As a result, if an  LGBTI person in Cameroon goes to a local police station to file a complaint, often he or she is immediately arrested under Section 347 bis.

The partners of gay men in Cameroon sometimes take advantage of this situation. In the heat of an argument, they beat up their partner, confident that he will not be able to turn them in to police.

Marc’s story

Such is the case of Marc, a human rights activist whose five-month relationship with Bertin recently ended in violence.

This is the story as described by Marc. (Bertin could not be reached to give his version of events.)

Bertin, a government employee and a student, cheated on Marc with another man at Marc’s home in the Ngoa-Ekele neighborhood of Yaounde while Marc was away on a work trip. On his return, Marc learned about Bertin’s infidelity.

On the night of Sept. 23, when Marc asked Bertin about what had happened, Bertin reacted violently, beating him, strangling him and injuring his nose.  He then threatened to kill Marc.

This is Marc’s account:

“Bertin and I had been lovers since May 2014. We had an argument because he cheated on me by bringing another man into my house while I was away. I had been so confident in him that I had handed over a set of keys.

“I asked him for an explanation, and I decided that I should leave. But instead of discussing it with me as an adult, Bertin began to beat me.

“This wasn’t the first time he had done it, but this time he went too far. Look for yourself: a bite on the nose. In order to resolve the problem amicably, I asked him to pay for my medical care, but he refused. Instead, he threatened to kill me and said he would track me down wherever I went.

“I cannot complain to the police for fear of being arrested under Article 347 bis. I’m even afraid to leave the house. He might kill me when no one is around.

“My family does not know my sexual orientation, so  I cannot tell them what happened. I just told them that I am getting death threats. I cannot complain because the law would turn against me — and he knows it!

“He made ​​me understand that I cannot do anything to him because he has great relationships in this country, so I should just disappear.

“We still remember the case of Eric Ohena Lembembe  [the journalist and LGBTI human rights activist] who was murdered in his home in Yaoundé on July 15. Investigators still have not determined the cause of his death.

“I beg you. Help me find a solution. I do not want to die. “

Marc's home is in the Ngoa-Ekele area of Yaoundé, near the University of Yaounde I, shown above.
Marc’s home is in the Ngoa-Ekele area of Yaoundé, near the University of Yaounde I, shown above.

Unable to get any help from police, Marc must keep silent about his pain.

He now pleads for help from local  LGBTI organizations or the international community. With their help, Marc hopes that:

  • He will be protected from further violence;
  • Bertin will be forced to pay for Marc’s medical care;
  • Other victims of partners’ violence will  also be protected;
  • Justice will be done.

So far, none of that has happened.

Unfortunately, what happened to Marc is a typical aspect of the grim reality for Cameroonian gays who have no access to the justice system when they are victims of violence in the LGBTI community.

Emmanuel’s story

For 11 months, Emmanuel had a 29-year-old lover, until he became violent.  Then, on Sept. 1, the lover and the friend attacked him in the early hours of the morning, after the two of them had spent an evening together, Emmanuel said. A dispute over a few possessions triggered the confrontation.

Emmanuel recalled:

“It’s a sad memory, that evening. It’s traumatic to remember the hatred in my friend’s face and the intensity of the violence. He hit me on the head with a large piece of wood. Then he let his friend, who has a bad reputation, beat me up. Together they threw me on the floor, where they beat and kicked me. They they dragged me into the street.

“I’m thankful to people who had seen us together a few minutes before, and asked why the two of them why they were abusing their friend. That saved me. I had feared the worst.

“All this was because I had gotten annoyed at his misconduct and complained. He then took some of my things and I tried to reclaim them so I could take them home.

“That’s not even the full story, because that day he beat three times. There was just too much violence. “

Neither Emmanuel’s lover nor the friend was available to give his version of events.

Like Marc, Emmanuel was forced to abandon the idea of taking legal action:

“After what had been done to me, I wanted my lover to be punished, too. But the truth is that I knew that any complaint would be turned against me and would become a homosexuality case.

“I had become even more vulnerable in the eyes of my lover, who now knew that he could lay hands on me whenever he wanted to without worrying — at least not worrying that he would be brought to justice.”

Like Marc, Emmanuel is right.

The story of Gabrielle and “Stephanie”

In December 2013, a lesbian (here called “Stephanie”) became mad with jealousy and went to the police to denounce her partner, Gabrielle. In the heat of the moment, Stephanie admitted that she and Gabrielle were a lesbian couple. In the end, they were both arrested. Six months later, they were sentenced to 10 months in prison and a fine of 50,000 CFA francs (about US $100). That sentence was imposed on May 3.

Such is life for LGBTI people in Cameroon, the land of Article 347 bis.

And yet … Isn’t it the responsibility of the state to ensure access to justice for all citizens, and to respond when citizens are harmed?

The author of this article is an activist for LGBTI rights in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

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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