Cameroon remains hostile and dangerous to LGBT people, according to a year-end report from Humanity First, a Yaoundé-based organization seeking improved health care for LGBTI Cameroonians and recognition of their human rights.
The report, titled “The New Face of Hatred” (PDF file in French), contains the findings of Humanity First’s team of 12 observers, who recorded 91 human rights violations during 2015.
The report acknowledges that Cameroon has enjoyed a remarkable drop in the number of cases of imprisonment simply for homosexuality, but it documents many other violations of the human rights of LGBT Cameroonians as well as imprisonments of LGBT people on other charges yet with the same anti-LGBT motivation.
Below are examples from several categories of violations covered in the report:
- Arbitrary arrests and abusive detentions.
- Verbal attacks, insults, defamation, and false accusations.
- Threats, scams and blackmail.
- Physical violence, assaults, degrading treatment and torture.
- Evictions and abusive lease terminations.
- Discrimination in hospitals.
- Rejection by family.
- Public incitement to hatred.
- Refusal of public services.
- Unexplained deaths and attempted murders.
- Imprisonments and convictions.
Humanity First recommended steps that government and non-government agencies and organizations should take to combat homophobia, including the repeal of Article 347 bis of the Cameroonian Penal Code, which outlaws same-sex intimacy. Other recommendations are for the:
- National Commission of Human Rights and Freedoms. (Give more emphasis in its reports to what people actually suffer; work in partnership with organizations that advocate for minorities.)
- Ministry of Justice. (Organize training sessions on human rights; ensure that prison sentences are based on substantiated facts.)
- Authorities in charge of public safety. (Ensure that arrests are based on substantiated facts and in strict compliance with the law; organize refresher sessions of public safety officers on human rights; end torture and humiliation of people involved in legal proceedings.)
- Ministry of Public Health / CNLS. (Ensure compliance by health providers with the National Strategic Plan to Fight HIV / AIDS; form partnerships with civil society organizations to educate medical providers about professional ethics, non-stigmatization and non-discrimination; work with the Ministry of Justice to fulfill measures proposed by the Global Fund and the National Strategic Plan for key population at risk for HIV.)
- Traditional authorities / district chiefs. (Ensure peace for all people; ensure that charges are merited; restore a just social order; fight against all forms of social exclusion in communities.)
National partners / CNLS, large NGOs working for key populations, UNAIDS, CNDHL. (Support and assist the work of organizations in access to equitable care, the fight against social exclusion and human dignity.)
- International partners. (Financially and materially support community organizations’ work to provide legal assistance, advocacy and education about the human rights of minorities; provide legal assistance to resolve criminal cases in which minorities and other vulnerable people are involved; support capacity-building of organizations involved in advocacy and defense of human rights; speak out against violations of minority rights.)
- Ministry of Communications. (Regulate media that publicly incite hatred against minorities; give the National Communication Council the mission of ensuring social peace by monitoring and sanctioning media that incite hatred; partner with civil society to raise the media’s awareness of gender diversity concepts and respect for fundamental human rights.)
These are some of the incidents that Humanity First reported:
Arbitrary arrests and abusive detentions
One of seven documented cases: Renee, a young lesbian from Yaoundé, was picked up for vagrancy when she and about a dozen friends were returning from clubbing. In line with usual police procedure, all — except Renee — were released after they verified their identities. Police officers commented on her hairstyle, saying, “This girl has a bizarre hairstyle. She’s probably a lesbian.” She was locked in a cell for four days, although the limit on detention without a formal charge is supposed to be 48 hours under rules set by the Attorney General of Cameroon.
On paper, police officers who violate the law against excessive detention can be tried for violating Article 291 of the Criminal Code and imprisoned for up to 10 years.
Verbal attacks, insults, defamation, false accusations and threats
It is common in the streets and neighborhoods in Cameroon for crowds to gather and shout insults when they see a person who seems to have an unusual gender identity. This is part of everyday life for them.
Neighbors, classmates and even their families often accuse them of witchcraft and occult practices.
One of 15 such cases: Soleil, a student of modern French literature at the University of Yaoundé, said, “For over a year, guys in my neighborhood insult me every time I pass. The neighborhood’s shopkeeper refuses to sell anything to me, claiming that he doesn’t want to sell to homosexuals.”
Threats, scams and blackmail
One of six recorded cases:
Julius Eloundou, executive director of Humanity First Cameroon, and two of his friends were intercepted at the Nsimalen Airport by a corrupt and drunk police sergeant when Eloundou returned from a trip abroad. The sergeant claimed to have seen them involved in sexual activity on CCTV cameras and offered to release them in exchange for 200 euros (130,000 CFA francs).
When they refused, the sergeant said he was sorry that he didn’t have his gun with him, because he wanted to rid Cameroon of “filthy fags like you.” If he killed them, he said, “Nobody will do anything to me.” The sergeant called for colleagues, who came to the airport and started beating the detainees; one began bleeding from his foot. After three hours, they were released after paying five euros (about 3,000 CFA francs) in parking fees, which normally cost only 0.76 euros (500 CFA francs).
Physical violence, assaults, degrading treatment and torture
Allegedly homosexual Cameroonians sometimes are the victims of violence from family members, but the most common abusers are young boys in their neighborhood who are offended at seeing boys who seem feminine and girls who seem masculine.
One of nine documented cases:
On June 27, Yann, a senior at a high school in Yaoundé was severely beaten by neighbors.
“It started with simple insults,” Yann said. “Every time I passed, these guys blocked my way and insulted me. To avoid getting hurt, I said nothing. but that evening, two of them called me a dirty homosexual abomination and started punching me. I was left with several cuts and a broken rib. They also promised to kill me the next time they saw me. “
Evictions and abusive lease terminations
One of nine documented cases:
In June, harassment by neighbors forced Maxime, a 26-year-old gay businessman, out of his home and forced him to close his braised-fish store.
He was left homeless. Humanity First directed him to its sister association, Affirmative Action, which gave him temporary shelter in a safe house it operates.
Discrimination in hospitals
Fairly often, a hospital’s medical staff refuse to care for patients because of their perceived sexual orientation or their physical appearance.
One of seven documented cases:
In October, a leader of Humanity First went to the military hospital in Yaoundé with five people in need of various treatments. They were told to leave because that hospital is not for homosexuals. In November, he returned with a patient needing treatment for warts. The clinic’s doctor lectured him about his sexuality and said that he should change, because his illness was caused by his sexual practices. The would-be patient said he would never go there again.
Rejection by family
Once a young man or young woman in Cameroon is suspected of being homosexual, their family in most cases will try every conceivable method of “correcting” their sexual orientation, regardless of how much sorrow that causes. Often a family will lock up a young boy in a room with a girl — usually a sex worker who has been paid in advance — on the theory that this forced sex will turn the boy into a heterosexual. When such tricks fail, the family rejects their child and leaves him homeless.
One of seven documented cases is presented in the article, “A family torn apart by homophobia in Cameroon.”
Public incitement to hatred
The media in Cameroon broadcast messages against homosexuality, proclaiming that it is a satanic practice imported by outsiders, who are responsible for all of the country’s social ills.
Among the most prominent are those on social networks, such as the Facebook group “Le Cameroun C’est le Cameroun,” one of the nation’s largest, with more than 35,000 members, and the “Afrique media” Facebook group [with more than 77,000], from the well-known pan-African television channel.
Several examples from the report’s 19 documented cases:
On Oct. 6, Sismondi Barlev Bidjoka, president and spokesperson of the Movement of Young Cameroonians, published this graphic on the group’s Facebook page:
In response to it, one reader commented, “We must burn them …”.
Bidjoka is a journalist for the private Siantou broadcasting company. On Aug. 24, which in Cameroon has been declared a World Day Against Homosexuality, he urged young people at an anti-homosexuality protest to confront homosexuals with violence.
Similarly CRTV, the Cameroonian national television service, broadcasts “Delirium,” a program for young people during which presenter Foly Dirane, the author of several homophobic songs, tells young people to hate homosexuals.
In addition, the Facebook group “Le Cameroun C’est le Cameroun” this year reprinted this Bible passage from the Book of Leviticus [Leviticus 20:13]: “ If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
Such publications tend to ease the conscience of people who harass LGBT people and violate their human rights.
Refusal of public services
National police authorities have refused to accept complaints from victims of crimes because of the victim’s physical appearance or perceived sexual orientation. (This is a new category in this year’s Humanity First report.)
The following is one of the five cases of people who said that police rejected their complaints on suspicion of homosexuality.
Paris, a student of fine arts in Yaoundé, went to the Kondengui police station on Oct. 28 to file a complaint against an electronics engineer who took his money and then did not repair Paris’s television. “All these policemen looked at me with disgust, like garbage, simply because I am very effeminate. Later, when I took my complaint to the deputy commander, he seized me and dragged to the door by the hair, screaming that his police station does not serve homosexuals.”
That same deputy commander a few weeks earlier had wrongfully imprisoned a young man who came to complain about his neighbor. Noticing the effeminacy of the complainant, the deputy commander put him in a cell for two days, then told him never to come to the police station again.
Unexplained deaths and attempted murders
This year, Humanity First recorded two cases of attempted homicide of LGBT people on the basis of their sexual orientation and two cases of unexplained deaths of LBGT people. One example:
Patrick Edou’s lifeless body was deposited at the central hospital’s morgue on the night of Aug. 27 by a stranger. According to his brother, Patrick accepted an invitation from someone who telephoned him at 1o p.m. on Aug. 26. The brother became worried when he woke at 3 a.m. and saw that Patrick had not returned. Their uncle received a call in the early morning, telling him that Patrick’s body could be found at the morgue, where an unidentified policeman had left him. He was correctly identified as Patrick, although Patrick did not have his identification card with him, since he had lost his wallet a few days earlier.
Morgue officials said the police officer reported that Patrick had died in an accident, but the condition of the body suggested otherwise. It was covered with bruises; his stomach had many scratches; his face appeared to have been struck with a heavy object.
Imprisonments and convictions
In some cases, people accused of homosexuality are mired in legal disputes because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation.
In 2015, Humanity First documented three cases in this category. In one such case:
Cindy and Vivianne, two girls in the Nkoabang neighborhood, complained that boys in the neighborhood harassed them as lesbians because they had rejected the boys’ advances. On returning from a walk, they were attacked; because of the blows, one of them suffered a miscarriage and lost her two-month-old fetus.
When they complained to police, the officers ignored the girls’ injuries and arrested them on charges of attacking the boys. They were incarcerated at the women’s prison in Mfou.
The aunt of one girl complained about their treatment; she was then arrested for harboring lesbians. They have been detained for about four months. Humanity First has been providing them with food.
Overall in Cameroon, cases of imprisonment simply for homosexuality have drastically declined, but imprisonments still occur in a new guise, on other charges, with the same anti-LGBT motivation.
Additional observations from Humanity First
It is with great regret that we note that the number of violations is growing; some people experience almost all types of violations contained in our report.
For example, Yann (whose case is described above), was nearly killed, was slandered and denounced, in addition to being beaten by two young people.
During 2015, master extortionist Ekobo Samba [“Gays in Cameroon, beware this blackmailer” (May 2013) and “A new victim of con artist who preys on gays” (July 2015)] continued to wreak havoc on many people’s lives through his scams.
Some LGBT people have lost their lives or were on the verge of losing them.
In the case of the young Patrick Edou, his brother did not want to complain to police for fear that announcing the sexual orientation of his late brother would harm their family; he just wanted to make sure that his brother was buried.
Many LGBT people lack the resources needed to protect their rights. Similarly, Humanity First Cameroon has too few resources to provide adequate legal and financial assistance, so LGBT victims often prefer simply to forget what happened — until the next violation.
- A family torn apart by homophobia in Cameroon (January 2016, 76crimes.com)
- LGBTI life improves in homophobic Cameroon (July 2015, 76crimes.com)
- ‘Corrective rape’ in Cameroon: 4 women, 5 rapists, 0 arrests (February 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Priest, young man arrested; Cameroon police seek bribe (January 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Bribe frees 2 from jail, not from Cameroon neighbors (June 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Beating death of LGBT activist Eric Lembembe in Cameroon (July 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Gays in Cameroon, beware this blackmailer (May 2013, 76crimes.com)