Human Rights Watch slams Cameroon for harassing, detaining gay people

Human Rights Watch slams Cameroon for harassing, detaining gay people

Gay people in the central African nation of Cameroon are finding it difficult to express their homosexual feelings freely and openly, as security forces and courts are constantly cracking down on them, and sentencing them to lengthy prison terms.

At least 28 people have been prosecuted for same-sex conduct in Cameroon since 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its local partners Alternatives-Cameroun, Association for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians (ADEFHO) and the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) said late last week.

Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Cameroon, and anyone found guilty of what the government calls a ‘heinous crime’ could be sentenced for up to five years in jail.

HRW has condemned this homophobic behaviour in a 55-page report issued on 21 March 2013. The report, Guilty by Association: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of Cameroon’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, includes 10 case studies of arrests and prosecutions under article 347 bis of Cameroon’s penal code, which punishes sexual relations between persons of the same sex with up to five years in prison.

The New York-based rights organisation said most cases are marked by grave human rights violations, including torture, forced confessions, denial of access to legal counsel, and discriminatory treatment by law enforcement and judicial officials.

HRW slammed the government of Paul Biya for its record arrests for same-sex intimacy, adding that most people charged with homosexuality are convicted based on little or no evidence.

The report includes numerous cases in which the law against homosexual conduct was used for settling scores, showing how the law is easily subject to abuse.

“Dozens of Cameroonians do jail time solely because they are suspected of being gay or lesbian,” the groups said.

HRW and its partners said Cameroon prosecutes people for consensual same-sex conduct more aggressively than almost any country in the world.

“No one should be sentenced to prison time because they blurt out a confession to stop torture, or because a judge doesn’t like what they drink, how they dress, or what kind of text messages they send,” HRW LGBT rights researcher Neela Ghoshal said.

“Our government and our courts need to recognise that when it comes to Cameroon’s international human rights commitments, they cannot pick and choose on the basis of personal biases,” said ADEPHO President Alice Nkom said.

“Every time a judge in Cameroon convicts someone of homosexuality, they are violating the law, pure and simple.”

Cameroon’s article 347-bis violates international human rights standards and Cameroon’s own constitution, the organisations said.

“Laws against consensual same-sex intimacy violate provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that protect privacy and the right to non-discrimination.”

Photo by James Akena/Reuters

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