Cameroon: Defenders of the rights of LGBTI persons face homophobia and violence

In a report presented today in Douala, The Observatory [1], Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa (REDHAC), Maison des droits de l’Homme au Cameroun (MDHC) and AMSHeR (African Men for Sexual Health and Rights) deplore that threats and physical assaults against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) human rights defenders in Cameroon have reached alarming proportions over the last few years.

Testimony and information compiled during a fact-finding mission in 2014 indicate that increasing numbers of extremely serious violations are being committed, in some cases leading to murder, and that nothing is being done to prosecute the perpetrators. Our organisations feel that this impunity is especially contemptible since, at the same time, the authorities are arresting and convicting many people for homosexual acts. Since 2011, at least 28 people have apparently been convicted in Cameroon because of their sexual orientation, whether true or presumed.

In Cameroon, LGBTI rights defenders are victims of the complacency of people who should be guaranteeing respect for the defenders’ rights and security, our organisations declared. Justice, which is supposed to respect the principle of equality for all before the law, is actually supporting the repression of LGBTI persons and their defenders. This can and must change. The rule of law should not tolerate people being threatened or murdered with impunity simply because of whom they love or who they are.

Since 1972, homosexual acts have been indictable offences in Cameroon. Article 347 bis of the Cameroonian Penal Code provides for prison terms of six-months to five-years for any person found guilty of having had “sexual relations with a person of the same sex”. This unfortunate legal context – with the administrative, law enforcement and judicial authorities showing indifference or even encouragement – has led to the increase in the number of attacks against the defenders of LGBTI persons’ rights over the last few years.

Associations and NGOs cannot register under a name that explicitly refers to the rights of LGBTI persons. In 2013, the offices of Alternatives-Cameroun were set on fire, and the offices of AIDS ACODEV, REDHAC and CAMEF were burglarised and ransacked. Defenders of LGBTI persons’ rights and particularly the rare lawyers who defend them, along with members of their family, are frequently subjected to insults and death threats, either directly or anonymously, by telephone or by text message. The President of REDHAC and one of the lawyers representing LGBTI persons had to evacuate some members of their families because of the serious attacks and threats they were receiving.

At the same time, nothing has been done to address the many complaints filed by the LGBTI rights defenders to denounce violations of their rights, and the investigation into the assassination of Eric Ohena Lembembe, Executive Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) and journalist committed to defending the rights of LGBTI persons, remains at a standstill. He was found murdered in his home on 15 July 2013.

According to our organisations, the bungled investigation and the irregularities in the legal proceedings in the Eric Ohena Lembembe murder case are indicative of the impunity that is guaranteed to the perpetrators of violence against LGBTI persons and the defenders of LGBTI rights. The Cameroonian judiciary must undertake a truly independent, impartial, transparent investigation to identify the persons responsible for this crime and bring them to court, they added.

Our organisations wish to point out that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has recommended that the Cameroonian authorities take immediate steps to decriminalise homosexual relations between consenting adults in order to bring its legislation in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In its concluding observations following its examination of Cameroon State Report in 2013, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) criticised the Government of Cameroon for judicial harassment, attempts on the lives of human rights defenders and other violations of their human rights, especially those working on the issue of sexual orientation.

Our organisations deplore the fact that: Homophobia, which is legitimated by the criminalisation of homosexual acts, and the inflammatory statements made by representatives of some political and religious authorities and certain media, puts the defenders of LGBTI rights in a position of psychological and physical insecurity.

Our organisations wish to reiterate their appeal to the Cameroonian authorities to decriminalise sexual orientation and to embark on a genuine battle against all forms of discrimination by adopting administrative, political and legal measures that can guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, and thus comply with international standards.

Context

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, (a joint FIDH-OMCT programme), together with MDHC, REDHAC and AMSHeR, conducted an international fact-finding mission in Cameroon in January 2014 on the situation of LGBTI rights defenders. The mission was composed of Assane Dioma Ndiaye (Senegal), attorney-at-law at the Dakar Bar and President of the Senegalese League for Human Rights (LSDH), Berry Didier Nibogora (Burundi), lawyer in charge of the AMSHeR programme Law, Politics, Advocacy and Human Rights, and Catherine Delanoë-Daoud (France), attorney-at-law at the Paris Bar. The mission noted the fragile environment of the defenders of the LGBTI persons’ right to health and to human rights and documented the intimidation aiming at defenders, in an environment that criminalises homosexuality between consenting adults. The new report presents the findings of this investigation. The fact-finding mission also met several witnesses, people who were close to Eric Ohena Lembembe, and persons working for the judiciary in order to assess progress made in the investigation of the death of this defender, this journalist who was determined to support the rights of LGBTI persons. A post-mission press release has also been published.

Download the report Cameroon : Defenders of the Rights of LGBTI persons face homophobia and violence

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