Article 347-1 prohibits sexual relations with a person of the same sex with a penalty of between six months to five years imprisonment, as well as a fine. The law is framed in gender neutral terms and therefore applies to sexual relations between men and between women.1
Types of criminalisation
- Criminalises sex between men
- Criminalises sex between women
Commonwealth member state
LGBT NGOs, Humanity First Cameroon and Alternatives-Cameroun, claimed in a joint annual report that eight LGBT persons remained imprisoned for homosexuality in the Kondengui central prison in Yaounde. The two NGOs further documented 578 other cases of human rights abuses related to homosexuality, including 27 arbitrary arrests.
The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Cameroon noted that reports of arrests had dropped dramatically. Despite this, LGBT people reported that they continued to receive threats and were subjected to monetary extortion from police and civilians threatening to expose them.
In its annual report for 2014, the advocacy group CAMFAIDS (the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS) reported that prosecutions for homosexuality in Yaoundé dropped by 58 per cent from 2012 to 2014. During that same period, the number of LGBT convictions fell even more from 16 in 2012 to four in 2014. Attorney Alice Nkom indicated that a similar decrease occurred in the Douala area.
In Yaoundé, elements of the Nkolemesseng gendarmerie brigade detained six persons whom they accused of prostitution and homosexuality in October. State Counsel at the Yaoundé Ekounou Court of First Instance ordered the release of the detainees on 8 October due to insufficient evidence.
In May, two women were convicted of violating Cameroon’s anti-gay laws and sentenced to four months in prison and fines of 100,000 CFA francs (US $211) each. Due to time already served, their attorney stated the two women would be released after paying fines and court costs.
Martine Solange Abessolo, Esther Aboa Belinga and Leonie Marie Djula were accused of being lesbians on the basis of an accusation by the husband of Djula that his wife had been enticed by the other two women. After four days in custody, Djula became a witness for the prosecution and Abessolo and Belinga were finally charged, convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison on 15 May 2013.
Human Rights Watch reported in March that Cameroon carries out more arrests than any other country in the world. The report claimed that 51 arrests of men and some women have been documented since 2005 (other sources cite 200 arrests and arbitrary detentions a year), with many more unreported. The accused are frequently held without charge beyond the maximum permitted time of 48 hours, beaten, subjected to forced anal examinations by doctors, kept in solitary confinement and detained on remand for up to three years without charge or trial. Most arrests and prosecutions are made on the basis of appearance or accusations rather than evidence, required by law, of actual engagement in same-sex sexual relations.
In January, an appeals court in Cameroon overturned the conviction of two men jailed in 2011 for homosexual acts. The trial judge had stated that: “the way the men dressed… spoke and the fact that they drank Bailey’s Irish Cream proved they were gay.”
In April, Jean Claude Mbédé, accused and convicted on the basis of a text message to another man stating “I’m very much in love with you”, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, during which time he reported being sexually assaulted. After falling ill, he died on 10 January 2014. He had reportedly been removed from hospital and isolated by his family. According to a lawyer who worked on Mr Mbédé’s case, his family had said: “he was a curse for them and that we should let him die”.
Statements by Public Figures
In March, Cameroonian attorney Alice Nkom called on others to join her in the fight against the country’s anti-gay laws: “If we unite our efforts and our resources, we will get the Supreme Court to join the other supreme courts in the world to firmly condemn the use of Article 347 as a basis for legal action or verdicts.”
According to an online report in June, President Paul Biya made a verbal commitment, at a side meeting with a group of LGBT rights advocates at the Africa-European Union summit held in Brussels on 2nd – 3rd April, “to work to stop the arrests of people on the basis of their supposed sexual orientation”. A National Newspaper (Tribune Verte on 27 May 2014) also referenced this commitment.
On national radio in September, a member of the National Human Rights Commission issued threats directed towards LGBT activists who were to appear at the country’s upcoming UPR in Geneva. Activists were told that they should not expect to be safe when they returned home: “Cameroonians who denigrate their country abroad in international bodies and then complain that they are insecure when they return to their home country – they themselves are responsible for what happens. They know they will be put down.” In relation to decriminalisation, the member stated: “There’s a broad consensus in society about these alleged ‘LGBT rights’. People in Cameroon are against the decriminalisation of Article 347 of the Criminal Code and agree totally with the government’s position, which reflects the opinion of the Cameroonian society.”
In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on Cameroon to implement its obligations under numerous human rights treaties.
In January, President Biya stated that attitudes were changing in the country towards LGBT people: “Now I can say that discussions are under way. People are talking, minds can change one way or another but currently it’s a crime.”
In early 2012, President Biya informed diplomats that, whilst he would not be prepared to call for decriminalisation, he would seek to impose a moratorium on arrests. However, he has not honoured this undertaking.
In January, the Cameroonian Minister of External Relations, Henri Eyebe Ayissi, complained to the EU Ambassador, Raul Mateus Paula, about the EU financing a “Project to Provide Assistance and Guidance to Sexual Minorities” on the basis that the law in Cameroon criminalises homosexuality.
Persecution and Discrimination
In May, police arrested 25 men on suspicion of being gay. The arrest happened in establishments in the capital city that are known to be popular with the local gay community.
The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Cameroon stated that LGBT people received anonymous threats that were not investigated by police, who also failed to respond to requests for protection from lawyers representing LGBT people. LGBT people were extorted by police and civilians who threatened to expose them.
On 11 August, police summoned the leaders of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) to the General Delegation of National Security for “promotion of homosexual practices”, and on 16 August, police interrogated four members of CAMFAIDS. While some questions concerned the legal status of the advocacy group and its funding sources, police also requested a list of its members and a list of similar organisations.
Some LGBT persons had difficulty accessing birth registration and other identification documents. Officials at identification units refused to issue identification cards for persons whose physical characteristics were not consistent with their birth certificate.
Attendees of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria workshop in September reported being subject to discriminatory treatment when hotel staff members discovered gay men were attending. The hotel members stopped replacing towels in the rooms and reduced the quality of the meals.
In August, Cameroon’s fastest-ever hurdler, Thierry Essamba, was reportedly banned from the national team because of his sexual orientation. Previously, in 2014, Cameroon Athletics Federation National Technical Director Michel Nkolo announced before an audience of more than 1,000 athletes and coaches that the federation was suspending Essamba due to rumours he was homosexual. Essamba’s parents reportedly expelled him from the family home after the suspension.
Yves Yomb of Alternatives-Cameroon said in July that although the number of LGBT people in prison in Cameroon had decreased: “we still encounter many cases of scams, blackmail, entrapment, physical violence.”
A report released by the human rights group FIDH in February reported that LGBT activists in Cameroon are “regularly threatened by anonymous messages via SMS or Facebook”.
In January, CAMFAIDS reported an attack against a trans woman by a group of 15 people armed with stones and clubs in Yaoundé.
In December, a gay man sought the help of police after being assaulted by an extortionist/blackmailer and was instead charged with homosexuality.
The offices of the LGBT NGO, Cameroon Association for Empowerment Outreach Programmes (CAMEF), was burgled and vandalised. Threatening graffiti was left, with one stating “Go away, fag [pédé]” and another warning: “Next time we will padlock and burn all of you inside. Go away.” Equipment was destroyed and the organisation was asked by their landlord to leave.
In August, anti-gay vigilante brigades patrolled the streets of Yaoundé, hunting for homosexuals and arresting them. The groups claimed to have the approval of the Secretary of Defence. Bars suspected of being LGBT friendly were also targeted. Mob attacks occurred and a 16-year-old youth was also attacked in a separate incident.
In July, a prominent Cameroonian gay rights activist and chief executive of CAMFAIDS, Eric Lembembe, was tortured and murdered. His body had been burned with an iron, with his neck and feet both broken. Insufficient investigations (with no photos taken of the crime scene, etc.) were carried out, with irrelevant questions asked by police aimed at ascertaining the sexual orientation of Lembembe and his colleagues. Three members of CAMFAIDS were detained for several days for questioning over Lembembe’s murder despite being neither witnesses nor suspects.
A spate of break-ins occurred at offices of LGBT human rights defenders and lawyers acting for LGBT people in June.The offices of Alternatives-Cameroun were burgled and firebombed, destroying the medical records of clients tested for HIV. Also in June, the offices of Michel Togué were broken into and confidential information from files stolen. Attacks on Alice Nkom and Togué, two prominent human rights lawyers defending LGBT people, escalated. Both reported regularly receiving threats against them and their families by email and text. Togué’s family sought asylum in another country. The crimes were reported to police but no investigations or arrests were made. On 1 June, the offices of REDHAC were burgled.
In April, the son of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Executive Director of Réseau de Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (Central African Human Rights Defenders Network), (REDHAC), was the victim of an attempted kidnapping.
In March, Alternatives-Cameroun, Association for the Defence of Homosexuals, CAMFAIDS and Human Rights Watch issued a report revealing the widespread torture of those arrested for homosexuality.
A report by Amnesty International in January stated that the criminal justice system in Cameroon was being used “as a weapon to attack LGBTI people”. The report found that LGBT people in police custody were forced to undergo “illegal, degrading” medical examinations to prove their homosexuality.
In January, a man was stoned to death by mobs in Maroua in south-western Cameroon after being found with his male lover.
In its third UPR cycle, Australia, Ireland, Mexico, Uruguay, Switzerland, USA, Netherlands and Argentina recommended that Cameroon to take steps to decriminalise consensual same-sex relations and cease targeted discrimination and violence against LGBT persons.
In its December concluding observations, the Committee Against Torture expressed concern at the criminalisation of same-sex relations and the reports of violence against LGBT persons and the lack of investigation of these incidents.
In its concluding observations in November, the Human Rights Committee reiterated its concern about the criminalisation of sexual relations between same-sex adults. The Committee recommended that Cameroon take all measures to adopt comprehensive legislation that protects against discrimination in all areas including sexual orientation and gender identity, and to review Article 347-1.
In its May concluding observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the persistent discrimination faced by children in marginalised and disadvantaged situations, Cameroon’s rejection of the identity of LGBTI children, and the stigmatisation and discrimination experienced by such children. Accordingly, the Committee urged the Cameroon to “recognise the identity of LGBTI children and protect them against discrimination in law and in practice.”
Government officials in Cameroon defended the criminalisation of consensual same-sex activity by claiming that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights permit countries to limit freedoms in the interests of preserving public order and that individuals have a duty to preserve African values and morals.
During its second UPR cycle, Cameroon rejected recommendations to decriminalise homosexuality. Cameroon further rejected recommendations to respect the right to privacy, protect LGBT human rights defenders, protect LGBT people from violence and take steps to eliminate discrimination against LGBT people.
Cameroon opposed the 2011 UN Human Rights Council resolution which called on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a report on the rights of LGBT people.
1. Penal Code 2016, Article 347-1 Homosexuality
“Whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment for from 6 (six) months to 5 (five) years and a fine of from CFAF 20 000 (twenty thousand) to CFAF 200 000 (two hundred thousand).” Full text.