Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
Summary

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 2016, which criminalises acts of ‘homosexuality’. This provision carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine. Both men and women are criminalised under this law.

Cameroon’s first Penal Code in 1965 did not criminalise same-sex sexual activity, however an amendment introduced in 1972 added the offence of ‘homosexuality’ which has been retained until today.

There is substantial evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being frequently subject to arrest. Mass arrests, arbitrary detention, and torture and violence while in custody are commonplace. Many of the reported cases are summarised below, however the frequency of arrests mean that many cases are not included here. In a high-profile case in 2021, two transgender women were arrested under the country’s homosexuality law and received the maximum prison sentence.

There have been consistent reports of widespread and systemic discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including assault, harassment, threats, extortion, torture and murder.

Sexual Offences Law Assessment

We’ve also assessed Cameroon’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Cameroon criminalise same-sex sexual activity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women and children, from sexual offences.

Find out more
Enforcement

2021

In April, Human Rights Watch reported that there had been a recent uptick in police action against LGBT people with at least 24 people being arbitrarily arrested, beaten, or threatened by security forces for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender non-conformity since February 2021. At least one of those people, a transgender woman, was subjected to an HIV test and forced anal examination. This wave of arrests includes a February raid of an HIV organisation, Colibri, in which 13 people were arrested and later released.

In May, two transgender women, a YouTube celebrity Shakiro and her friend Patricia, were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment under Cameroon’s anti-homosexuality laws. Their sentencing followed their arrest in February while dining at a restaurant. It was reported in July that the women had been released from prison pending an appeal against their conviction. They were subjected to a violent mob attack following their release.

2020

In May, police arrested 53 people at a gathering hosted by an HIV organisation at a hotel in Bafoussam and charged them with homosexuality offences. At least six of those arrested were subjected to forced anal examinations and HIV tests.

2018

In April, police arrested 23 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.

2017

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.

2016

The 2016 US Department of State Human Rights report 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.

2014

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 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 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. 

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. 

2013

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.”

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 May, three women were accused of being lesbians on the basis of an accusation by a husband of one of the woman that his wife had been enticed by the other two women. After four days in custody, that women became a witness for the prosecution and the other two women were charged, convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison.

In December, a gay man sought the help of police after being assaulted by an extortionist/blackmailer and was instead charged with homosexuality.

2011

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”.

Discrimination and Violence

2020

The US Department of State report found that security forces harassed LGBT people, while fear of exposure affected willingness to access HIV services, perpetuating the epidemic in Cameroon.

2018

In a report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.

2017

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.

2016

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.

2015

In January, CAMFAIDS reported an attack against a trans woman by a group of 15 people armed with stones and clubs in Yaoundé.

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”.

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.”

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.

2013

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 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.

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.

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 Togué and Alice Nkom, 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. The offices of the LGBT NGO, Cameroon Association for Empowerment Outreach Programmes (CAMEF), were also 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 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.

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.

References

Related Countries

Nigeria

Nigeria criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death by stoning.

Chad

Chad criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Ghana

Ghana criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.

Local Organisations

Elles Cameroon

a Cameroonian organisation led and working for lesbians, bisexual, trans and queer women.

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