Criminalizing Identities

Rights Abuses in Cameroon based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Alternatives-Cameroun, ADEFHO, Human Rights Watch, IGLHRC

In Cameroon, prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is both very personal and very public. The Cameroon Penal Code punishes “sexual relations with a person of the same sex” with a prison term and a fine. The relevant article, 347 bis, became law in 1972, and until five years ago, there was little information publicly available on its enforcement. But on May 21, 2005, police arrested 32 people at a nightclub in the first of a series of high-profile arrests and prosecutions continuing to the present.

Beyond arrest, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Cameroonians are at higher risk for other problems. Police and prison officers routinely abuse detainees they suspect of same-sex sexual relationships. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people may be more vulnerable to violent attacks inside and outside the home, as they often avoid reporting a crime for fear of being arrested, in turn, for homosexuality. Lesbian women can lose custody of their children and be ostracized by their families. Those who are at risk for HIV/AIDS infection or who are HIV positive have difficulty obtaining medical and legal services. A general climate of fear means that rigid gender codes are strictly enforced and people live out their lives in secrecy.

In “Criminalizing Identities,” L’Association pour la Défense des Droits des Homosexuels, L’Association pour la Liberté, la Tolérance, l’Expression et le Respect de Personnes de Nature Indigente et Victimes D’Exclusion Sociale au Cameroun, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Human Rights Watch document the unique brand of abuses that people suffer on the grounds of their perceived or real sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report shows that despite pleas by national organizations and recommendations from international bodies, Cameroon continues to implement a retrograde law that undermines basic human rights for a group of vulnerable and marginalized Cameroonians.