Cameroon may toughen laws criminalising homosexuality

The Cameroonian government is preparing to reform its criminal code and may toughen laws criminalising homosexuality according to Alice Nkom, head of the Association pour la Défense de l’Homosexualité (ADEFHO). The age of consent for heterosexual couples in Cameroon is 16. The proposed laws would punish homosexual couples between the ages of 16 and 21 with eight years in prison for paedophilia.

Cameroon is preparing to toughen laws against homosexuality, already a crime in the country, by equating gay acts with paedophilia. “The government is preparing a reform to the criminal code. In its draft law, it has both maintained and worsened punishment for homosexuality,” Alice Nkom, lawyer and president of the Cameroonian Association for the Defence of Homosexuality, said. “It has widened its jurisdiction and created confusion between homosexuality and paedophilia, which will allow judges to condemn more people more easily,” she said.

In the draft law, homosexual acts in general remain punishable by between six months to five years imprisonment, activist Stephane Koche said.

Two new by-laws however punish homosexual acts on minors between 16 and 21 years of age to eight years in jail with 10-15 year terms available for acts committed on minors younger than 16, Koche said. The new law thus equates acts committed on both age groups as paedophilia.

Interview with Alice Nkom

In an interview with Jeaune Afrique, Nkom said that the situation for LGBT people in Cameroon has got worse over the past ten years:

“Homosexuals lived much better before than now. 10 years ago they arrested fewer people for their homosexuality. This is the result of a combination of two situations: the Catholic Church in a homily in 2005 accused homosexuals of being the cause of moral depravity and of youth unemployment. Subsequently, almost all the newspapers at that time have included this message.”

“Some have gone further by publishing (in 2006) a list of homosexuals with their names and their functions. This has created drama in the family. Children suffered the evil of their classmates at school, it was terrible.”

“In a country where things are done normally, one would have expected the intervention of the Head of State, to a circular addressed to the prosecutors, judicial police officers, about this savage repression, so they would stop. But nothing was done, homosexuals are still treated as abominable.”

Nkom and others defending LGBT people have come under sustained attack, including threats by state officials of possible arrest and with violence from segments of civil society.

Roger Jean Claude Mbede was arrested and sentenced in March to 36 months in prison after sending a text message in which he declared his love to a friend he had met on the internet. Amnesty International is running an international campaign demanding his release.

LGBT rights group Alternatives-Cameroun recently saw him in Yaoundé Central Prison (Kondengui). They said:

“We found Mr. Mbede in a deplorable state of moral health and nutritional health. He was suffering at the time with his left eye and without treatment or medications. He told us he has slept on the ground since his imprisonment, and is abandoned by most of his family members who regard him as a wizard.”

The 2011 US State Department report on human rights in Cameroon says that individuals incarcerated in Douala’s New Bell Prison for homosexual acts suffered discrimination and violence from other inmates. A report by IGLHRC last year said that police and prison officers routinely abuse detainees they suspect of same-sex sexual relationships.

“Cameroon does not want to occupy a prominent place in the international community and does not respect all the conventions that enshrine the rights of man. The country adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a preamble to its constitution. It is provided for in Article 45 that the international conventions and treaties signed and ratified are above the law. Cameroon is a member of the United Nations but does not respect the values promoted by the organization including respect for human rights.

“An [LGBT human rights] resolution was passed at the UN in June. It now sees minority rights as part of human rights. While Cameroon had voted against the majority, the resolution was adopted. It will be obliged to submit one day and legalise homosexuality. You can not swim against the current.”

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