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January 24, 2013

Report Condemns Cameroon's Intolerance of Homosexuality

by Robbie Corey-Boulet

A new report from Amnesty International is accusing Cameroon’s government of fostering a climate of abuse and intolerance for the country's gay and lesbian citizens. In addition to arrest and prosecution, the report says Cameroonians accused of violating the country’s law prohibiting gay sex acts are routinely subjected to beatings and even torture. 

Improper use of Article 347

In 2011, 14 Cameroonians were brought to trial for violating a provision in the penal code outlawing homosexuality. Twelve of them were convicted.

But while Article 347 outlaws “sexual relations,” many suspects were arrested for what authorities deemed to be other types of gay behavior. One man sent a text message to another man saying, “I’m very much in love with you.” Two more were arrested partly because they were drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Godfrey Byaruhanga, who researched the report for Amnesty International, says that while his advocacy group opposes the law altogether, such arrests were evidence that it was being applied incorrectly.  

“The law as it exists is not being properly and fairly applied. The Cameroonian law would require that they are found having same-sex sexual relations," explained Byaruhanga. "But in this case we know that most of the people who have been arrested, imprisoned or convicted of homosexuality have not been found engaging in same-sex sexual relations.”

Inhuman conditions in prison

Malnutrition is rampant in Cameroon’s prisons, where inmates receive just one meal a day. Guards also administer regular beatings. In addition, judicial officials have ordered that suspected gay men be subjected to forced anal examinations, which Amnesty says constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Byaruhanga says authorities have failed to investigate harassment and physical violence against gay men and lesbians. He notes also they have not responded to reports of anonymous threats made against human rights defenders and their families - including lawyers defending suspects tried under Article 347.

Responding to Amnesty’s allegations, Cameroonian officials defended Article 347 and its application, saying it reflects the views of a deeply religious society. Officials at the national human rights commission have argued that gay men and lesbians could and should change their sexual preference in order to comply with the law.

A foreign imposition?

Byaruhanga says there is a widespread belief among many Cameroonian officials and ordinary citizens that homosexuality is being imposed on the country by foreign forces.

"I think what was quite concerning was the argument by the authorities that homosexuality is a foreign imposition, that it is an activity or a behavior or a culture that is foreign to the Cameroonian culture, and as such is being imposed by foreigners on Cameroonians," he said. "That is an argument that we simply do not accept and that indeed the gay men and lesbian women in Cameroon do not accept. It is not being imposed from outside the country. This is the sexuality of the people of Cameroon by Cameroonians amongst Cameroonians.”

The U.S. State Department has previously spoken out about Cameroon’s anti-gay law as well as individual prosecutions of Cameroonians charged under the law.

Aaron Jensen, a spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, says the U.S. “opposes any legislation that criminalizes consensual same sex conduct or singles out people for their sexual orientation.”