News / Africa

Report: Police Abuse Suspected Gays in Cameroon

FILE - Esther, 29, and Martine, 26, from Yaounde, on trial in Cameroon accused of homosexuality, March 15, 2012FILE - Esther, 29, and Martine, 26, from Yaounde, on trial in Cameroon accused of homosexuality, March 15, 2012
x
FILE - Esther, 29, and Martine, 26, from Yaounde, on trial in Cameroon accused of homosexuality, March 15, 2012
FILE - Esther, 29, and Martine, 26, from Yaounde, on trial in Cameroon accused of homosexuality, March 15, 2012
A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) says officials in Cameroon have resorted to torture and other forms of abuse while pursuing cases under the country’s notorious anti-gay law.  The rights watchdog says Cameroon prosecutes homosexuality “more aggressively than almost any country in the world," even though police say there has been only one arrest for homosexuality in the past six months and the country's president says he may be rethinking enforcement of the laws.

Cameroon’s anti-gay law dates back to 1972, but regular prosecutions did not begin until 2005.  Human Rights Watch says charges have been brought against at least 28 people in the last three years alone although arrest activity appears to have dropped off in the past few months.
 
The law bans sexual activity between people of the same sex, with punishments of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $400.

While Human Rights Watch and other groups have called for an outright repeal of the law, the new report also claims that, in the past, it was being improperly enforced.  Researcher Neela Ghoshal said the evidence against suspects is very weak, with cases often resting on rumor, denunciations, or even a person's appearance.
 
"It’s very difficult for the authorities to find proof that homosexuality has taken place," she said. "In none of the cases that we documented was anyone actually caught having sex with someone of the same sex."

Many of the suspects interviewed for the report said they had been abused or even tortured during interrogations so that they would confess.  One man was tied to a chair and beaten so badly that he couldn’t walk for weeks.
 
Others said they were mocked openly by judges in court and faced physical and sexual abuse in prison.  Several said they had been subjected to humiliating anal examinations, which Cameroonian officials claim can determine whether someone has engaged in anal sex.  HRW and medical experts say such tests are of no scientific value.
 
Ghoshal said that it was difficult for suspects charged with homosexuality to get legal representation.  The few lawyers who have readily taken on homosexuality cases have had threats issued against them and their children.
 
"Another problem is that it takes a lot of courage for a lawyer to defend these cases... It’s unlikely that in rural parts of Cameroon you're going to find lawyers who are willing to take this risk," Ghoshal said.
 
The report says that the law has implications for gay men and lesbians in Cameroon even outside the courtroom.  For example, it says they are vulnerable to extortion by security forces and ordinary citizens.
 
Cameroonian officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday but Ghoshal said that in meetings this week with security forces, she learned that the police had not arrested anyone for homosexuality in the past six months, and that only one such arrest by the gendarmes had been documented.
 
“There has been a concrete and conscious effort to decrease the type of arbitrary arrests that we’ve been seeing, and that is really something positive to acknowledge," she said. "However, that said, even having the law on the books is something that is dangerous and creates obstacles to people’s freedoms.”

According to HRW, Cameroon's President Paul Biya has previously told diplomats that he would seek to impose a moratorium on arrests for homosexuality.  In January, he said it was possible that there could be a “change of mind” about homosexuality in Cameroon.  But no concrete action has been taken.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs