GENEVA — The United Nations Human Rights office is sharply criticizing Cameroon's anti-gay laws, which it says criminalize same-sex relationships. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is deeply concerned by reports in Cameroon of harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment of people on suspicion of being lesbian or gay.
The U.N. human rights office says Cameroon's penal code, which criminalizes sexual relations with a person of the same sex, breaches the country's international human rights commitments. It says this law, which calls for up to five years imprisonment and a fine for any person found in a same-sex relationship, also violates international human rights law.
Like many nations in Africa, Cameroon is a conservative society, where homosexuality is frowned upon.
U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville says the U.N. is seriously concerned that the anti-gay law is being applied to prosecute people simply on their appearance, their mannerisms, style of speech or general conduct.
"In 2011, for example, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was convicted of suspected homosexual conduct after the authorities discovered he has sent a text message to another man that read 'I am very much in love with you,'" recalled Colville. "Last month, Jonas Singa Kumi and Franky Djome were convicted on the basis of evidence of their appearance, which as perceived as effeminate, and the fact that they had been seen drinking Bailey's Irish Cream."
Colville says all three cases will have appeal hearings next week. He acknowledges the U.N. human rights office hopes that by speaking out it will pressure the Cameroonian court to overturn what he calls these unjust sentences.
Colville adds that the U.N. office is also receiving "very worrisome" reports of anonymous threats being received by human rights defenders working to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He notes one prominent Cameroonian lawyer has received multiple death threats to her life and the well-being of her family.
Colville says civil society organizations that have spoken out on behalf of LGBT people also have been threatened and intimidated. According to Colville, the human rights office hopes to eventually, affect changes in Cameroon's laws.
"So, obviously laws that target people because of their sexual orientation are discriminatory by any nature," Colville noted. "So, that is why we strongly oppose them and we obviously try and convince governments that have such laws to change them. And, of course, many governments have changed them. Many governments have had these kinds of laws and have changed them over the years. So, we hope Cameroon will do as well."
There was no immediate comment from Cameroon's government to the comments from the human rights office. The country is one of 38 African nations have laws penalizing same-sex relations.