Saturday, 5 November 2011

Cameroon: Police Crackdown and Increased Violence

By F Young

At least ten men have been arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality in Cameroon so far this year. Not only for what they do, but for who they are, or even appear to be.

“We are receiving an increasing number of reports that individuals are being targeted not only because of their sexual behaviour, which is the subject of these discriminatory laws, but because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This use of criminal law to punish identities, as well as behaviours, is deeply concerning,” said Salil Shetty of Amnesty International in a statement issued on Sept. 26.

“We have received information that at least some of these men were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment while in custody,” said Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch in the same statement.

According to the Amnesty International website, "Homophobia is endemic in Cameroonian society and even the National Human Rights Commission refuses to recognise and defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Arrests, prosecutions and trials of gay men occur on a regular basis."

A police crackdown is not the only problem. There was a surge in anti-LGBT violence in early September.

"In the last two weeks violence against gay people in Cameroon has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels: the situation is quickly becoming a crisis," said Alice Nkom, one of the few lawyers willing to defend LGBT clients, in a letter posted online on Sept. 15. "I've heard countless recent stories of homophobic violence throughout the country," she adds. "I'm 66, and in ten years of defending lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people in Cameroon, it has never been this bad"

There have been reports of at least two attempts to burn gay men in Cameroon this year, on Jan. 28 and May 14.

In Cameroon. adult consensual gay and lesbian sex is punishable with a fine and up to five years in jail. A proposed reform would increase the prison term to 8 years when it involves a person between the ages of 16 and 21 and 15 years, and to 15 years when it involves sex with minors under 16.

In mid-September, Nkom launched an international online petition against homophobia in Cameroon. On Oct 10, she said the online petition already had an impact; the government knows that the world is watching. So far, the petition has been signed by over 61,000 people, but Nkom is seeking 100,000 supporters.

Cameroon is a member of the Commonwealth, but the majority of its population speaks French. Its 19 million inhabitants are 70% Christian, with significant Muslim and animist minorities.

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