Friday, 9 December 2011

Cameroon balks at decriminalization

By F. Young

It has now been confirmed that the long-awaited draft of Cameroon’s reformed Penal Code fails to decriminalize homosexuality. Instead it adds two new subsections on homosexuality that are largely taken from other parts of the existing Penal Code.

The draft Penal Code was discussed at a by-invitation-only meeting in Yaoundé on Dec 1 and 2, said human rights activist Alice Nkom in an email to this writer on Dec. 4. Nkom is a lawyer and the Executive Director of ADEFHO, a Cameroon LGBT group. She said LGBT human rights defenders such as ADEFHO were not allowed to attend the meeting.

According to Nkom, the government is keeping the proposal quiet in order to avoid the involvement of the international community who oppose such a reform.

She said that the new section 347-1 would cause maximum damage to the legitimate, constitutionally-protected development of Cameroon’s sexual minorities, and everything must be done to remove it from the text to be presented to Parliament. The executive should refer to international human rights instruments ratified by Cameroon to remove this provision that violates the fundamental values to which Cameroon subscribes, she said.

Historically, the Cameroon legislature has rarely made substantial changes to a bill pushed by the Executive.

The draft Penal Code retains section 347bis of the existing Penal Code, but renumbers it as 347-1(1). It continues to punish adult homosexual sex with six months to five years in Cameroon’s abysmal prisons plus a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 francs (about €30 to 300 or US$40 to 400).

Two new subsections are added to section 347-1 that provide higher penalties when persons under 16 or under 21 are involved. These subsections are largely taken from other sections of the existing Penal Code. The relevant sections are excerpted at the bottom of this article.

For homosexual sex with a person under 16 years, the prison sentence in subsection 347-1(3) of the draft Penal Code would range from 10 to 15 years, which is the same as in the existing subsection 346(3) and the new section on pedophilia (347-2). However, the new subsection 347-1(3) includes a fine of 100,000 to 1,000,000 francs (about €150 to 1,500 or US$200 to 2000) while there is no fine for pedophilia.

For homosexual sex with a person from 16 to 21 years, the increased penalty in subsection 347-1(2) of the draft would be 1 to 8 years prison plus a fine of 50,000 to 400,000 francs (about €75 to 600 or US$100 to 800). This compares to 1 to 10 years in prison with a fine of 40,000 to 400,000 francs in both the existing and new subsection 347(1) (with which the new subsection 347-1(2) appears to conflict). Heterosexual sex with a person over 16 is criminalized only if it occurs between a person in authority and a person under 18 (subsection 347-2(3)).

The reformed Penal Code was drafted by the Department of Justice and is strongly supported by the Minister of Justice Amadou Ali who has mounted a personal anti-LGBT campaign in Cameroon, Nkom said. The draft is expected to be introduced as a bill in the National Assembly. The outgoing minister wants to get it passed before the end of his term, Nkom said. A cabinet shuffle is expected before the new year, according to one report.

The human rights activist said that ignorance is the main cause of the amendment. Opponents of the measure must educate, inform and enlighten everyone on the collateral damage of such a text, in relation to AIDS for example. It takes money, money and more money, Nkom said.

She also said there is also a need to strengthen the rule of law in Cameroon.

At least 10 men have been arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality in Cameroon so far this year, not only for what they allegedly did, but for who they are, or even appeared to be. In November, three men, Francky, Jonas and Hilaire, were sentenced on a first offence to five years in jail without parole, and an additional one year for non-payment of court fees. They had no criminal record, Nkom says.

In November, ADEFHO and other groups announced that there is a government-organized campaign run by youth brigades to entrap gay men on the Internet.

In 2010, human rights organizations jointly published the report Criminalizing Identities that described beatings by police, routine detention without charge beyond the time allowed by law, trials without legal aid, and convictions when there is no credible evidence. It said that prison guards out gay inmates, which results in constant threats, violence and insults by other inmates, which the guards ignore.

"A prison term can be life-threatening for inmates, particularly those who are presumed to be homosexual," said Dipika Nath of Human Rights Watch in a statement dated May 17, 2011.

In mid-September, Nkom launched an international online petition asking Cameroon to stop the roundups and attacks, release those arrested and repeal Cameroon's laws against homosexuality. A separate online petition asks for the release of two men sentenced to the maximum of 5 years in prison for a first offence.

(Text in bold italics is new)
Article.347 : Outrage à la pudeur sur une personne mineure de seize à vingt et un ans
(1) Au cas où les infractions visées aux articles 295, 296 et 347-1 du présent code ont été commises sur la personne d'un mineur de seize à vingt et un ans, les peines prévues auxdits articles dont doublées.

(2) La juridiction peut dans tous les cas, priver le condamné de la puissance paternelle, de toute tutelle ou curatelle pendant les délais prévus à l'article 31 du présent code.
Article.347-1 : Homosexualité

(1) Est punie d'un emprisonnement de six mois à cinq ans et d'une amende de 20 000 à 200 000 francs. toute personne qui a des rapports sexuels avec une personne de son sexe.
(2) Au cas où l'infraction prévue à l'alinéa 1er ci-dessus est commise sur une personne mineure de seize ans à vingt et un ans, la peine est un emprisonnement d'un à huit ans et une amende de 50.000 à 400.000 francs.

(3) Au cas où l'infraction prévue à l'alinéa 1er ci-dessus est commise sur une personne mineure de seize ans, la peine est un emprisonnement de dix à quinze ans et une amende de 100.000 à 1.000.000 de francs.
Article 347-2 : Pédophilie

(1) Est punie d’un emprisonnement de dix à quinze ans, toute personne majeure qui, sans violence, contrainte, menace ni surprise, commet une atteinte sexuelle sur une personne mineure de seize ans.

(2) Les peines prévues à l’alinéa 1 ci-dessus sont doublées lorsque l’infraction est commise :
a) par un ascendant légitime, naturel ou adoptif ou toute autre personne ayant autorité sur la victime ;
b) par une personne qui abuse de l’autorité que lui confèrent ses fonctions ;
c) par plusieurs personnes agissant en qualités d’auteurs ou de complices ;
d) lorsque le mineur a été mis en contact avec l’auteur des faits grâce à l’utilisation, pour la diffusion des messages à destination d’un public non déterminé, d’un réseau de communications électroniques.
(3) Les atteintes sexuelles sans violence, contrainte, menace ni surprise, sur une personne mineure de seize ans à dix huit ans sont punies d’un emprisonnement de deux à cinq ans et d’une amende de 20.000 à 200.000 francs :
a) lorsqu’elles sont commises par un ascendant légitime, naturel ou adoptif ou par toute personne ayant autorité sur la victime ;
b) par une personne qui abuse de l’autorité que lui confèrent ses fonctions.

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