The repeal of Cameroon’s anti-LGBT law is long overdue, says a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association.
In fact, says barrister Walter Atoh, “It is absolutely sickening and ridiculous that in the 21st century a homosexual act gets a person in Cameroon six months to five years imprisonment.”
Atoh, known locally as Atoh Walter M. Tchemi, made his appeal for reform last month during a workshop on human rights in Douala, Cameroon, that was organized by Adefho (Cameroon’s Association for the Defense of the Rights of Homosexuals).
In connection with that workshop, Atoh wrote an open letter to Cameroon President Paul Biya in which he argued that the country’s anti-gay law, Article 347 bis of the Cameroon Penal Code, violates the nation’s international treaty obligations.
Cameroonian society has changed greatly since 1965, when the Cameroon Penal Code was enacted, Atoh said.
He noted that in 2013, when Cameroon’s human rights record was last reviewed by other nations at the U.N. Human Rights Council, 15 nations urged Cameroon to improve its treatment of LGBTI people.
Atoh, based in Kumba, is one of only three attorneys in Cameroon who accept LGBTI clients. The other two are Alice Nkom in Douala and Michel Togué in Yaoundé.
Atoh suggested that it’s currently a good time for Biya to act to repeal Article 347 bis, at a moment when many people are urging him to run for re-election in 2018. Biya, who has been president since 1982, won previous presidential elections in 1992, 1997, 2004, and 2011.
In the past, Biya has raised hopes that he might act to eliminate human rights abuses targeting LGBTI Cameroonians. In 2013, on a visit to France, Biya said that people in Cameroon are changing their minds about homosexuality. “There’s no reason to despair,” he said after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. “Discussions are under way. People are talking, minds can change one way or another.”
“But currently it’s a crime,” he added, noting that homosexuality had been illegal in Cameroon since before he took office more than 30 years ago.
There’s some evidence that, without making any public declarations, the Cameroonian government may be easing up on prosecutions for alleged violations of Article 347 bis. But many Cameroonians remain hostile to their LGBTI neighbors.
During the Feb. 2 workshop, Atoh presented a paper titled “The Human Rights Conditions of LGBTI Persons in 2015, and the Necessity to Continue the Fight for the Protection of LGBTI People.”
In that paper, he stated that:
It is “disturbing and saddening to know that in Cameroon and many other countries within the globe defenders of LGBTI persons are being targeted with death threats via anonymous telephone calls, letters threatening to eliminate their entire family for failure to give up court cases and advocacy for LGBTI persons.
“It is unconstitutional that defenders or advocates of LGBTI persons cannot get the required protection from the administration even when called by them (advocates) following death threats. Complaints from LGBTI advocates lodged at the Legal Departments within Cameroon have been treated or handled with complete disdain and disrespect and today defenders of LGBTI persons are abandoned in the cold to fend for themselves.
“For fear of being lynched and/or incarcerated, many LGBTI persons have made themselves at large [have run away] upon their release on bail.”
He cited the examples of several Cameroonians who escaped while on bail, including Atemkeng Berelyn Amin, “a 27-year-old girl who was almost lynched in Muyuka sometime in 2012-2013 because of her alleged involvement with same-sex intimacy.”
Atoh’s paper noted the human rights violations that the Yaoundé-based advocacy group Humanity First cited in its 2015 report “The New Face of Hatred.” In response, it proposed that the government and other organizations in Cameroon should:
- Combat homophobia.
- Repeal Article 347 bis.
- Organize sessions or seminars on human rights.
- Ensure that arrests are based on facts and in compliance with the rule of law.
- Advocate for minority rights.
Atoh concluded his paper with the statement “LGBTI Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are LGBTI Rights.”
The workshop was aimed at informing people about local, national and Africa-wide actions in support of sexual minorities, including the 2014 resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights that seeks an end to human rights violations targeting sexual minorities and human rights defenders.
Speakers at the workshop included Nkom; Atoh; Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, executive director of REDHAC (the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa); and members of the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The workshop started with introductory remarks by Nkom, the founder of Adefho, who is well known for her advocacy of LGBTI clients. In addition to Adefho, the seminar was supported by Amnesty International, Trutfond and REDHAC (the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa).
This is the text of Atoh’s letter:
AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY PRESIDENT PAUL BIYA
Dear Sir, with profound esteem to your High Office and Person, this Writer is of the considered opinion that, truth like all other good things may cost too much but it is a good thing to make fair comments.
Sir, it is conventionally verified and sickening that homosexuality is a crime in 38 out of 55 African nations with Cameroon inclusive. Concerned about the plights of LGBTI People in Cameroon and mindful of Cameroon’s International Treaty Commitments, that of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), specifically, the provisions contained in its Article 26, mindful of Section 45 of Law No: 96/06 of 18th January 1996, to amend the Constitution of 2nd June 1972, the ICCPR, takes precedence over domestic or national laws. With the above premise, this writer is of the considered opinion that Section 347 bis of the Cameroon Penal Code violates Cameroon’s International Treaty commitments.
It is relevant to make mention herein that, it was in line with the ICCPR, that, the UN Human Rights Committee critiqued and ruled that criminalization of consensual same-sex between adults violates the ICCPR. To note, in May 2013, Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cameroon at the United Nations Human Rights Council, 15 UN Member States made recommendations to Cameroon relating to its obligations to uphold basic Human Rights for LGBTI people.
Dear Sir, it is the considered opinion of this Writer that LGBTI Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are LGBTI Rights.
At this time when many Cameroonians are praying for His Excellency to run for the 2018 Presidential Elections, this Writer prays your Excellency, with profound conviction that Rulers are God’s chosen and anointed people, to decriminalize same-sex conduct, considering the fact that Cameroon is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for equal protection, non-discrimination, and the right to privacy.
Your Excellency, it is the considered opinion of this Writer that the Cameroonian society of 1965, when the Cameroon Penal Code was enacted, has changed significantly along with an evolving or germinating view of many percepts that were prohibited or outlawed decades ago and holds that, the criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon is based on moral rather than legal grounds and opines for immediate decriminalization of same in order for Cameroon to comply with both its international treaty obligations and respect for the equality of its citizens.
Sir, the entire community has an immediate interest in the administration of criminal justice to guarantee peace and order in Cameroon.
God bless President Paul Biya, God Bless Cameroon.
BY: BARRISTER ATOH WALTER M. TCHEMI
MEMBER: Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association
FOUNDER AND HEAD: The Time Law Firm, Kumba
C.E.O: Pro Bono Group