Cameroon is trying to keep quiet a Penal Code revision that adds to existing penalties for homosexuality.
The draft Penal Code was discussed at a by-invitation-only meeting in the capital Yaoundé on December 1 and 2, human rights activist told LGBT Asylum News. N’kom is an internationally lauded lawyer and the Executive Director of ADEFHO, a Cameroon LGBT group. She said human rights defenders were not allowed to attend the meeting.
According to N’kom, the government is keeping the proposal quiet in order to avoid the involvement of the international community.
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, she said. She charged that the change violates the fundamental values to which Cameroon subscribes.
Historically, the Cameroon legislature has rarely made substantial changes to a bill pushed by the Executive.
The draft Penal Code raises the punishment for adult homosexual sex from six months imprisonment 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 to the code with higher penalties when persons under 16 or under 21 are involved.
For homosexual sex with a person from 16 to 21 years, the increased penalty would be one to eight years in prison plus a fine of 50,000 to 400,000 francs (about €75 to 600 or US$100 to 800). Heterosexual sex with a person over 16 is criminalized only if it occurs between a person in authority and a person under 18.
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, N’kom 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, said N’kom. 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, N’kom said.
She also said there is 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 offense to five years in jail without parole, and an additional one year for non-payment of court fees. They had no criminal record, N’kom 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 disclose gay inmates sexuality, 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 on May 17.
In mid-September, N’kom launched a petition asking Cameroon to stop the roundups and attacks, release those arrested and repeal Cameroon’s laws against homosexuality. Other petitions ask for the release of two men sentenced to the maximum of 5 years in prison for a first offense. They were convicted on appearance, not behavior.
Many thanks for assistance with this story to F. Young.
Photo credit cmduke