Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
On February 12, a representative from Working for Our Wellbeing (WFW), an organization based in Douala working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) matters reported that authorities had arrested six LGBTQI+ persons, including four transgender women, between November 2020 and February 8. Mildred Loic Njeuken, known as “Shakiro,” and Roland Moute, who is also known as “Patricia,” were arrested together on February 8. The WFW report added that every detainee experienced varying degrees of physical abuse, harassment, and threats of sexual violence from inmates and guards while inside New Bell Prison in Douala. While the charges against all but Shakiro and Patricia were dropped, the latter two were convicted in May on charges of attempted homosexuality and failure to display a national identity card, and they were sentenced to five years in prison. They were released on bail in July, and as of December the case was before the Court of Appeal in Bonanjo. On August 7, a group of young men violently assaulted “Shakiro” and “Patricia” after they had been released on bail pending an appeal in mid-July. Images and video footage found circulating on social media showed a group of young men violently attacking and disrobing the two survivors on the street. Police reportedly did not officially document the attack in an official report after arriving on the scene, although they escorted the two to the hospital.
In a July 1 report on gender-based violence, Alternative-Cameroon documented the case of a 33-year-old man who was illegally detained at the Douala New Bell Central Prison. On January 24, according to the report, residents in the Douala neighborhood accused the man of being gay, beat him, and called the Douala 10th police district. Police came and arrested the man whom the individuals accused of being homosexual and remanded him for less than 24 hours before referring him to New Bell Central prison, where he spent three months without appearing in court. The survivor lost his job and was evicted from his home.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable with imprisonment lasting anywhere between six months and five years plus a fine.
LGBTQI+ human rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives-Cameroon, the National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons and Their Defenders, Colibri, Working for Our Wellbeing, and others continued to report arbitrary arrests of LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ individuals continued to face significant stigma, violence, and discrimination from their families, communities, and the government.
In one instance on February 24, highlighted in the April HRW report, police officers raided the office of Colibri, a health and human rights organization that provides HIV prevention and treatment services in Bafoussam, West Region. Authorities arrested 13 persons on attempted homosexuality charges, including seven from the Colibri staff. Police released all 13 between February 26 and 27. Three of those who were arrested said police beat at least three Colibri staff members at the police station and threatened everyone who had been arrested. They added that police interrogated them without the presence of a lawyer and forced them to sign statements, which they were not allowed to read. One of them, a 22-year-old transgender woman, said, “Police told us we are devils, not humans, not normal. They beat up a transwoman in front of me.” Police also forced one of the 13 arrested, a 26-year-old transgender woman, to undergo an HIV test and a forced anal exam at a health center in Bafoussam on February 25. She reportedly told HRW that “the doctor was uncomfortable with performing the procedure but said he had to do the examination because the prosecutor’s office asked for it.”
On April 14, HRW reported that security forces since February had arbitrarily arrested, beat, or threatened at least 24 persons, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity. Between February 17 and April 8, HRW said it interviewed 18 persons, including five who had been detained, three lawyers, and 10 members of LGBTQI+ NGOs in relation to the aforementioned case.
The constitution prescribes equal rights for all citizens; however, the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services such as health care. Security forces sometimes harassed persons based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV and AIDS services, and several HIV positive men who had sex with men reportedly were partnered with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.
LGBTQI+ organizations could not officially register as such and thus sought registration either as general human rights organizations or as health-focused organizations. Many LGBTQI+ organizations found that operating health programs, particularly HIV programs, shielded them from potential harassment or shutdown rather than promoting advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons as their primary mission.
According to multiple reports, on November 15, an intersex person was sexually assaulted, beaten, and threatened by a violent mob in Yaounde. The attack, which lasted for several hours, was filmed and later posted on social media. In a press statement issued on November 26, the minister of communication condemned the publication of explicit videos, adding that while homosexuality was against the law, violence against those suspected of homosexuality was also illegal. A man allegedly connected to the attack was arrested and released 48 hours later. A complaint was filed with the police on behalf of the survivor.