Hon. Minister of Justice Amadou Ali, Ministry of Justice, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Mr. Martin Mbarga Nguélé, General Delegate of Security, Presidency of the Republic, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Mr. Jean Baptiste Bokam, Secretary of State for Defense, Ministry of Defense, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Dear Messrs. Ali, Nguélé, and Bokam,
Human Rights Watch is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that monitors human rights violations around the world. Association pour la Defense de l’Homosexualitè (ADEFHO) and Alternatives-Cameroun are two of the leading Cameroonian organizations defending the rights of all people, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Today, we are writing to express our concern over the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of yet another individual, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, under section 347 bis of the penal code, which criminalizes "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" and punishes those convicted under it to up to five years in prison. Mr. Ali, we urge you in your capacity as minister of justice to immediately initiate a review of the law criminalizing consensual sexual conduct and to investigate this and other recent convictions under this law. Messrs. Nguélé and Bokam, we urge you in your official capacities as general delegate of security (police) and defence secretary, respectively, to take measures to ensure that all arrests under section 347 bis cease with immediate effect, as the law is used in entrapment and extortion and contravenes Cameroon’s constitutional as well as international obligations.
The facts of the case are as follows: Mr. Mbede sent an acquaintance a text message and arranged to meet him on March 2, 2011. After arriving at the designated meeting place, he found his acquaintance in the company of policemen, who proceeded to take Mr. Mbede into custody. When questioned by the police, Mbede allegedly told them he was homosexual. Cameroonian law dictates that a person cannot be held in custody for longer than 48 hours without being charged; Mbede was held for seven days at the Gendarmerie du SED Yaoundé before he was charged under section 347 bis and transferred to Yaoundé Central Prison.
On April 28, the Court of First Instance in Yaoundé found Mbede guilty of "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" and sentenced him to three years in prison. Mbede is currently serving his sentence at Yaoundé Central Prison. Cameroonian activists say that Mbede faces threats to his physical safety in prison because of his sexual orientation.
As you are aware, this is not the first time that a person has been given a prison sentence for his presumed sexual orientation. In 2010, we jointly published a report documenting the many violations of fundamental rights faced by lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons in Cameroon. Among other things, the report exposes the ways in which people are arbitrarily detained, their rights to due process summarily dismissed, and their constitutional rights disregarded when they are found guilty under section 347 bis and given prison sentences. The report also documents how police, prison personnel, and other detainees subject men imprisoned under section 347 bis to a steady stream of abuses in both pre-trial detention and prison, including beatings, torture, sexual assault, and verbal abuse. Disturbingly, the report also documents how prison personnel both fail to protect inmates from, and even encourage, such violence.
In addition, prison authorities provide no materials or information about safer-sex in prison although it is a well-established fact that voluntary as well as coerced sexual activity takes place among inmates. Despite the government’s stated commitment to including men who have sex with men in Cameroon’s HIV and AIDS national strategy, conditions in prison are such that not only is the risk of HIV transmission among inmates high but also that HIV positive inmates often receive no treatment while in prison, which places their lives at extreme risk.
The report is available here for your perusal: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/11/04/criminalizing-identities-0
The continued existence of section 347 bis in the books as well as the other abuses faced by individuals on the grounds of their presumed or real sexual orientation and gender expression violate rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Cameroon acceded to on June 27, 1984, and June 20, 1989, respectively. These rights include the rights to privacy; health; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; protection against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment; freedom of expression, association, and information; non-discrimination and equal protection of the law; the rights of prisoners in detention; and the rights of women.
We urge you, in the name of both Cameroonian constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination and Cameroon’s international obligations, to overturn Roger Jean-Claude Mbede’s conviction, and uphold the rights of all Cameroonians to a life of dignity and equality.
Boris Dittrich, HRW Advocacy Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Alice Nkom, President, Association pour la Défense de l’Homosexualité (ADEFHO)
Yves Yomb, Executive Director, Alternatives-Cameroun
The Human Rights Watch also published a backgrounder titled, "Cameroon: ‘Sodomy’ Law Violates Basic Rights."