Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that Cameroonian security forces have “arbitrarily arrested, beaten, or threatened at least 24 people, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity, since February 2021.” At least one of them was forced to undergo an HIV test and anal examination.
Sexual relations between people of the same sex are criminalized in Cameroon and punished with up to five years in prison.
“These recent arrests and abuses raise serious concerns about a new upsurge in anti-LGBT persecution in Cameroon,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The law criminalizing same-sex conduct puts LGBT people at a heightened risk of being mistreated, tortured, and assaulted without any consequences for the abusers.”
The rights group said the recent accounts of abuse seem to be part of an overall uptick in police action against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Cameroon.
“It is not illegal to be homosexual or transgender,” said Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom. “According to Cameroonian law, it is the act which is the crime. So, this is a blatant human rights violation. They should be released immediately.”
In May 2020, police arrested 53 people, most of them LGBT, at a gathering hosted by an HIV organization in a hotel in Bafoussam and charged them with “homosexuality” related offenses. At least 6, including 3 teenagers ages 15 to 17, were subjected to forced anal examinations and HIV tests.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees the right to equal protection before the law and nondiscrimination. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body charged with monitoring states parties’ compliance with the African Charter, has said that equal protection extends to sexual orientation. It has also stated that the principle of nondiscrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation, is the foundation for the enjoyment of all human rights. The commission has called for African governments to end all forms of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to bring the abusers to justice.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cameroon is a state party, provides for equal protection, nondiscrimination, and the right to privacy. On this basis, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct between adults violates the ICCPR.
Forced anal exams constitute a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can, in some cases, rise to the level of torture. In November 2013, Dr. Guy Sandjon, president of the National Medical Council of Cameroon, told Human Rights Watch that Cameroonian doctors should not conduct the exams, as they violate medical ethics, and that the authorities should not order them. Involuntary HIV and sexually transmitted infection tests constitute a violation of the right to bodily integrity and privacy, protected under the ICCPR, and the right to health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“The Cameroonian government has an obligation to uphold the rights of everyone in Cameroon, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” Ghoshal said. “The authorities should immediately end arbitrary arrests on the basis of sexual identity and forced anal examinations and should take swift steps to repeal the law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations.”