Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Human Rights Watch: Cameroon's ‘Sodomy’ law violates basic rights

Cameroon - from our international desk - Source: press release Human Right Watch - Johannesburg - The March arrest, conviction, and sentencing of Roger Jean-Claude Mbede to three years in prison for being homosexual is a gross violation of Mbede's rights to freedom of expression and equality guaranteed by the Cameroonian constitution, Alternatives-Cameroun, Association pour la Defense de l'Homosexualitè (ADEFHO), and Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Cameroon's top leaders.

Under section 347 bis, a person who engages in "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" can face a prison term of up to five years. Mbede was sentenced after admitting to his sexual orientation while in police custody. However, the law directly contravenes international human rights treaties, which, the Cameroonian constitution states, apply directly in the country.

"This law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct and violates the fundamental rights to privacy, equality, and freedom of expression of all Cameroonians," said Alice Nkom of ADEFHO. "The fear and stigma attached to homosexuality is such that the police use the mere existence of the law to trap individuals with impunity. And courts convict those accused even in the absence of evidence."

In their letter, ADEFHO, Alternatives-Cameroun, and Human Rights Watch urge Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Hon. Amadou Ali to initiate a review of the law criminalizing consensual sexual conduct and the conviction in this case, and call on the General Delegate of Security Martin Mbarga Nguélé and the Secretary of State for Defence Jean Baptiste Bokam to cease arrests under section 347 bis of the Cameroonian penal code.

Mbede sent an acquaintance a text message and arranged to meet him on March 2, 2011. When he arrived at the designated meeting place, he found his acquaintance in the company of policemen, who took him into custody. The police questioned Mbede who admitted that 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 and transferred to Yaoundé Central Prison.

Mbede made three appearances at the Court of First Instance in Yaoundé and on April 28, he was found guilty and sentenced 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.

"The Cameroonian criminal justice system is failing to uphold basic rights," Yves Yomb of Alternatives-Cameroun. "In other cases, an accusation from a third party suffices as ‘evidence.' The existence of this law and its use with such impunity makes a mockery of civil liberties in the country."

In 2010, four human rights organizations, including ADEFHO, Alternatives-Cameroun, and Human Rights Watch, jointly published a report documenting the many violations of fundamental rights faced by lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people in Cameroon. The report exposes arbitrary detention, scant regard for due process, and sentencing without evidence under section 347 bis. The report documents abuses in detention, both pre-trial and in prison, by police and prison personnel, including beatings, torture, and verbal abuse. Even written complaints by prisoners about abuse from guards receive no response from the authorities.

Prison authorities often inform other inmates about the presumed sexual orientation of individuals incarcerated under section 347 bis. This results in constant threats, violence, and insults against such prisoners. The report documents cases in which inmates presumed to be homosexual have been physically beaten as well as sexually assaulted by other inmates, with prison personnel failing to protect them and even encouraging such violence.

Prison authorities provide no materials or information about safer sex in prison despite the fact that coerced as well as voluntary 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.

"A prison term can be life-threatening for inmates, particularly those who are presumed to be homosexual," said Dipika Nath of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Cameroon's police, judges, and other government officials are allowing their prejudices against lesbians and gay men to override legal standards they have sworn to uphold."

ADEFHO, Alternatives-Cameroun, and Human Rights Watch said that section 347 bis and the abuses faced by individuals because of their presumed or actual 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.

The constitution of Cameroon affirms its "attachment to the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights... the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and all duly ratified international conventions...."

Read more here:

©2011 The Vanguard Cameroon, Bamenda. A publication of Media World. All rights reserved.  All are welcome to comment. Leave a comment, speak your mind and take part in any discussion. As exchange of ideas and debates between opinions are fundamental for our democracy. And will push Cameroon forward. Comments with racist, homophobic, sexist, hateful, extreme Christian or extreme Islamic content will be removed. Leave the CAPS-LOCK off, no reason to SHOUT.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cameroonian opposition members arrested

Cameroon -Douala/Dschang - By correspondent - Kah Walla, president of the Cameroon People's Party and candidate for the presidential elections 2011 was abducted from the Mont Febe Hotel in Yaoundé at about 11:15 a.m. on May 20th. The following is a step-by-step account.

11:15 a.m. - Ms. Kah Walla leaves her hotel room and heads to the elevators on the 5th floor of the Mont Febe Hotel. She is met by two gentlemen who identify themselves as policemen and ask her to follow them. The CPP President declines and asks why. The policemen reply that they are following instructions and cannot give further information. They physically bar her from going toward the elevators and ask for her telephones. Ms. Walla refuses. She follows the policemen into the elevator and to the hotel lobby.

In the lobby, where hotel staff have gathered, Ms. Walla announces to them that the men with her are policemen and are taking her away against her will and to a destination unknown to her.

11:45 a.m. - Presidential Candidate Kah Walla is taken to a Toyota Prado. The car has no license plates. Only a red sticker in the upper right-hand corner of the vehicle gives an indication of where the vehicle and the men in it are from. The sticker reads “Passe Spéciale PRC”. PRC is the abbreviation for Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon. In the car are four men. A driver, a leader in the front seat, one man on the left and one man on the right. Candidate Walla is held hostage in the middle. An invisible boss is obviously directing this entire operation. Every move is reported to him. Phones ring in the car every two minutes as he gives instructions. After driving for about 1 km, the invisible man on the phone calls and gives an order.

The driver turns the car around and goes back to the hotel. Once again they ask for her phones. She refuses. They are visibly disturbed. They concert outside the car and make more phone calls. An order is given. The man on the right grabs Ms. Walla's handbag forcibly. They insist on searching the bag in front of her. They confiscate one Nokia phone, one Black Berry, one Sony camera, one business card holder and documents of hers. 

12:20 p.m. - The car now takes off. Ms. Walla has no idea where she is being taken. As they reach the outskirts of Yaounde, she wonders out loud: “I hope you are not going to drop me off in the middle of the forest”. As this has been regular practice of the police with some opposition leaders. Her captors chuckle: “Madam President, we will give you only treatment that your rank deserves”. The drive continues. 

“Madam President, 
we will give you only treatment
that your rank deserves” 
say the kidnappers.

After about an hour they ask to search her small suitcase. She refuses. “Why don't you make this easy for us? Please don't be difficult. We have a lot of respect for you. We do not want to do things without your consent.” Kah Walla is outraged: “Make things difficult for you? You kidnap me, hold me hostage in a vehicle, are taking me to an unknown destination and I am making life difficult for you?”.

They are immediately apologetic. Clearly these policement have very paradoxal instructions. Kidnap the president of a political party and candidate for the presidential elections, but do so very politely. President: Paul Biya once said: “Cameroon is Cameroon.” Kah Walla was living it. Here is absolute barbary being carried out with the utmost politeness. Despite her refusal, they do eventually search her suitcase. Telling her they are looking for flyers (these are often used in Cameroon for a political call to action, public demonstrations, strikes, etc.). They have the decency to look abashed when they find none.

2:30 p.m. - Arrival in Douala. The men ask Ms. Walla where she lives. She directs them. They drop her in front of her gate, carry her bags out of the car and each one proceeds to come and shake her hand and greet Madam La Presidente. Had this not been a kidnapping, you would have mistaken them for gentlemen.

3:00 p.m. - No time to digest being kidnapped. Ms Walla arrives the party office and meets six party members in full action. She is informed that three members of the CPP have been arrested in Douala. Their crime? They were wearing CPP T-shirts and handing out flyers describing the party's political program and giving background information on Candidate Walla. Kah Walla heads to the Brigade de Gendarmerie, Port Sud. No one can provide information about why these party members have been arrested. All of this to manage, and she has no phones.

In Dschang the party president speaks to a young woman, party member who is being detained by police. She too is being questioned about wearing a party t-shirt and distributing paryy flyers. Evidently inPaul Biya’s Cameroon, on National Day, only certain parties have the right to public demonstration. The young lady in Dschang is tough, resolute. She is not being detained, just kept for questioning. The focus is on Douala.

The gendarmes say they are acting on instructions from administrative authorities. Evidently this is a day for “instructions”. A couple of hours are spent trying to locate the Governor, the highest administrative authority of the region. When he is finally located Ms. Walla is informed Governor Fai Yengo cannot receive her. He is busy. Receiving guests for the National Day celebration. A day for unity, peace and democracy.

6:00 p.m. - The only bright spot in the day. CPP party members call in from The North West - Bamenda, South West - Kumba, Littoral - Edea, Mombo, Nkongsamba, Extreme North - Maga, etc. The CPP has been present during the National Day and has shown a powerful new face to Cameroonians. Young people in their green, red and yellow t-shirts got standing ovations from various crowds across the country. In spite of the attempt by the authorities to crush it, hope is alive and well in Cameroon and showed its face through the CPP across the country.

9:00 p.m. - Candidate Walla manages to catch the Governor between parties. He has finished with his own party and is now going off to the party at the Senior Divisional Officer’s house. He has three minutes for a discussion. Standing up on the porch of his home. His first question is with the utmost disdain: “You expect me to solve problems, at this hour, today?”. Madam Walla: “Yes Mr. Governor, it is a question Cameroonians who have been denied their basic rights, their basic freedoms on National Day.” “Madam Walla, I did not detain anyone. I did not ask for anyone to be arrested”. "Go and look for the person who asked for them to be arrested and he will release them”. The Governor has no more time to bestow on such trivial matters. There is a national party waiting to celebrate unity, peace and democracy.

12:00 a.m. - The CPP team decides to get some rest. The young lady in Dschang has been allowed to go home, even though she is requested to return on Monday for more questions. The three young men are obliged to spend the night in detention.

As we write this, those three young men are still being held illegally by the Cameroonian administrative authorities and the gendarmes. They have not been charged with a crime, they have not been registered on the Brigade’s roll.

©2011 The Vanguard Cameroon, Bamenda. A publication of Media World. All rights reserved.  All are welcome to comment. Leave a comment, speak your mind and take part in any discussion. As exchange of ideas and debates between opinions are fundamental for our democracy. And will push Cameroon forward. Comments with racist, homophobic, sexist, hateful, extreme Christian or extreme Islamic content will be removed. Leave the CAPS-LOCK off, no reason to SHOUT.