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Stigma and Discrimination of LGBT in Cameroon
The Role Played by the Local Roman-Catholic Church
Jules Charles Eloundou, Founder and Chair of Humanity First Cameroon, at the conference “When Identity Becomes a Crime: The Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally” in the Capitoline Museum (Rome, Italy) on 11 October 2014
I Presentation of Cameroon
The Republic of Cameroon is a country of the central African sub-region, located at the bottom of the Gulf of Guinea. Cameroon shares common borders with the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the west, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Gabon, the Republic of Congo in the south, the Central African Republic in the east and the Republic of Chad in the north.
- Surface area: 475,442 km²
- Climate: varies from north to south, from the Sahel zone (four to eight months of dry season per annum) right to the Equatorial zone (seven to eight months of rain per annum)
- Population: 16.5 millions
- Capital: Yaoundé
- Main industrial towns: Douala, Limbe, Edea, Yaoundé, Bafoussam, Garoua
- Official languages: French, English
The legislative power is exercised by the Parliament, which comprises two chambers: The National Assembly and the Senate. The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and Courts.
II Legal and Social Context of Homosexuality in Cameroon
Cameroon is one of the 39 African countries where homosexuality is penalized by law. Under Article 347 bis of the Penal Code homosexuality is punished with a six month to five year imprisonment sentence and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 Francs (45–450 $). Therefore, anyone who has sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex or who is suspected of homosexual conduct is at risk of severe punishment. The law criminalizing homosexuality has been in the penal code of Cameroon since 1972, though it was rarely enforced until a series of high-profile raids and arrests in 2005.
The criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon is not without disastrous and sometimes tragic consequences. Homosexuals (or suspected homosexuals) and their advocates are often stigmatized, marginalized, threatened verbally, assaulted and/or murdered without any serious deterrent or reaction from the Cameroonian authorities. Homosexuals are rejected by their families and they are often denied access to treatments for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, notwithstanding the clear and unambiguous content of Article 347 bis of the Penal Code, there is a widespread abuse in its application. Almost all those who have been convicted for the crime of homosexuality have never been caught in the act of having homosexual intercourse. Thus, in many cases, the judge is systematically influenced by his beliefs and the profusion of homophobic discourse and behavior that usually prevail in Cameroonian society.
The judge, who is expected to be the protector of individual freedoms, can then be refractory to human rights through the violation of fundamental principles such as the legality of criminal offenses and penalties, the restrictive interpretation of criminal law, the presumption of innocence, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Finally, police custody and especially the officers responsible of the violent repression do not take into account the rules of procedure even though they are public orders under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
III The Role of the Church in Supporting This Special Context
The Catholic Church is one of the strongest forces reinforcing anti-gay stigma in Cameroon. Back in 2012, Simon-Victor Tonyé Bakot—then Archbishop of Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital—said that homosexuality is “shameful, a disrespectful criticism of God who has chosen to create man and woman.” Before he was replaced in 2013, Tonyé Bakot had also joined with Cameroon’s other Catholic bishops in issuing a statement condemning homosexuality including the claim that “homosexuality opposes humanity and destroys it.” He says, “Gays are enemy of creation.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Yaoundé said in 2012 that he believes homosexuality is opposed to the ideal of human reproduction and is a danger to the family unit, “an affront to the family, enemy of women and creation.”
The cleric is no stranger to homophobic statements. In December 2005, he stated that homosexuality was a crime against the family and marriage. His statement generated a nationwide homophobic debate with several Cameroon papers alleging the existence of a homosexual “mafia” outing by means of publishing a list of many prominent people, including government ministers, as evidence of this allegation.
Archbishop Tonyé Bakot's anti-gay statement has contributed to the “celebration” of Cameroon’s national gay hate day, organized by the association Rassemblement de la Jeunesse Camerounaise (Cameroonian Youth Rally or RJC) yearly on 21 August to glorify homophobia with a parade to take place through the city of Yaoundé. The existence and combat of the alleged “gay mafia” is one of the principal concerns of the RJC, which proudly announces its homophobia.
In 2013, The Catholic Bishops of Cameroon spoke out against abortion, homosexuality, incest and sexual abuse of minors. “Homosexuality falsifies human anthropology and trivializes sexuality, marriage and family as the foundation of society. In African culture, it is not part of the family and social values. It is a flagrant violation of the legacy, which our ancestors, faithful to heterosexuality and the family have handed down to us. Throughout human history, practices of homosexuality have never led to the evolution of society, but have always been the obvious signs of the outrageous decay of civilizations. In fact, homosexuality opposes humanity to itself and even destroys it.”
IV Social and Health Implications
In 2010, non-governmental organizations (Human Right Watch and Amnesty International) published detailed reports outlining the legal and social dangers that LGBT people face in Cameroon, including arrest, rape, loss of their children, social stigma and discrimination based on both sexuality and HIV status. These reports and the level of homophobic campaigns launched by the church and media indicate that Cameroon is one of the most hostile countries in Africa for LGBT people.
These reports found that most people charged with homosexuality are convicted based on little or no evidence. The criminalization of homosexuality nonetheless makes gay men and lesbians vulnerable to extortion and other forms of abuse. It even maintains them far from the health system. This last point is a major concern for gay men since a study conducted by Care/USAID in 2011 shows that 24% and 44% of MSM in Douala and Yaoundé, respectively, are currently living with HIV. Another study conducted in 2013 by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Global Viral Cameroon revealed that stigmatization based on sexual orientation reported by MSM included denial of police protection was 8.1%, arrest 7.7%, imprisonment 5.3%, blackmail 39.8%, and rape 27.3%.
V Recommendations to the Roman-Catholic Church
- Since the role of the church is to promote love, harmony and peace, we recommend that the church should not be promoting rejection and division instead of unity.
- The church should encourage all medical practitioners to warmly receive and treat LGBT without any kind of consideration.
- The church should recommend countries where violence against LGBT is frequent that measures should be taken to stop this violence.
- The church should encourage countries that criminalize homosexuality to vote for laws that protect LGBT rights as LGBT people are part of the society.
- With the synod on family going here in Rome, the church should make the LGBT pastoral a recommendation to all churches in Africa.