Criticism as Cameroon police shut down human rights workshop

The African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHeR] based in Johannesburg, South Africa has strongly condemned the unlawful shutting down by the police of a human rights workshop in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé at the end of March.

Scheduled to be held from 27 to 29 March, the workshop’s aim was to address the intersection between human rights violations and HIV infection among sexual minorities. The organisers, lead by Defence of Homosexuals (ADEFHO), had been duly granted permission to hold the workshop by the Yaounde District Five area authorities.

According to eye witnesses, popular anti-gay activist, Mr. Simondi Bitchoka was at the conference hall earlier in that morning chanting anti-gay slogan and insulting the workshop participants and then allegedly called the police and local authorities. A group of police officers led by Sub-Divisional Officer Martin Locko Motassi stormed the conference hall of Mansel Hotel Yaounde tearing down the workshop posters and ordering the participants out of the hotel. Participants left the venue amidst the jeering and verbal abuse of a rowdy crowd who had been drawn by the police raid.

Mr. Stephane Koche of ADEFHO, who had tried to challenge the disruption, was arrested by the police on charges of disturbing public order and detained for around three hours.

In a press release on 28 March 2012, AMSHeR said it finds the actions of the police and local authorities to be in contravention of Cameroon’s constitutional obligations and international commitments.

Joel Gustave Nana, AMSHeR’s executive director, said: “Shutting down a meeting on the basis of the topic that it aims to discuss is illegal. It is a violation of individual freedoms.

“The government and its agencies have the duty to protect the human rights. The criminalization of consensual same-sex practices does not warrant the limitation of the enjoyment of other rights, including the freedom of expression and association.”

The organization describe the police’s action as violating provisions of the Declaration of Human Rights of Cameroonian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights [ACHPR] and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) both of which Cameroon ratified and accented to.

Barr Alice Nkom, a human rights lawyer and leader of ADEFHO, said: “Such attempts to limit expression and association further silence victims of human rights violations and sustain an environment of impunity.”

AMSHeR is now urging the Cameroon government to distance itself from this act of impunity by investigating this incident and bringing the erring public officials to account.

Kene Esom, AMSHeR’s policy coordinator, said: “State condoned homophobia, stigma and discrimination promote violence against LGBTI people and increase HIV incidence by preventing access to life-saving HIV information and services by vulnerable populations including men who have sex with men.

“In a country with a rising incidence of HIV among vulnerable populations, the government of Cameroon should be doing more to remove obstacles to HIV prevention, care and treatment including laws and policies that promote homophobia, stigma and discrimination.”

The raid is the latest in a series of allegedly state sponsored or condoned attacks on people on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Cameroonian Penal Code in Section 347 (bis) criminalises consensual same-sex sexual practices with punishments of up to five years imprisonment. Over a dozen of people have been arrested and charged with sodomy since March last year.

Although the criminal procedural code provides that accused persons must be in flagrante delicto [caught in the act of committing the offence], people have been arrested on the basis of mere accusation and for being effeminate in appearance. Individual and groups advocating for the rights of LGBTI people have also been targeted.

Such attacks on LGBTI have also been reported in Uganda in the recent past.

The workshop was jointly organized by the ADEFHO, Adolescents Against HIV/AIDS (SID’ADO) and Group of Families with Homosexual Children (COFENHO).