Human Rights Watch | Last week a court in Cameroon handed down a 6-month prison sentence and fine of 650,000 CFA (US$1,106) to one of the perpetrators of a violent attack on an intersex person last year in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. The court’s decision reflects growing recognition of the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people in Cameroon, including their right to be protected from violence.
In November 2021, a violent mob sexually assaulted, beat, threatened, and humiliated 27-year-old Sara (not their real name) while others filmed the attack in two horrific videos which later circulated on social media.
In the aftermath of the attack, police arrested one man, but released him without charge after 48 hours. No other arrests were made. On November 16, 2021, the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), a human rights organization advocating for LGBTI people, filed a complaint with the police on behalf of Sara as a victim of assault, battery, and inhuman and degrading treatment.
In a positive move, police responded to CAMFAIDS’s complaint and opened a fresh investigation into the attack. That investigation led to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect who was convicted and sentenced in Yaoundé on February 25.
Even though it is unlikely the other perpetrators will ever be caught or face jail time, Sara’s lawyer, Michel Togue, made the point: “It sends a strong message that violence against people because of their sexual orientation is wrong and leads to consequences for the perpetrators.”
Sexual relations between people of the same sex are criminalized in Cameroon and punished with up to five years in prison. In a November 26, 2021 press conference, Said René Emmanuel, Cameroon’s communication minister, condemned violence against LGBTI people, breaking the silence which has for too long surrounded attacks like the one against Sara. The minister’s statement coupled with this important court decision represent small but meaningful steps in acknowledging that LGBTI people’s lives are valued and the state has an obligation to protect them.
As Cameroon’s authorities are slowly recognizing these obligations, they should repeal the law criminalizing same-sex conduct and protect the rights of Cameroon’s LGBTI population on an equal basis with others and in line with international standards.