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Report documents continued persecution of LGBTQ, intersex people in Cameroon

Country’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity

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The Cameroonian and Pride flags (Photo courtesy of Our Wellbeing Cameroon)

A 2022 Human Rights Watch report shows LGBTQ and intersex people in Cameroon continue to suffer persecution and abuse.

The Penal Code of 2016 criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity for both men and women. It carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine. Cameroon’s first penal code, which was adopted in 1965, did not criminalize homosexuality, but a 1972 amendment made consensual same-sex sexual activity illegal.

“In 2022, armed groups and government forces committed human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, across Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and in the Far North region and the persecution of LGBT people and mob attacks against members of the LGBT community intensified,” notes the report. 

The report notes security forces from March to May 2022 “arbitrarily arrested” at least six people and detained 11 others “for alleged consensual same-sex conduct and gender nonconformity.”

Human Rights Watch indicates a crowd of eight men armed with machetes, knives, sticks and wooden planks attacked a group of at least LGBTQ and intersex people in April 2022. Cameroonian police detained and beat at least two of the victims, according to the report. 

Tembeng Eli-Ann Anwi, a Cameroonian gender rights activist, said religion also plays a pivotal role in the ostracization of LGBTQ and intersex people.

“Identifying as 2SLGBTQIA+ is still a crime in Cameroon as per our Penal Code. Even though we are rectifying laws on gender equality, our government still finds it a criminal offence because it is still a crime and doing it publicly is bad, as any crime in Cameroon with evidence is a punishable offense,” said Anwi. “Moreso, if we look in the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed partly because this was practised there and for Christians, we know just the relationship between a man and a woman and not people of the same gender. 

“So to protect the people of this rainbow nation, they have to go to where it is being accepted, if you think it is right, come out and advocate for your beliefs, but do not forcefully engage people in your circle,” added Anwi. “However, not everyone or every society goes with every belief so to be safe you have to practice yours in your closet till the day it is legal, but people should not judge people for who they are.” 

Blaise Chamango, director of Human Is Right, a Cameroonian NGO, said the police use the Penal Code to justify the arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people.

“Section 346 of the Cameroon Penal Code condemns homosexuality in Cameroon so the police officers use this as a pretext to keep harassing LGBT persons and subjecting them to illegal detention,” said Chamango. “As a result, those who identify as LGBT are constantly under attack from the community because it is something which is new and strange to many here, in some communities which are still very traditional it is even a taboo to mention that as some people are hostile to LGBT and do not want to associate with them.”

Chamango, like Anwi, noted religion in Cameroon “is strongly against the LGBT community as most religious leaders here abhor the practice and discourage believers to associate or accept identifying as LGBT as being normal.”

Nevertheless, we need to empower civil society organizations to carry out sensitization campaigns to promote a culture of tolerance and coexisting with LGBT persons and the rest of the society,” said Chamango. “It is also important to provide technical and material support to such organizations so as to provide legal support to LGBT persons who are victims of abuses.”

The State Department’s 2021 human rights report notes numerous cases of authorities arresting LGBTQ and intersex Cameroonians and abusing them while in their custody. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status were also commonplace in the country.

“The constitution prescribes equal rights for all citizens; however, the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality and access to government services such as health care,” notes the report. “Security forces sometimes harassed persons based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV and AIDS services, and several HIV positive men who had sex with men reportedly were partnered with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.”

U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon Christopher Lamora is openly gay.

The Washington Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment on the Human Rights Watch report.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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LGBTQ advocacy groups in Zimbabwe fight gender-based violence

GALZ study found majority of survivors don’t report abuse

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LGBTQ and intersex rights groups in Zimbabwe have joined forces to fight gender-based violence. (Photo courtesy of TIRZ)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 2018 inauguration was seen as a new dawn not only for the country’s political and economic elite, but for LGBTQ and intersex Zimbabweans and other groups. The LGBTQ and intersex community nevertheless continues to reel from intimidation, harassment and ostracization five years after the late-President Robert Mugabe, who ruled the country with an iron fist, left office.

The 2013 Constitution that is currently in use does not outlaw consensual same-sex sexual relations, but same-sex marriages if one is found engaging in sexual activity that is regarded as illegal. The Zimbabwean government, in other words, does not have a problem with anyone who is part of the LGBTQ and intersex community as long as they do not get married or have sex in public.

Even though the Constitution may appear to tacitly protect LGBTQ and intersex Zimbabweans, their everyday experiences, especially when it comes to the issue of gender-based violence, is vastly different.

“Mainstream dialogue of GBV (gender-based violence) in Zimbabwe has predominantly given salience to the experience of cisgender category of women over LBT women. Little to no conversation has been facilitated on the experiences of LBT women, who are disproportionally affected by GBV. GALZ (Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe) has recorded extreme cases of correctional rape, sexual assault and physical assault and intimate partner violence (IPV),” said Samuel Matsikure, programs manager for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group.

According to a study conducted by GALZ in 2021, at least one in three lesbian, bisexual and transgender women experienced violence inflicted based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Gay, bisexual and trans men have also experienced heightened emotional and physical violence, and a lack of accountability exacerbates these experience.

GALZ has also documented cases of intimate partner violence, but the restrictive environment in which it works perpetuates silence around them. Other factors that contribute to this inaction include an unresponsive police force and judicial system and a patriarchal society that does not acknowledge violence between partners of the same sex and ridicules men who report they are survivors of intimate partner violence.

At least 65 percent of people who GALZ interviewed for their 2021 study said they never reported the abuse they experienced for fear of double victimization. 

“This is primarily due to the fact that law enforcement is relatively lux to take action and investigate same-sex partner violence and general violence perpetrated on LGBTI people and society at large also turns a blind eye to this calibre of violence. Such attitudes in turn, discourage victims to speak out and report GBV,” said Matsikure.

Matsikure also described the government’s commitments to protect LGBTQ and intersex Zimbabweans through its National Development Strategy as nothing more than lip service.

“The government has indirectly made considerable efforts to protect LGBTI people from all forms of harm and abuse,” said Matsikure. “However, government is yet to fulfill such commitments creating challenges such as, hesitancy of law enforcement agencies to crack down on GBV experienced by LGBTI persons and hesitancy of LGBTI persons to report or speak out against GBV due to fear of blackmail, homophobic backlash, stigma non-recognition of females as perpetrators of IPV. Lack of political will and leadership to address GBV against LGBTI persons. Delays in seeking treatment, there can be significant delays between GBV and presentation to medical care.” 

“Moreover, constant threats of deregistration of organizations working on the protection of human rights and LGBTI rights by the State limits the interaction of communities with the law enforcers as same-sex conduct is still criminalized,” added Matsikure. “The perception that the current Constitution outlawed homosexuality hinders some government entities from openly assisting LGBTI persons where GBV or IPV has been reported yet the Constitution only mentions same-sex marriage.”

Trans and Intersex Rising Zimbabwe also said they were working on establishing a safe environment for LGBTQ and intersex Zimbabweans in which they will coexist with the heterosexual community.

TIRZ says it’s working through a an initiative that focuses on three areas: Family and friends, sensitizing people on LGBTQ and intersex issues and building an educational and informational support system that focuses on creating lobby, advocacy, religion and cultural programs. TIRZ hopes these efforts will create common ground and allow dialogues with heterosexual Zimbabweans.

TIRZ Program Director Chihera Meki said LGBTQ and intersex Zimbabweans still face major challenges, despite these efforts.

“Challenges such as gate keepers as well as religious and cultural beliefs have affected the program to reach out to the various communities, to help close the gap on information,” said Chihera.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Prominent Kenyan activist brutally murdered, body stuffed in metal box

Freelance photojournalist arrested in connection with Edwin Chiloba’s death

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Edwin Chiloba (Photo courtesy of Edwin Chiloba's Instagram page)

Kenyan police have arrested a freelance photojournalist believed to have been involved in the brutal murder of Edwin Chiloba, a prominent LGBTQ and intersex activist and fashion designer.

Zacchaeus Ngeno, a regional deputy police commander in Uasin Gishu County in western Kenya where Chiloba’s murder took place, confirmed to the press that investigators are pursuing two other suspects who are on the run. 

The unnamed freelance photojournalist who has not been publicly named because the investigation continues was last seen with Chiloba on New Year’s Eve at a popular nightclub in the region where the victim lived.   

The suspect in custody is expected to be arraigned early next week.

Chiloba arrived at Tamasha Place nightclub at around 10 p.m. on Dec. 31 and left after 1 a.m. after watching the New Year’s fireworks with friends, according to Melvin Faith, the deceased’s sister who works there and happily ushered in 2023 together.  

Faith noted her family was later worried about Chiloba’s indefinite unavailability on his cell phone and in his rental house where he lived alone until the shocking discovery of his body on Wednesday inside a metal box that had been dumped on a rural street. A commuter on a motorbike first discovered it. 

Chibola, in addition to being an LGBTQ and intersex activist and a model, and was finishing his undergraduate studies at a local university. Chibola was widely covered in local newspaper for his outstanding fashion designs as one of the country’s young emerging entrepreneurs. 

The arrest and heightened pursuit of the two suspects comes amid pressure from the LGBTQ and intersex community, and local and international rights groups on Kenyan authorities to swiftly investigate and prosecute those who killed Chiloba.

Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director Davis Malombe in a press statement described the murder a “disgusting act of homophobic violence.” He added it violates the Constitution; which grants the right to life, dignity, and freedom of expression for all regardless of gender, sex and any other status.

“The killing is reprehensible and unjust. We demand the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to take swift and due action in investigating this murder, booking and prosecuting the perpetrators,” Malombe said.

He raised concerns over the recent increase in cases of threats, assault and murders of LGBTQ and intersex people in Kenya with little effort from the police to address them.

“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. LGBTQ rights are human rights. We demand justice for Edwin,” he said. Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard via Twitter condemned Chibola’s murder as “heart-breaking” while demanding a “full and independent” probe by the authorities. 

Ned Price, the openly gay spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, echoed Callamard.

“Our sincere condolences to the family and friends of prominent Kenyan LGBTQI+ community member Edwin Chiloba,” tweeted Price. “We call for full accountability for his death.”

Chiloba joins a long list of LGBTQ and intersex people in Kenya who have been murdered.

Sheila Lumumba, a nonbinary lesbian, was raped and murdered last April in Nyeri County in northeast Kenya. Two suspects have been arrested and charged, and the case remains in court.

Violence against gays and lesbians remains commonplace in Kenya. The country’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual acts and those found guilty can face up to 14-years in jail. Pressure, however, has been mounting from inside Kenya to protect the LGBTQ and intersex community’s rights.

Willy Mutunga, the country’s chief justice emeritus who served on the Kenyan Supreme Court from 2011-2016, is the latest former senior government official to demand the State grant full and equal rights to LGBTQ and intersex Kenyans. Mutunga has questioned how any parent can disown their child and even deny them basic needs because they belong to the LGBTQ and intersex community.

Despite the pressure, President William Ruto’s administration remains noncommittal to granting LGBTQ and intersex people equal rights just like his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ruto during an interview with CNN last September said gay rights were not a priority for Kenyans and dismissed calls for his government to give the LGBTQ and intersex community equal rights through changes to the law. Ruto noted “we respect everybody and what they believe in” while demanding that Western countries respect Kenyans’ beliefs.

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Mauritius LGBTQ, intersex rights group pushes for workplace protections

Collectif Arc-en-Ciel holds workshops with local companies

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Collectif Arc-en-Ciel is an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in Mauritius. (Photo courtesy of Collectif Arc-en-Ciel)

An LGBTQ and intersex rights group in Mauritius continues to work to protect LGBTQ and intersex people in the workplace.

Although there is an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Mauritius, Collectif Arc-en-Ciel insists more needs to be done to ensure LGBTQ and intersex people are treated the same as their heterosexual counterparts.

“We do awareness sessions within firms about the importance of equality in the workplace but there is one thing that we are coming up with which is business inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in workplaces to raise awareness within organizations,” explained Collectif Arc-en-Ciel’s Jean Danie. “Since 2008 we have an inclusive Workers Right Act so the law prohibits workers from being discriminated based on their sexual orientation and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has been included from that. So if you feel like you have been discriminated you can file a complaint at the Equal Opportunity Commission so that the Commission can try to mediate between the employee and the employer and if they fail the matter is taken to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.” 

Danie, however, stated that although same-sex relations are regarded as legal, sodomy remains criminalized. Various LGBTQ and intersex activists have asked the Mauritius Supreme Court to overturn the law.

“Same-sex relations are not illegal but the one direct law that was inherited from the British era is the criminalization of sodomy under Section 250 of our penal code but this penal code has been challenged by more than three 2SLGBTQIA+ activists at the Supreme Court of Mauritius so right now we are awaiting judgement as the Supreme Court will be giving its verdict soon because sodomy is practiced by different people regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Danie.

Danie said Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, had conducted a survey to find out if Mauritians support or oppose LGBTQ and intersex people. 

The survey found 60 percent of respondents said that they had nothing against LGBTQ and intersex people, as long as they are not part of their immediate family.

“We did a survey on the perception of same sex relations and we found out that 60 percent of the people we surveyed don’t have a problem with same-sex relations, but Mauritius is deeply rooted in religion and tradition and these two have an impact in our everyday lives,” said Danie. “So what we discovered with the survey is that the 60 percent who were okay with same-sex relations based it on as long as it’s not their immediate family member who is into same-sex relations so people who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ tend to migrate to other countries that are more inclusive of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community but slowly and surely we are getting there.”

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