ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Cameroon prosecutes people for consensual same-sex conduct more aggressively than almost any country in the world, four human rights organizations said in a report released Thursday.
The organizations – Alternatives-Cameroun, Association for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians (ADEFHO), the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and Human Rights Watch – found that at least 28 people have been prosecuted for same-sex conduct in Cameroon since 2010.
Most cases are marked by grave human rights violations, including torture, forced confessions, denial of access to legal counsel, and discriminatory treatment by law enforcement and judicial officials, the report claims.
The report, “Guilty by Association: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of Cameroon’s Anti-Homosexuality Law,” presents 10 case studies of arrests and prosecutions under article 347 bis of Cameroon’s penal code, which punishes “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” with up to five years in prison.
The report found that most people charged with homosexuality are convicted based on little or no evidence.
The report includes numerous cases in which the law against homosexual conduct was used for settling scores, showing how the law is easily subject to abuse. Dozens of Cameroonians do jail time solely because they are suspected of being gay or lesbian, the groups found.
Human Rights Watch researcher Neela Ghoshal said there had been a noticeable drop-off in arrests in recent months. But she said the criminalization of homosexuality nonetheless makes gay men and lesbians vulnerable to extortion and other forms of abuse.
Cameroon’s Justice Ministry has acknowledged that human rights abuses have occurred but did not issue a specific response to the allegations in Thursday’s report.
President Paul Biya told diplomats in early 2012 that he would push for a moratorium on prosecutions of gays and lesbians, according to Thursday’s report.
No specific steps have been taken, though Biya told journalists in January there could be a “change of mind” on homosexuality in Cameroon.
The law criminalizing homosexuality has been on the books in Cameroon since 1972, though it was rarely enforced until a series of high-profile raids and arrests in 2005.