UN Speaks Out for LGBT People in Cameroon Before Critical Hearings

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights came out strongly in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people facing abuse and imprisonment in Cameroon under the law that makes it illegal to be gay. The statement came just days before three individuals convicted under the anti-gay law will have appeal hearings.

On Nov. 19, 2012, Roger Jean-Claude Mbede will have a hearing appealing his 3-year sentence for sending a text message to another man that said, "I'm very much in love w/u." And on Nov. 21, 2012, Francky and Jonas will have an appeal hearing for their 5-year sentence after a judge convicted them under Cameroon's "Jail the Gays" law because their clothes and their drink of choice, Baileys Irish Cream, were too gay.

"The UN human rights office is deeply concerned by reports from Cameroon of the harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment of individuals on suspicion of being lesbian or gay," said a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN statement also called on the government of Cameroon to protect human rights defenders and ensure that its penal code, including the law that criminalizes "homosexual behavior," respects international human rights.

"The Government of Cameroon has a duty to end these abuses. It should provide adequate protection to human rights defenders working to protect the rights of LGBT persons," the statement said. "It also should use the ongoing review of the penal code to put forward amendments to Article 347 bis, with a view to bringing the article into compliance with Cameroon's international treaty obligations."

"President Biya must be thinking hard about the impact of these anti-gay laws on Cameroon's international reputation," said Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of AllOut.org, the world's largest global LGBT equality organization. "Representatives from the U.S., the EU, the UK, and now the UN are standing in support of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in Cameroon, backed by concerned people from all around the world. Cameroon's government needs to stop pretending these human rights violations aren't happening under their watch."

In the lead-up to these hearings, attorneys and LGBT human rights defenders Alice Nkom and Michel Togué, who are defending Roger, Francky and Jonas, have been receiving numerous anonymous death threats via SMS warning them not to attend the hearings.

"Threats like these show us that the fight must continue," said Nkom. "If Cameroon's leaders don't end these anti-gay laws now, homophobic threats, violence and arrests will continue unchecked."

"Myself, my wife and my family have all received threats like these, all because I defend people who are accused of 'homosexual behavior,'" said Togué. "It's time for Cameroon to stop throwing innocent people in jail for being different, like Francky and Jonas, and end this hate."

"We strongly condemn the threats against Alice Nkom and Michel Togué for their brave work defending people charged under Cameroon's anti-gay law," said Andre Banks. "The police must ensure their ongoing safety throughout the course of Francky's and Jonas' case and others like it. It's time to end the anti-gay law in Cameroon before more people get caught in the crosshairs."