Cameroonian authorities illegally shut down an LGBT rights
workshop in Yaoundé last month and arrested one of the workshop
organisers, Human Rights Watch said today.
The workshop, scheduled to be held at a Yaoundé hotel on 27 March,
had been authorised by the local sub-prefect, an administrative
official, in accordance with Cameroonian law.
But the sub-prefect revoked his authorization as the event was
beginning, upon realising that the "human rights" to be discussed
included the rights of sexual minorities.
Police arrested Stéphane Koche, an activist working with the
convening organisations, and detained him for three hours before
releasing him without charge.
"Cameroonians have the right to freedom of assembly and
expression, even if their viewpoints are not popular in the eyes of
the authorities," said Boris Dittrich, lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
"Shutting down a workshop and detaining an activist is no way for
Yaoundé authorities to treat people who have come together to talk
about human rights."
The workshop, which was scheduled to take place over three days,
was coordinated by three groups - Adolescents against AIDS
(SID'ADO), Association pour la Défense de Homosexuel-le-s,
(Association for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians, ADEPHO), and
Collective des Familles des Enfants Homosexuel-le-s (Collective of
Families of Gay and Lesbian Children).
It was to include a range of human rights and professional
organisations, including women's rights groups, AIDS organizations,
and groups representing pharmacists, doctors, and lawyers.
Representatives of the United States and German embassies in
Yaoundé were also present.
Participants told Human Rights Watch that shortly after they
arrived at the hotel, local youth, described by a participant as
"thugs," arrived. A representative of the Cameroonian Youth
Rally - an anti-gay youth organization with no public authority or
policing powers - arrived with a group of young men and told
participants, "Leave - this meeting is not going to take
Shortly thereafter, police, gendarmes, and civilian authorities,
including the prefect of Mfoundi and the Yaoundé sub-prefect who
had authorised the meeting, arrived and dispersed
Cameroonian law prohibits "sexual relations with a person of the
same sex." The existing law violates the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to privacy
(article 17) and the right to be free from discrimination (articles
2 and 26). Cameroon has no law that could justify a
prohibition on meetings to discuss the rights of lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Contacted by Human Rights Watch regarding the legal basis for
shutting down the meeting, a Justice Ministry official said he was
not aware of the incident.
"Using Cameroon's disputed sodomy law as a pretext to prohibit
discussion of sexual rights is unfair and extreme, compounding one
human rights violation with another," Dittrich said.
"The Cameroonian authorities should apologize to the workshop
organizers and permit them to hold this workshop and others, safely