Could the Czech Republic be the next EU country to legalize same-sex marriage? Or will a conservative backlash law banning same-sex marriage be passed instead? Nearly half of European Union countries have same-sex marriage laws.
The lower house of parliament has voted yes, but a general election is only months away and the still-controversial measure may be too much so until after the election happens. The marriage equality legislation has stalled for three years in parliament due to factionalization within parties on both sides.
Same-sex couples have been able to register as domestic partners since 2006, but as in the U.S., domestic partnership does not include all the rights accorded married couples, notably in legal contracts, such as child adoptions or property rights.
The new bill, which was approved in an initial debate, now heads to committee debate before a final vote. The law amends the Civil Code to say marriage is a union of “two persons,” instead of the current law which reads “a man and a woman.”
Opponents seeking to dismiss the bill lacked six votes among 93 lawmakers present.
At the same session, a counter bill also got through an initial vote. That bill would change the Constitution to assert that marriage of a man and a woman is protected by law, much like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the U.S. prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage nationally.
The bills in the Czech Republic must pass the Senate, the upper chamber of Parliament, and then be signed by the president to become law. The looming election Oct. 8 may preclude either bill making it through the Senate in time.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the government of Cameroon to address the growing problem of documented abuse of LGBT+ people in the African nation.
In the past few weeks, Cameroonian security forces have arrested, beaten or threatened at least 24 people, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity, Human Rights Watch reports. These security forces are also inflicting HIV testing and anal examinations on those they have arrested.
These accounts of abuse documented by NGOs and HRW are part of increased police action against LGBT+ people in Cameroon. Sexual relations between people of the same sex are criminalized in Cameroon and punished with up to five years in prison.
“These recent arrests and abuses raise serious concerns about a new upsurge in anti-LGBT persecution in Cameroon,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The law criminalizing same-sex conduct puts LGBT people at a heightened risk of being mistreated, tortured, and assaulted without any consequences for the abusers.”
Between February 17 and April 8, Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 people, including 5 who had been detained; three lawyers, and ten members of Cameroonian LGBT NGOs. Human Rights Watch also reviewed reports by Cameroonian and international LGBT organizations, court documents, police reports and medical records.
Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the justice minister, Laurent Esso; the state secretary at the Defense Ministry in charge of the national gendarmerie, Yves Landry Etoga; and the delegate general for national security, Martin Mbarga Nguele, in a letter, requesting answers to specific questions. Cameroonian officials have yet to respond.
Back on February 24, police officers raided the office of Colibri, an organization that provides HIV prevention and treatment services, in Bafoussam, West Region, and arrested 13 people on homosexuality charges, including 7 Colibri staff. The police released all 13 people on February 26 and 27.
Three of those arrested said that police beat at least three Colibri staff members at the police station and that the police threatened and verbally assaulted all those arrested. They also said that the police interrogated them without the presence of a lawyer and forced them to sign statements they were not allowed to read.
One of them, a 22-year-old trans woman, said: “Police told us we are devils, not humans, not normal. They beat a trans woman in the face, slapped her twice in front of me.”
Police also forced one of the 13 arrested, a 26-year-old trans woman, to undergo an HIV test and anal examination at a health center in Bafoussam on February 25. The woman told Human Rights Watch, “The doctor was embarrassed but said he had to do the examination because the prosecutor needed it. He carried out the examination. I had to bend over. The doctor wore gloves and put in his finger. It was the most humiliating thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Human Rights Watch has previously documented that prosecutors in Cameroon have introduced medical reports based on forced anal exams into court, contributing to convictions of individuals charged with consensual homosexual conduct.
Human Rights Watch documented two additional arrests in 2021. In Bertoua, on February 14, gendarmes arrested 13 people on homosexuality charges. On February 8, gendarmes arrested two trans women in Douala, targeting them in the street on the basis of their gender expression. Prosecutors charged them with homosexual conduct, lack of identity cards and public indecency.
As PGN has reported over the past year, authorities have used the pandemic to crack down on LGBT+ people in groups. Demanding gender-matching identity cards is a common ruse to arrest gender nonconforming and trans people.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees the right to equal protection before the law. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body charged with monitoring states parties’ compliance with the African Charter, has said that equal protection extends to sexual orientation. The commission has called for African governments to end all forms of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to arrest and charge those committing such acts.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cameroon is a state party, provides for equal protection, nondiscrimination, and the right to privacy. On this basis, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct between adults violates the ICCPR.
Forced anal exams constitute a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that can, in some cases, rise to the level of torture. In November 2013, Dr. Guy Sandjon, president of the National Medical Council of Cameroon, told Human Rights Watch that Cameroonian doctors should not conduct the exams, as they violate medical ethics, and that the authorities should not order them.
Involuntary HIV and sexually transmitted infection tests constitute a violation of the right to bodily integrity and privacy, protected under the ICCPR, and the right to health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“The Cameroonian government has an obligation to uphold the rights of everyone in Cameroon, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” HRW’s Ghoshal said. “The authorities should immediately end arbitrary arrests on the basis of sexual identity and forced anal examinations and should take swift steps to repeal the law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations.”