‘There is no tolerance yet’: Trans woman attacked in Cameroon

A screenshot of a video of 2 minutes and 37 seconds shot in Yaoundé, Cameroon in mid-November.
A screenshot of a video of 2 minutes and 37 seconds shot in Yaoundé, Cameroon in mid-November. © Social media

A transgender woman was assaulted and humiliated in mid-November in Yaoundé, Cameroon, as shown in videos posted on social networks. Members of the local LGBT community report that they suffer regular attacks and discrimination, and that transgender people are the most affected among them.

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On November 19, a resident of the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé contacted the FRANCE 24 Observers team on WhatsApp about an attack on a transgender person in his city a few days earlier. Transgender people’s "gender identity or gender expression is different from typical expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth," according to Amnesty International.

Screengrab of a WhatsApp message sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. The message reads, “Here you will see what the LGBTQI community experiences on a daily basis in Cameroon.”
Screengrab of a WhatsApp message sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. The message reads, “Here you will see what the LGBTQI community experiences on a daily basis in Cameroon.” Observers

There are several videos of this attack, but our team has decided to publish only screenshots because of their disturbing nature. This article contains descriptions of those videos, which may be shocking for some readers.

One of the videos, which lasts just over two and a half minutes, was shot in a room with several men. At the beginning, one of the men, who is wearing a blue shirt, seems to block the woman on the floor. 

We hear, "Wait and see what happens to you!" They then pull on her hair, her bra, and hit her repeatedly, while she screams. The men also force her to stand up, so they can take pictures of her naked, holding her hair back. Towards the end of the video, they yell at her to "spread [her] anus" and hit her on the buttocks.

In another video of similar length, the man in the blue shirt pulls the woman by the hair into the street, among several people. Another man hits her with a stick. The man in the blue shirt then hits her on the head, repeatedly. The woman screams in terror. Several people repeat "open your feet", "spread your legs" and tell her "show your face". Someone pulls her hair. In the end, several people grab her feet and wrists to see her body, including her genitals. 

‘Trans people still experience more violence than the rest of the LGBT community’

Parice, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person, is the programme director at Positive Vision, an organisation that promotes the rights of trans people in Cameroon.

I know Bijou, the trans woman who was beaten, because she is one of our association's beneficiaries. After her attack, she was taken to the safety of a shelter in the suburbs of Yaoundé, run by the CAMFAIDS association [Editor’s note: CAMFAIDS fights against HIV/AIDS]. So we have news of her through this association.

What we do know is that Bijou was with a man on the day she was attacked. They had had drinks together and she had not told him that she was trans. He found out later, when they were having sex. He then told the neighbours and Bijou was dragged out. As a result, two men took her to the police station. Fortunately, she was released a few hours later while things were calming down, as there were many people around the police station.

Trans people are victims of psychological or physical abuse all the time: taunts, mimicry, beatings ... Personally, I hear of seven-to-10 cases a week at the moment. 

Trans people still experience more violence than the rest of the LGBT community. I think it's because they express themselves more than homosexuals, through their outfits, the fact that they hide less, people sometimes notice their facial hair ... There is no tolerance yet. 

Plus, trans people are constantly discriminated against in society. In terms of access to health services, for example, hospitals refuse to treat them. As far as work is concerned, it's a disaster: that's why the majority of them are involved in sex work.

‘We have seen an increase in violence recently’

Claude Asanji is the deputy coordinator of the human rights and advocacy unit of Humanity First Cameroon Plus, an association that defends LGBT people. He too believes that trans people are the most affected by violence within the LGBT community.

Just between September and November, I counted about 100 cases of violence against trans people. We have seen an increase in violence recently, since the Covid-19 lockdowns, probably because people have stayed at home, watching their neighbours. 

When videos of attacks are posted on social networks, the vast majority of people do not denounce the violence: on the contrary, they speak out to incite hatred against LGBT people. 

Generally speaking, I think that violence against the LGBT community is mainly linked to discriminatory laws in Cameroon, starting with Article 347-1 of the Penal Code.

Up to five years’ imprisonment for homosexual people

This article of the Cameroonian Penal Code, entitled "Homosexuality", states: "Any person who has sexual intercourse with a person of their own sex shall be punished with imprisonment of six to five years and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 francs [30 to 205 euros].

Claude Asanji continued:

If these laws did not exist, in case of violence we could go to court or to the police. But at the moment this is not possible. If we go to the police, they could beat us or ask us for money. For example, I know a gay man who was taken to the police recently, where he had to pay 150,000 francs [229 euros] to be released. And whenever these policemen need money in the future, they will only have to call him back and ask for it, otherwise they will harass him.