Lawyers at Risk: Michel Togué about defending LGBT+ rights and fair trial in Cameroon
On Wednesday 9 October, Lawyers for Lawyers welcomed Geuzenpenning Laureate and human rights lawyer Michel Togué from Cameroon at a lunch briefing hosted by law firm Loyens & Loeff in Amsterdam. During this meeting, Michel Togué spoke about his experiences as one of the few lawyers in Cameroon that represents clients persecuted for their LGBT+ identity, and the great personal risks and sacrifices involved.
In Cameroon, to identify or act as LGBT+ is a criminal offence. Homophobia is widely present and people are regularly imprisoned for acts as small as ordering a Baileys drink (a ‘gay drink’) or not having women over at their house enough. Lawyers are hesitant to represent clients that have been persecuted for their LGBT+ identity, for they risk being considered either as a supporter of homosexuality (a.o.) or as someone that itself identifies as LGBT+.
Michel Togué is a man of hope and belief, with great confidence that the situation in Cameroon will better for people that identify as LGBT+. Despite the personal sacrifices he has had to make (living at large distance from his family, amongst other things), he continues to work hard to prevent/end wrongful imprisonment (and successfully so) and raise awareness about the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation/gender identity/gender expression.
Current situation Cameroon
From 16-20 September 2019, upon the initiative of the Cameroon Bar Association lawyers in Cameroon went on a five-day nationwide strike to protest against difficulties endured by them with regard to the exercise of their professional duties.
Difficult access to their clients in places of detention
In Cameroon, lawyers have consistently been denied access to their clients and other persons in courts and prisons, and there have been numerous incidents resulting in people being detained incommunicado and tortured without representation at the time of their indictment.
Non-respect of the fundamental principles of the right to fair trial
There have been numerous reports of trials being conducted in a language not understood by the accused, as well as of the use of torture and inducement to extract confessional statements. There are also concerns over prolonged detention of accused persons, without a proper trial, and the illegal transformation of judicial police custody into administrative detention.
In response to the strike, Cameroon’s Ministry of Justice has announced that it takes the complaints seriously and already has addressed the military, police and other in the judicial system to address their concerns.
Lawyers for Lawyers is concerned about the current situation in Cameroon and expresses its support to the Cameroonian lawyers in their efforts to address these issues.
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