Jamaica should repeal homophobic laws, rights tribunal rules – The Guardian

The Jamaican government is responsible for violating the rights of two gay people and the country’s homophobic laws should be repealed immediately, according to a ruling by an international human rights tribunal.

The decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sets a precedent for LGBT rights across the Caribbean and is the commission’s first finding that laws that criminalise LGBT people violate international law.

The two Jamaicans who brought the case, Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards, had argued that the laws against “buggery” and gross indecency – originally imposed by the British colonial administration – violate their rights and legitimise violence towards the LGBT community in Jamaica. Both were forced to flee Jamaica following violent attacks.

In its decision, which was handed down in September 2019 but could not be reported before now, the commission said Jamaica was responsible for the violation of multiple rights of the claimants, including the rights to humane treatment, equal protection before the law, privacy and freedom of movement and residence.

Téa Braun, the director of the Human Dignity Trust, who represented Henry and Edwards, said it was a major victory. “It is a highly significant step forward that must now accelerate the repeal of these stigmatising and discriminatory laws,” she said.

Henry, who sought asylum in Canada after he was beaten up by a policeman in front of a crowd of 200 people, said he hoped the commission’s “bold and principled” decision signalled the beginning of meaningful change in Jamaica.

“All my life people have told me that who I am and who I love is wrong. Now, for the first time ever, I finally feel I am right,” he said.

He told the Guardian in 2012 that during a four-year stint as head of the Jamaican LGBT organisation J-Flag, 13 of his friends were murdered. The organisation was also a party to the case.

Edwards was shot multiple times outside her home in 2008 by two men belonging to a homophobic gang, who also tried to kill two of her brothers, one of whom is also gay. Following a series of police failures to protect her and her family, she was granted asylum in Europe.

She said it had been a real boost to see the commission take the complaint seriously. “It gives me hope that one day these outdated laws will be done away with and I’ll be able to return to my homeland without fear of attack,” she said.

The commission urged the Jamaican government to repeal the sections of the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act that criminalise consensual sexual conduct between men, and recommended enacting anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people. It also advised training for the police and security forces, who have long been complicit in or perpetrators of violence and harassment against LGBT Jamaicans.

Decisions from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are not binding, but its strongly worded recommendations will give hope to LGBT communities in the nine Caribbean countries that still have colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex intimacy on their books.

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Jamaica should repeal homophobic laws, rights tribunal rules – The Guardian

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