Body calls on Jamaica to repeal buggery laws
KINGSTON – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled that the Government of Jamaica should immediately repeal the country’s buggery laws.
The ruling, that has been deemed historic, also said that the Andrew Holness led administration is responsible for violating the rights of two gay people.
It was handed down in September 2019, but had to be kept confidential until Wednesday and sets a precedent for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) rights across the Caribbean, and is the commission’s first finding that laws that criminalise LGBT people violate international law.
While decisions from the IACHR are not binding, it is widely believed that the 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.
The two Jamaicans who brought the case, Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards, convinced the IACHR that Jamaica’s laws against buggery and gross indecency violates their rights and legitimises violence towards the LGBT community in Jamaica.
These laws were originally imposed by the British colonial administration in Jamaica and still remain on the law books.
Both Henry and Edwards told the IACHR that they were forced to flee Jamaica following violent attacks because of their sexuality.
Among the human rights violations cited against the Jamaican Government are the rights to humane treatment, equal protection before the law, privacy and freedom of movement and residence.
The two Jamaicans were represented before the IACHR by Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, who hailed the ruling as a major victory.
“It is a highly significant step forward that must now accelerate the repeal of these stigmatising and discriminatory laws.”
Henry, who sought asylum in Canada after he was reportedly 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,” Henry was quoted as saying.
In response to the ruling, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, (J-FLAG) said the ruling is reflective of the positive wave within local and regional judicial bodies to affirm and protect the human rights of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender persons in the Caribbean.
It noted that the commission presented a menu of options for the Government to address the situation faced by the petitioners and others like them who have faced stigma, discrimination, violence, and exclusion.
The organisation says the case presents an opportunity for increased dialogue between it and the Government on how to best secure the rights of LGBT Jamaicans and ensure that the tragic incidents experienced by the petitioners do not recur.
J-FLAG says it remains open to having that dialogue and providing the space for leaders to engage members of the LGBT community around their experiences and challenges, and begin the process of addressing the prevalence of stigma and discrimination identified within the petition. (CMC)