As you know, Human Rights Watch has documented an atmosphere of homophobic intolerance and violence in Jamaica, and a pattern of indifference or reluctance to investigate such violence on the part of the police. While we are encouraged by the increasing willingness of authorities to work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, we urge you to ensure that a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation is taking place into the murders of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie.
According to media reports, on Wednesday, June 29th, the bodies of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie were found in a septic pit behind a home they shared in Taylor Land, Bull Bay, St. Andrew. An autopsy revealed that they died from multiple stab wounds. Their bodies were found with a pillow, a sheet, and a teddy bear; a mattress that had been burned was found nearby. One press report quoted an investigating officer as saying a “lesbian DVD” was also found at the scene. The women were last seen alive by Ms. Williams’ mother on June 18.
You may be aware that the police early on identified a male former partner of Ms. Williams as their prime suspect and that Bull Bay Police Station, Inspector Hornet Williams (no apparent relation), was quoted in the Jamaica Star on July 7 saying that, “We have leads on the only person wanted for questioning in the matter and should apprehend him before next week.” The Inspector is reported to have said that the police knew his movements and urged him to come to the station for questioning. He reportedly added, “We heard that they were very, very good friends, and they were killed because they were very good friends. ... True or not, the nature of their relationship has nothing to do with investigations, as hearsay doesn’t go to law.”
However – despite these early signs that the police had a prime suspect and that they had recognized that the women’s alleged sexual orientation and their possible relationship was a motivating factor – the apparent absence of further investigative steps, including the fact that the alleged suspect has not yet even been questioned, has led local advocates to express concerns to Human Rights Watch about the level of commitment to identifying and prosecuting the murderer.
Human Rights Watch affirms that the character of the women’s relationship should not affect the way in which the investigation is pursued. Moreover, any person identified as a suspect is entitled, without exception, to an impartial investigation and to the full presumption of innocence.
However, as you are aware, Human Rights Watch has documented repeated instances of partial or inadequate investigations by authorities confronted by allegations of homophobic abuse. We are therefore concerned about whether or not the investigation is pursued actively and that all persons relevant to it are appropriately questioned – and enjoy their legal rights.
Recognizing that the women may have been “killed because they were good friends,” moreover, means recognizing that they may have been victims of a documented pattern of homophobic violence – only reinforcing the urgency of action on the part of the police and other authorities to reach out to LGBT communities, and affirm the principles of non-discrimination and equality before the law.
The Jamaican Constitution recognizes the right to life as a fundamental right. Jamaica has also ratified international and regional instruments that enshrine this protection, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights. Under the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Jamaica is a party, gender-based violence may also be considered a form of gender-based discrimination that CEDAW prohibits. Furthermore, in the 1994 case of Toonen v. Australia, the U.N. Human Rights Committee held that sexual orientation is a status protected from discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
We urge you to work closely with groups representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Jamaica, both in pursuing investigations of homophobic violence and in building relationships of trust with their communities. We urge you as well to see that a full and impartial investigation takes place into the murders of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie, and that any persons found responsible are brought to justice.
CC: Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas