Attention: Prime Minister Golding
1 Devon Road
Jamaica, West Indies
Dear Prime Minister Golding,
On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I write to urge you publicly to condemn attacks - verbal or otherwise - on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and to affirm that human rights in Jamaica cannot be restricted or infringed on the basis of anyone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Such an affirmation is urgent in the wake of recent statements, in public and on the floor of Parliament, by MP Ernest Smith, a member of your own political party. Mr. Smith has said that "homosexual activities seem to have overtaken this country." He has declared himself "concerned that homosexuals in Jamaica have become so brazen, they've formed themselves into organisations." He has called homosexuals "abusive, violent" and claimed that "something that the Ministry of National Security must look into is why is it that so many homosexuals are licensed firearm holders." He has urged a "tightening" of the repressive "buggery" law criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct which Jamaica inherited from British colonial rule-demanding that the penalty be increased to life imprisonment. Most recently, on February 16, he called for the banning of JFLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, saying "They should be outlawed! How can you legitimise an organization that is formed for the purposes of committing criminal offenses?"
These statements purport to deny to some living in Jamaica their fundamental human rights and protections. The right to freedom of association is guaranteed by Jamaica's constitution, and by article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Jamaica is a party. JFLAG is not an organization "for the purposes of committing criminal offenses," but one founded to defend the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual,and transgender (LGBT) people in Jamaica. To tar human rights defenders with the defaming brush of criminality is potentially to place their vital work, and indeed their personal safety, under threat and in danger. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders has specifically pointed to "those who defend the rights of ... lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons" as "defenders who are at particular risk." It is shameful for a member of Jamaica's parliament to increase that risk through verbal abuse.
This is particularly true given that violence against LGBT people, and LGBT human rights defenders, is widespread and widely known in Jamaica. Jamaica's LGBT citizens are not "abusers," as Mr. Smith indicated; they have been, recurrently and disturbingly, on the receiving end of homophobic abuse. On February 26, 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote to you voicing its concern over one incident among many, the violent assault on a group of men in Mandeville in the previous month. On April 16, 2008 we wrote again to thank you for your reply in which you stated your opposition to such attacks. In that letter we expressed our "hope that you will express your condemnation of homophobic violence publicly. We also hope that your response to such violence will begin a dialogue with human rights groups working to end homophobic violence and abuse in Jamaica and strengthen efforts to protect all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jamaicans against further such violence and abuse."
That public condemnation and that dialogue are more timely now than ever. It is incumbent on you as your nation's leader to condemn Mr. Smith's comments vigorously and to affirm that human rights are the entitlement of all Jamaicans. Prejudice cannot be permitted to ensconce exceptions to the universality of rights and freedoms.
Mr. Smith's remarks do serve as an inadvertently valuable reminder of the discrimination against Jamaica's LGBT people. In calling for the strengthening of an already-draconian statute against homosexual conduct, and in citing that law to urge the banning of legitimate organizations, he demonstrates the malign effect of so-called "sodomy laws" on a democratic body politic. Such laws permit not just the invasion of privacy, but the restriction of public rights, such as the freedoms to associate and to assemble. They mark out certain persons as second-class citizens, permanently suspect. These effects are unacceptable in a state committed to equality before the law. His comments therefore exemplify why the repeal of the "buggery" law is critically important to Jamaica's democracy.
As you are aware, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its 1994 decision in the case of Toonen v Australia, found such laws incompatible with the ICCPR's protections for both the right to privacy and equality. We urge you to commit yourself to the repeal of the "buggery" provisions. We also urge you to condemn Mr. Smith's statements, and to affirm Jamaica's commitment to real equality for all its citizens, without exceptions.
Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
Advocate, Health and Human Rights Division
Human Rights Watch