His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo
President of the Republic of Guyana
Office of the President
New Garden Street and Vlissengen Road,
Bourda, Georgetown, Guyana
Dear President Jagdeo:
We write on behalf of the Guyanese, Caribbean, and international human rights organizations Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CARIFLAGS), Global Rights, Guyana Rainbow Foundation (Guybow), Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), to express concern over the recent police arrests in Georgetown of people wearing clothes considered to be those of the other sex.
Police detained eight people between February 6-10 under Chapter 8:02 of the Laws of Guyana, section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, which criminalizes as a minor offense the "wearing of female attire by men; wearing of male attire by women."
On February 6, 2009, plainclothes policemen detained three people in downtown Georgetown near Stabroek Market, on the grounds that the defendants were men "wearing female attire." On February 7, 2009, police detained five other people, charging them under the same provision. On February 10, 2009 police detained four more people; three had been arrested in the previous crackdowns. On February 9, 2009 Acting Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson fined seven of the eight arrested persons GY$ 7,500 for wearing "women's clothes."
Defendants told human rights organizations that, while they were detained, police did not allow them to make phone calls. All the defendants also claimed that police refused to inform them of the charges against them. Police also reportedly photographed all the detainees and then demanded that they take off all of their "female clothes" in front of them. One defendant told rights organizations that after stripping, the police asked them to bend down to "search" them, as a way of mocking the men with regards to their sexual orientation. Police placed several of the defendants in solitary confinement (lockdown), a punitive measure allegedly imposed for their own safety.
These arrests, and the legal provisions which facilitate them, target people born male who wore what police regarded as female clothing. They constitute a violation of the individual's privacy, freedom of expression, and their personal dignity. In failing to read them their rights and in deliberately humiliating the arrested persons, the police breached guarantees of due process and the prohibition against ill-treatment set forth in national and international law.
Guyana has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1977. Since 2003 Guyana has incorporated this and other six other major international human rights conventions into its Constitution, including the UN Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
The ICCPR affirms the absolute prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7), the right to counsel (Article 14), the right to privacy (Article 17), and the right to freedom of expression (Article 19). Guyana has an obligation to respect and protect these rights, and to do so in a non-discriminatory manner, as set forth in Article 2 of the same treaty. The United Nations Human Rights Committee-charged with monitoring states' compliance with the ICCPR-held in 1994 in the case Toonen v. Australia, that sexual orientation should be understood as a status protected against discrimination by the treaty's equality provisions. It also ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct violate the right to privacy protected by article 17 of the ICCPR.
Guyana is also obliged to comply with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which it ratified in 1980. Article 5 of the Convention requires states to take measures to eliminate stereotypes of men and women. When people are singled out for unequal treatment because they fail to conform to social or cultural expectations for women and men, this is re-inforcing not eliminating stereotypes.
Furthermore, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in its plenary session on June 3, 2008 unanimously adopted the Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity [AG/RES. 2435 (XXXVIII-O/08)]. Guyana, by joining the member states of the OAS in expressing concerns for human rights violations, took an important step in its commitment to end violence and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Continued abuses like the ones committed against these eight men in Georgetown illustrate the need to take steps to end violence on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, as called for in the said resolution.
Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, criminalizing wearing clothes considered to be those of the other sex, permits and encourages police abuse--along with other provisions that criminalize consensual sexual conduct between people of the same sex (see Sections 351, 352, and 353 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act) Chapter 8:01. All these provisions are relics of colonial rule, and stand in violation of international human rights principles.
We urge you to stop arrests and end abuses against people on the grounds of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. We also urge you to repeal the provisions against wearing clothing of the other gender. These moves will affirm Guyana's democratic commitment to real equality for all its people.
Cary Alan Johnson
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
Guyana Rainbow Foundation (Guybow)
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD)
Human Rights Watch
Vicky Sawyer, Transgender Representative - The Bahamas
Caribbean Forum for Liberation of Genders and Sexualities (CARIFLAGS)