(New York) - The Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory, should revise a draft constitution that will be submitted to voters on May 20, 2009, to ensure that it gives full protections to all against unequal treatment, and the British government should ensure that this happens, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to the Cayman governor, Stuart Jack, and the British foreign secretary, David Miliband.

The draft constitution is being revised by the Cayman Islands government and will eliminate a free-standing guarantee of equality before the law and limit anti-discrimination protections only to rights expressly included in the constitution. This means that large and critically important areas of daily life would not be covered, including access to jobs, housing, and medical treatment. Reportedly, the government succumbed to pressure from religious groups, and the action was apparently intended to deny protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

"The British government is using a double standard, approving a draft constitution for an overseas territory that gives fewer protections than British citizens enjoy at home," said Boris O. Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Equality means equality, and it should apply across the board."

Human Rights Watch urged the British and Cayman governments to ensure that protections in the new constitution apply not only to discrimination by the state, but also to discrimination by private entities.

The new constitution will be voted on in a referendum during the territory's general elections.

Equality Cayman, a nongovernmental organization in the Cayman Islands, has strongly criticized the scope of the proposed language for section 16 in the draft constitution, stating that it offers inadequate protections against prejudice and inequality.

Human Rights Watch urged the British government to ensure that the new constitution is in line with expanding protections against discrimination in UN and European law. The United Kingdom has extended the UN human rights treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights to the Cayman Islands. 

"Protecting against discrimination and promoting equality should be core purposes of a bill of rights," said Dittrich. "The territory's new constitution should not fall short of that aim."

In the Organization of American States (OAS), all member governments adopted a resolution in 2008 expressing concern over acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. All Caribbean states surrounding the Cayman Islands are signatories to the OAS resolution.