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New York, July 18, 2012

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller
Office of the Prime Minister
1 Devon Road
Kingston 10

Via email:

Dear Prime Minister Simpson-Miller,

Human Rights Watch is an international organization dedicated to defending and promoting the fundamental rights of all people around the world. We investigate and expose human rights violations in over 90 countries and seek to have perpetrators held accountable.

In 2004 Human Rights Watch published a report on the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS and the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT) in Jamaica called Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic.The report was undertaken at the behest of local Jamaican advocacy organizations. The report documented the grim landscape of human rights abuses against LGBT people in 2004.

Since our report, attacks on homosexual people or people perceived as being homosexual or transgender appear to remain commonplace.

We commend you for speaking out against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and for suggesting a review of Jamaica’s buggery laws. You made these comments before you took office in January 2012. During the leadership debate you also indicated a willingness to review the country’s buggery laws.

I am writing you to share our concerns regarding recent homophobic incidents of violence and threats to violence against members of the LGBT community which were reported in the Jamaican press, and to recommend steps you could take to address the difficult situation LGBT people face in your country.

- On June 13, 2012, a mob attacked a gay man in the town of Mandeville after he went to get a manicure.  It was reported on Television Jamaica: 

- On June 18, 2012, the Jamaican Star Onlinereported that the police had found the body of Shannel Campbell, a 20-year old intersex person from Old Harbor. According to an investigator from the police Shannel died from a blow to the head.

- On June 21, 2012, nearly 100 persons reportedly mobbed the home of 5 homosexuals in Jones Town, Kingston. As reported on CVMTV News (see 3:15-5:35 of the footage below): 

In this incident the police protected the homosexuals against the angry crowd. Human Rights Watch commends the intervention of the police, without which the siege of their house might have ended in the loss of life or serious injuries to the residents.

- Homophobic threats caused one of the most outspoken advocates for the rights of LGBT people, Mr. Maurice Tomlinson, to flee Jamaica earlier this year on January 10, 2012. He had received a serious death threat by email in February 2011 and reported it to the police in Montego Bay. According to Tomlinson, the police officer in charge responded in an abusive way, saying “I hate gays, they make me sick.” Mr. Tomlinson then turned to the then Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green in Kingston and complained about this treatment. Allegedly Green told Mr. Tomlinson that the police officer’s attitude was “unfortunate,” but until the buggery law is repealed nothing would change.

The police promised to investigate the matter, but no concrete results were reported in spite of many requests for information.

Subsequently, Mr. Tomlinson turned to the Inter-American Commission (IAC) which ordered the state of Jamaica to take precautionary measures. In March 2011 Mr. Tomlinson had a meeting with the police in Kingston at the instigation of the IAC. He requested the apprehension of the person(s) that had sent him the death threat by email. The police promised again to investigate and keep him informed.  However they failed to follow up with him afterwards.

On January 7, 2012, the Jamaica Observerpublished an article which mentioned that Tomlinson had married a man in Canada. This led to about 20 death threats and forced Tomlinson to leave Jamaica. The police promised to escort him to the airport but failed to do so. Once in Canada Tomlinson received two more death threats by email, on February 2012 and March 2012. At the request of Les Green, Tomlinson returned briefly to Kingston for the investigation. The police promised to update him on progress within five days, but he has not heard anything from the police since.

As you are aware, Jamaica does not comply with international human rights standards to which it has agreed. The Organization of American States (OAS), of which Jamaica is a member, has adopted five resolutions – in June 2008, June 2009, June 2010, June 2011 and June 2012– condemning “acts of violence and human rights violations perpetrated against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” and urging states “to adopt the necessary measures to prevent, punish, and eradicate” discrimination.

The protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is part of Jamaica’s binding obligations under international law and standards, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Jamaica ratified without reservations in 1975, affirms the equality of all people in articles 2 and 26. In the 1994 case of Nicholas Toonen versus Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, found that both these provisions should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected against discrimination. Specifically it held that “reference to sex” in article 2, para. 1 and article 26 is to be taken as including sexual orientation.” Likewise, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international body of experts that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Jamaica acceded without reservation in 1991, has also affirmed in its General Comments that the convention’s prohibitions on discrimination (art. 2) are taken to include “sexual orientation.”

Jamaica’s criminalization of homosexual conduct is in violation of these internationally agreed human rights standards.

Recognizing the need for further documentation of human rights abuses of LGBT people, the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2011 adopted a resolution requesting that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights initiate a study to investigate “discriminatory laws, practices, and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On June 28, 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in a speech on homophobia. I quote:

At the end of last year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights published the first official United Nations report on the problem. In all regions of the world, LGBT people suffer discrimination — at work, at home, at school, in all aspects of daily life. Too often they have trouble in finding housing or obtaining basic healthcare and pension benefits. Too often they are subjected to verbal abuse or singled out for attack, torture and even murder. In 76 countries, having a partner of the same sexis a prosecutable crime. People are arrested, imprisoned, in some cases executed, just because they are in a loving relationship.

This is an affront to the principles on which the United Nations was founded: equality, freedom, tolerance and the inherent dignity of each individual. No custom or tradition, no cultural values or religious beliefs, can justify depriving a human being of his or her human rights.

That is why, as UN Secretary-General, I take every opportunity to push leaders to listen and to act….

In line with the views of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon human rights defenders in Jamaica have taken steps to improve the situation of LGBT individuals and people living with HIV/AIDS. JFLAG (the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays), AIDS-Free World, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), Families Against State Terrorism (FAST), and Jamaicans for Justice have been steadfast advocates for the repeal of Jamaica’s anti-buggery law (sections 76, 77, and 79 of the Offences Against the Person Act). These organizations have also called for the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation to offer protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which should be developed in close consultation with the affected communities.

Human Rights Watch is encouraged by the fact that you have shown leadership on this issue in the past. We think it is critically important that you follow through now on your words. We therefore respectfully urge you to take steps to:

Repeal the anti-buggery law;

  • Implement the appropriate legal measures to protect LGBT people from discrimination;
  • Propose concrete measures to protect LGBT people against violence and discrimination;
  • Ensure the police will respond adequately to a victim who reports a hate crime based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim; and
  • Publicly and unequivocally affirmthat all Jamaicans, including LGBT people, will be equally protected by the law, the state, and all its institutions and that no discrimination will be tolerated.

We would like to encourage you to take swift action on all these matters and inform us about the steps you intend to take to bring Jamaica’s laws and policies in line with international human rights standards, in particular as they relate to the rights of LGBT people.

Taking into account the urgency of the issue at hand, I am looking forward to your reply at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Boris O. Dittrich,
Advocacy Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program

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