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Delegates sit at the opening of the 41th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 24, 2019. © 2019 Magali Girardin/Keystone via AP

It is disappointing to observe the Saint Kitts and Nevis government’s refusal, once again, to accept the recommendations to decriminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults. Articles 56 and 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act punish so-called “buggery” and “abominable crimes” with up to ten years imprisonment and hard labor. They violate international human rights law and have a detrimental impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Human rights law establishes that matters of sexual orientation and gender identity, including consensual sexual relations, are protected under the rubric of the right to be protected against arbitrary and unlawful interference with, or attacks on, one’s private and family life and one’s reputation or dignity.

While the “buggery” and “abominable crimes” laws in Saint Kitts and Nevis are seldom enforced against consenting persons, they have a pernicious impact. They reinforce societal prejudices, effectively giving social and legal sanction for stigma, discrimination, and violence against LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch has conducted in-country research that evidences the harms that stem from government endorsement of discrimination. For example, Nicholas, a 20-year-old gay man from Saint Kitts and Nevis, expressed to Human Rights Watch his feeling of constant fear and uncertainty. He said that his own mother threatened to kill any of her sons who turned out to be gay, forcing Nicholas to hide his identity. When Nicholas and his boyfriend were outed on social media when they were both high school students, Nicholas was harassed for the remainder of his school days. He experienced suicidal thoughts and even once tried to commit suicide due to social exclusion. A government that criminalizes people like Nicholas contributes to this kind of harassment and fails to provide adequate protection.

Until consensual same-sex conduct is decriminalized, LGBT people in Saint Kitts and Nevis like Nicholas will continue to suffer under the stigma of the law. The government’s responses to recommendations made during this cycle raise serious concerns about its commitment to human rights and protecting and supporting its LGBT residents.

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