Countdown to Tolerance

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Tue Jan 8, 2013

Maurice Tomlinson's Countdown to Tolerance: Jamaican Ministers Continue to Prove They are All Talk, No Action

By Maurice Tomlinson

During his speech marking the launch of another World Human Rights Day in Jamaica on December 10, 2012, Justice Minister the Honorable Mark Golding claimed that recognizing the human rights of LGBT is a Western concept which Jamaica may be forced to accept or face financial sanction.

While this statement is great politics, it is, of course, patently false on both counts. First of all, many non-western societies, including African, Indian, and Native American societies, have long traditions of acceptance of and respect for a wide variety of sexualities and sexual identities. Second, none of Jamaica’s traditional development partners have even hinted that the country stands to face any financial repercussions for the continued violation of the rights of LGBT citizens. That disingenuous suggestion by the Minister was meant, no doubt, to gain sympathy for the beleaguered government from an increasingly disgruntled electorate.

Subsequent to the Minister’s inflammatory statement, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published its latest report on the human rights situation in Jamaica. In this report, released on January 3, 2013, the IACHR was understandably critical of the country’s treatment of its LGBT population.

Citing rampant abuse of LGBT by state and non-state actors, the report made numerous recommendations to the Jamaican state, including the need to repeal the country’s antediluvian legislation criminalizing private, consenting same-gender intimacy among men, and the need to put into effect the human rights obligations the country voluntarily undertook as a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights.

Curiously, in its initial response to the draft report the Jamaican government claimed that there was no discrimination against gay Jamaicans. However, in response to the IACHR report the Minister of Justice participated in a radio interview, where he admitted that anti-discrimination legislation was necessary to address violations against certain groups in the society. Although he failed to specifically mention homosexuals, his reference to the lack of access some groups have to the courts—resulting of the revisions to the Jamaican Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 2011—was an obvious reference to the anti-gay provisions entrenched by the Charter revisions as well as the exclusion of sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination.

Ironically, Jamaica’s Civil Service Staff Orders (which have the force of law) already protect civil servants from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. A general anti-discrimination legislation would simply extend this right to all other Jamaicans.

But please, don’t pop the champagne cork just yet. The country’s religious fundamentalists will surely wage a mighty war to prevent any movement aimed at recognizing human rights for LGBT. This incredibly powerful and influential group, led by attorney-at-law Shirley Richards, is largely responsible for the regressive anti-gay provisions found in the Charter.

They were so paranoid that gay Jamaicans would actually be constitutionally recognized that they orchestrated to ensure that even the word “sex” was avoided in favor of the restrictive definition "male and female."

This was done to prevent sexual orientation from being interpreted as a right akin to sex, as has been found by several national and international human rights tribunals. The tragic consequence of this religious malfeasance is not only the entrenched constitutional disenfranchisement of homosexuals, but also the deliberate exclusion of persons born intersex who biologically cannot fit the male-female binary.

In light of Jamaica’s recent history on LGBT rights, I am less than sanguine about the Minister’s promise to introduce this anti-discrimination legislation. After all, over a year ago the Prime Minister made a similar promise to call for a Parliamentary conscience vote aimed at reviewing the country’s anti-sodomy law. We now know that the government has no plans to do this any time soon (if ever).

This latest statement by the Justice Minister is quite likely just another attempt to appease human rights bodies, while doing nothing to confront the root cause of systemic discrimination in Jamaica, namely the strident, studied and virulent anti-gay animus being whipped up by powerful religious fundamentalists inside and outside of the country.