IACHR calls for immediate repeal of Jamaica's buggery law
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

THE Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has delivered a landmark ruling that the country's buggery laws should be repealed immediately, finding that the Jamaican Government is responsible for violating the rights of two gay people.

The historic ruling sets a precedent for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) rights across the Caribbean and is the commission's first finding that laws that criminalise LGBT people violate international law. Decisions from the IACHR are not binding, but its strongly worded recommendations will give hope to LGBT communities in the nine Caribbean countries that still have colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex intimacy on their books.

The two Jamaicans who brought the case — Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards — convinced the IACHR that Jamaica's laws against buggery and gross indecency violates their rights and legitimises violence towards the LGBT community in Jamaica. These laws were originally imposed by the British colonial administration in Jamaica and still remain on the law books even though Britain has since abandoned those provisions.

Both Henry and Edwards told the IACHR that they were forced to flee Jamaica following violent attacks because of their sexuality. In its decision, which was handed down in September 2019 but could not be reported before now, the IACHR ruled that Jamaica was responsible for the violation of multiple rights of the claimants.

Among the human rights violations cited against the Jamaican Government are the rights to humane treatment, equal protection before the law, privacy and freedom of movement and residence. The two Jamaicans were represented before the IACHR by Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, who hailed the ruling as a major victory.

According to Braun, “It is a highly significant step forward that must now accelerate the repeal of these stigmatising and discriminatory laws.” Henry, who sought asylum in Canada after he was reportedly beaten up by a policeman in front of a crowd of 200 people, said he hoped the commission's “bold and principled” decision signalled the beginning of meaningful change in Jamaica.

“All my life people have told me that who I am and who I love is wrong. Now, for the first time ever, I finally feel I am right,” Henry said. He told the Guardian newspaper in 2012 that during a four-year stint as head of the Jamaican LGBT organisation J-Flag, 13 of his friends were murdered. J-Flag was also a party to the case.

Edwards was shot multiple times outside her home in 2008 by two men allegedly belonging to a homophobic gang, who also tried to kill two of her brothers, one of whom is also gay. Following a series of police failures to protect her and her family, she was granted asylum in Europe.

Commenting on the ruling, Edwards said it had been a real boost to see the commission take the complaint seriously. “It gives me hope that one day these outdated laws will be done away with and I'll be able to return to my homeland without fear of attack,” she remarked.

In its ruling, the IACHR urged the Jamaican Government to repeal the sections of the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act that criminalise consensual sexual conduct between men, and recommended enacting anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people. It also advised training for the police and security forces, who have long been complicit in or perpetrators of violence and harassment against LGBT Jamaicans.

BY DURRANT PATE Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

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