The human rights group claimed that homophobia is “so bad that human rights defenders advocating the rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) people are not safe in Jamaica”.
The assertion was made in a letter to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in which the group noted that Simpson Miller made a “courageous stand” before she took office in January, speaking out against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The group added that Simpson Miller had, at the time of the leadership debate, also indicated a willingness to review the country’s 148-year-old buggery law.
“Jamaica needs to act now on its international obligations to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch.
The advocacy director pointed to reports in the media about two public incidents of homophobia last month in which “violence was threatened or used to injure innocent civilians, simply because they were suspected of being homosexual”.
On June 21, it was reported that police had to intervene when an angry crowd congregated in front of a house where five homosexuals were staying in the Jones Town community of Kingston.
“Jamaican non-governmental organizations have pressed the Jamaican government for years to repeal the anti-buggery law and to pass anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT people,” said Dittrich, adding that Section 76 of the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act of 1864 imposes a maximum sentence of 10 years for the crime of buggery.
Human Rights Watch said homophobic threats, including death threats, “caused one of the most outspoken campaigners for the rights of LGBT people, Maurice Tomlinson, to flee Jamaica in January”.
“[Tomlinson] told Human Rights Watch and the Inter American Commission that he had asked police in Montego Bay to protect him, but that the police officer in charge responded by saying, ‘I hate gays, they make me sick,’” the statement said.
The human rights group said Tomlinson fled to Canada, where he received two further death threats by email in February and March.
Upon the request of the former assistant police commissioner, Tomlinson returned briefly to Kingston for the investigation, but Human Rights Watch claimed that the police have not followed up with him.
“It is a shame that such a prominent LGBT human rights defender has been compelled to seek safety elsewhere,” Dittrich said.
“The government’s failure to comply with international human rights standards, while public officials like the police officer in Montego Bay look the other way when hate crimes are committed, leaves LGBT people vulnerable and unprotected in their daily lives,” he added.
A 2004 Human Rights Watch report documented “a grim landscape of human rights abuses” against LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The report, “Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic”, was undertaken at the behest of local Jamaican advocacy organizations.
Human Rights Watch said, since that report, attacks on homosexual people or people perceived as being homosexual or transgender “appear to have remained commonplace.”
The group highlighted Jamaica’s signature on a raft of international human rights treaties, but claimed that the country did not live up to those standards.
It said the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), of which Jamaica is a member, adopted five resolutions between 2008 and 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.
Human Rights Watch said the protection of LGBT people is “part of Jamaica’s binding obligations under international law and standards, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
It also mentioned that 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.
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 it claimed Jamaica “acceded without reservation in 1991,” has affirmed that all children are entitled to protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
“We call upon Prime Minister Simpson Miller to act swiftly and 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,” Dittrich said.
“We encourage the prime minister to publicly and unequivocally affirm that 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,” he added.