By Danielle Coleman
The Human Rights Commission (which replaces the former Human Rights Committee) was established under section 116 of the new Constitution with a mandate of “promoting understanding and observance of human rights in the Cayman Islands.” However, the reputation of the Commission has been brought into question with the recent appointment of members who have a poor track record in the promotion and protection of equal rights for all.
While the new Commission continues to include members who have an unquestionable commitment to human rights, one (and arguably two) recently appointed member(s), Reverend Sykes, has on several occasions and over a period of many years acted and preached towards the exclusion of certain minority groups. By way of example, in 2001 when Cayman laws banning homosexuality were finally abolished, Reverend Sykes complained that this was ‘totally unacceptable’ and stated that such a move would lead to the mandatory inclusion of detailed acts of homosexuality in schools. The fact that this hasn’t happened has done nothing to dampen Reverend Syke’s crusade.
Reverend Sykes’ claims to defend a fundamental moral and biblical stance is little more than a matter of his own personal opinion. Many Christians argue that marriage rights for same-sex couples strengthens the institution of marriage and provides legal protection for partners as well as children of this family unit. The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that “active homosexual relationships are comparable to marriage" in the eyes of God. South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that homophobia is a "crime against humanity" and "every bit as unjust" as apartheid.
Same-sex marriages are, according to many Christians, supportive of religions’ commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons.
But while religion’s stance on homosexuality may be a matter for interpretation, human rights law is without ambiguity. The universal declaration of human rights is founded on the principle that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights. The abolition of Cayman’s anti-gay laws was based on the fact that they were a violation of international human rights law.
This issue goes beyond the Cayman Islands. Caymanians on the whole enjoy the highest standard of living in the Caribbean, and has considerable influence in the region. A message of intolerance here, particularly by members of the Human Rights Commission, can be translated into much worse in neighbouring countries. In Jamaica, Amnesty International has documented many cases of gay men and lesbian women being beaten, burned, raped and shot because of their sexuality. Sadly, we have increasingly seen signs of this in Cayman also. Reverend Sykes might not endorse such violence, but his public view that homosexuals do not have equal rights does little to help.
Reverend Sykes’ lack of tolerance of minorities may be viewed as inconsistent with his role as a religious leader; however I would argue that it is utterly and undeniably incompatible with his role on the Human Rights Commission whose primary responsibility is to promote understanding and observance of human rights in Cayman.
The Human Rights Commission is essential to upholding the basic freedoms that human rights provide: the equal treatment of all human beings regardless of the colour of their skin, their age, their socio-economic background, their sexual orientation or other forms of discrimination. To ensure that this important work continues, the Government which appoints members of the Commission should insist that Reverend Sykes publicly renounces his previous convictions, or replace him with someone whose views are not in conflict with the basic principles the Commission is established to uphold. Human rights are, before all else, an affirmation of our shared humanity. Any threats to the basic freedoms that flow from this principle are not a concern for minority groups alone. They affect all of us.
Danielle Coleman served as a member of the former Human Rights Committee from 2006-2009.