Thursday, 27 October 2011

Jamaica's sodomy law gets first legal challenge

By Paul Canning

At a press conference in Kingston today, 26 October, Jamaican attorney Maurice Tomlinson announced that the organization AIDS-Free World has presented a first-ever legal challenge to the country’s anti-gay laws.

The group has submitted a petition at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), on behalf of two Jamaican gay men whose names are being withheld to protect their safety.

Representing the petitioners will be a very high powered legal team including Lord Anthony Gifford, who practices in both Jamaica and the UK and was counsel on a similar and successful case before the European Court of Human Rights, and pro bono attorneys from the US firm Thompson Hine and the Law Center at Nova Southeastern University.

Their argument will be that by criminalizing homosexuality Jamaica is in violation of international human rights laws which it is a signatory to, such as the American Convention on Human Rights.

A similar legal challenge is underway against Belize and Caribbean LGBT groups have been raising the issue of sodomy laws with inter-American bodies for some time.

Although the Jamaican so-called “anti-sodomy law” is not enforced, the argument is that it nevertheless casts a destructive pall over the lives of gay Jamaicans. It feeds a homophobic society in which gays and lesbians are harassed, mocked, vilified, beaten and killed simply because of their sexual orientation. It encourages vigilante justice by private citizens, most of whom believe that the “anti-sodomy” law grants them permission to commit acts of violence against sexual minorities

Driven underground, many fear that seeking an HIV test will brand them as homosexual, and therefore criminal. The national prevalence of HIV is over 30 percent among men who have sex with men, compared to a rate of 1.6 percent in the general population. The IACHR petition establishes clear ties between the country’s active promotion of discrimination and its AIDS epidemic.

In a statement, Tomlinson said that if the Commission decides favorably "other countries in the region with similar anti-homosexuality legislation will be forced to take notice."

"In fact, it is the conviction of AIDS-Free World that a favorable outcome will have a dramatic impact on all countries that persist in the medieval persecution of their citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation."

A new London based group the Human Dignity Trust which includes a powerful group of experts of international law has set itself the task of systematically challenging the sodomy laws which remain in some 70-odd nations.

TVJ Report

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