The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights today made public a decision calling on Jamaica to repeal laws prohibiting consensual same-sex conduct.
The commission’s conclusions in Gareth Henry and Simone Carline Edwards v. Jamaica are by some measures a no-brainer. Petitioners argued that Jamaica’s 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which punishes the ‘abominable crime of buggery’ and acts of ‘gross indecency’ between males with up to ten years in prison with hard labor, violates rights protected under the American Convention on Human Rights. The commission, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States that is authorized to examine complaints of human rights violations, has already called on states to repeal laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the tribunal charged with interpreting the American Convention, has established that the convention prohibits “any regulation, act or practice considered discriminatory based on a person’s sexual orientation,” and that sexual orientation is an aspect of private life that cannot be subject to state interference.
So it’s no surprise the commission concluded in its December 31st decision that Jamaica’s laws violate rights to privacy and equal protection under the convention. It also found that discriminatory legislation contributes to violence by members of the public – like the murder attempt on petitioner Simone Edwards, and death threats against Gareth Henry. Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus in the case based on similar findings in our 2014 report, Not Safe at Home, which documented pervasive anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica and is cited by the commission: “Many [LGBT Jamaicans] live in constant fear. They are taunted; threatened; fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes; beaten, stoned, raped, and even killed.”
Recognizing that decriminalization is not a magic wand, the commission called on Jamaica to gather data on violence and discrimination against LGBT and intersex people, train public officials on addressing such cases, and provide comprehensive sexuality education that is inclusive of sexual and gender diversity.
Jamaica should not just accept but embrace the decision, viewing it as an opportunity to break from the past, build a more inclusive society, and lead other Caribbean countries in shedding discriminatory laws that date to British colonialism. “I hope the Jamaican government will, for the first time, do what is right by the LGBT community,” Henry said in a video recorded by Human Dignity Trust.
Simone Edwards and Gareth Henry both live in exile. It’s time for the Jamaican government to ensure that LGBT Jamaicans are safe at home.