At OAS: Carribean States Duck Committing to LGBTI Citizens' Human Rights

At the eleventh hour, Jamaica, Guyana, Dominica and St. Kitts-Nevis withheld their support for a resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGI) just before it was successfully passed by the Organization of American States (OAS) in Antigua Guatemala on June 6th. Two CARICOM states had done so earlier during negotiations; and another four qualified their support at the last minute.
 
Since the first one passed in 2008, a resolution on these issues had become an annual ritual in which every Caribbean state would join at the General Assembly of the 35-member intergovernmental body that helped pioneer the idea of international human rights. The Inter American human rights system also has some of the strongest protections of any regional human rights framework for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including a special unit of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, overseen by Jamaican Commissioner and First Vice Chair Tracy Robinson. For the past two years, the SOGI resolution has urged states to do something about its lofty words domestically. Now this year, ten CARICOM states have flocked to attach reservations to it, some like Barbados, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago without any clear substance.
 
“Caribbean governments are totally willing to talk about human rights, they want to give a good show on the issue, but they repeatedly prove unreliable in giving any teeth to those ‘commitments’”, said Colin Robinson, Secretary of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS), a 16-year-old indigenous LGBTI network which has recently set up offices in Castries, Kingston, Port of Spain and Santo Domingo. “The creation of Caribbean societies was founded on the persistent violation of human rights”, he said. “Post colonially, Caribbean nations ought to be among the most visionary and eager champions of human rights. But when it comes to letting our people be free to enjoy their bodies with dignity, we’re clinging to pre-Emancipation practices, and proud to remain at the bottom of the class in the Americas.”
 
Robinson was the very last speaker during the Assembly’s June 3rd civil society dialogue with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. “Mr. Secretary General, with all due respect”, he had interrupted on behalf of his coalition, “Folks from the English-speaking Caribbean asked two very specific questions, about the criminalization of our humanity and our ability to be meaningfully included in this space and you didn’t address either. Could you please?” Members of CariFLAGS have participated for seven years in the OAS General Assembly, they had fought to ensure English-speakers got the microphone during the June 3rd dialogue, and his Guyanese colleague Zenita Nicholson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination had asked the two questions, reminding Insulza that in the same forum the year before the group’s co-chair, Surinamese Tieneke Sumter of Women’s Way Foundation, had asked if he was aware that eleven Caribbean nations, all in the English-speaking Caribbean, violate human rights by criminalizing private same-sex intimacy. Insulza had then promised political dialogue on the issue, and the advocates wanted to know what he had done and accomplished.
 
The Caribbean participants also complained bitterly that the OAS has not done enough to ensure language access for non-Spanish-speaking participants in civil society processes at its annual general meeting and that its Human Rights Commission trainings are all in Spanish, issues they had also raised in a letter to the organization.  More critically, the advocates including Jamaica’s J-FLAG, St. Lucia’s United and Strong and Trinidad & Tobago’s CAISO sounded three themes:
 
They united with people of African descent in calling on OAS member states to adopt and ratify two landmark anti-discrimination conventions focused on racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. In introducing the conventions, Antigua & Barbuda, which led the final drafting process, described the instruments as aspirational and ambitious opportunities for states to “review and possibly amend their current domestic legal frameworks, aligning them with protection standards that should prevail in our region”, and make real democratic promises of “justice, equality and the pursuit of happiness” by building the proverbial “current that can sweep down even the mightiest walls of resistance”. The intolerance convention addresses discrimination based on nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, cultural identity, political opinions or opinions of any kind and genetic trait among others.
 
In a single voice with the 23-country Latin American LGBTTTI Coalition working in the OAS, the Caribbean participants criticized the weakness of human rights protection in their states, noting only two Caribbean countries have independent national human rights institutions and that, unlike the rest of the region, most Caribbean victims of human rights violations cannot take cases for adjudication to regional or international forums, the very structures needed by citizens in small, developing states with young institutions. “Sexual citizenship is a bellwether of the Caribbean’s human rights inequality”, they noted further.
 
They appealed for greater political dialogue within the OAS about how far Caribbean states trail the rest of the region in recognition of the rights and dignity of LGBTI citizens. And they repeatedly urged Caribbean states to seek and accept offers of technical assistance in implementing the commitments to human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity they repeatedly undertook at General Assemblies over the past five years. Lobbying Ricardo Kellman and Julia Hyatt, delegates from Barbados and Jamaica respectively, who threatened to reopen the drafting of the sexual orientation and gender identity resolution, they urged that some Caribbean states cannot hold back the rest of the region or hemisphere from moving forward on these issues.
 
 “Homophobia affects us all, from growing anomie and homelessness among LGBT youth on the streets of our capitals, to heterosexual males’ persistent underachievement in our educational systems, to how we rob our national productivity of the contributions of whole groups of people”, the CariFLAGS participants said in a formal statement (attached).
 
Links
OAS General Assembly Resolution AG/RES. 2807 (XLIII-O/13): Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity and Expression (Adopted at the fourth plenary session, June 6, 2013): http://scm.oas.org/ag/documentos/Documentos/AG06190E05.doc
InterAmerican Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance:http://scm.oas.org/ag/documentos/Documentos/AG06187E04.doc
 
Video
CariFLAGS engages Sec. Gen. Insulza (Zenita Nicholson 01;54:04 to 01:36:04; Colin Robinson 02:42:36 to 02:44:05):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuLgfc4gRgo&list=PLkh9EPEuEx2v6pkIb-NaEwMuYoQPIQr_a
 
Antigua & Barbuda Alternative Representative Ann-Marie Layne Campbell introduces the InterAmerican Conventions Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance and Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX0YwjKtf8Q&list=PLkh9EPEuEx2v6pkIb-NaEwMuYoQPIQr_a (00:20:00 to 00:26:08)
 
Caleb Orozco, Executive President, UNIBAM, Belize "English Questions too!!!" Mr. Secretary General
 
Zenita Nicholson, Secretary, Board of Trustees , SASOD, Guyana with questions for the Secretary General
 
 
The Caribbean representation at the OAS. From left: Tieneke Sumter, Women's Way Foundation- Suriname, Jaevion Nelson, JFLAG- Jamaica, Adarryl Williams, United and Strong - St Lucia, Caleb Orozco, UNIBAM -Belize, Colin Robinson, CAISO - Trinidad & Tobago and Zenita Nicholson, SASOD - Guyana
 
HELPING EACH OTHER STRENGTHEN HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CARIBBEAN
Caribbean LGBT Citizens Call on Our Governments to Seek and Offer Technical Support and Cooperation in Domestic Implementation of Commitments Undertaken in OAS SOGI Resolutions
 
Colonial development of Caribbean societies was founded on the persistent violation of human rights. These histories have given way to aspirational nationalist visions of inclusion, equality, autonomy and human dignity, and modern Caribbean nations ought to be among the most visionary and eager champions of human rights.
But we are not. Formal recognition and protection of human rights and personal dignity remain weak in most nations across the region. In several, Constitutional provisions protect colonial laws from legal challenge. Only two states have independent national human rights institutions, neither compliant with Paris Principles; just four have fully ratified the First Optional Protocol of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; only five are party to the American Convention on Human Rights, and just two accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court. Boasts of democracy and rule of law are vitiated by lack of access to justice for people who are poor and vulnerable. In restricting citizen access to supranational human rights adjudicating mechanisms, young postcolonial states – still developing national institutions, expanding social protection and building consensus on shared humanity after centuries of its denial to the majority of the population – deprive their peoples of the protection of frameworks designed expressly to backstop state weaknesses or negligence. For rights bearers in such small-island developing societies, especially those who are minorities, violations and related impunity effect multiple ruptures to safety, dignity and livelihood.
Sexual citizenship is a bellwether of the Caribbean’s human rights inequality. We trail the rest of the hemisphere in recognition of the humanity and rights of LGBT persons as well. Eleven of our nations still criminalize private same-sex relations between consenting adults, and several have expanded this beyond the colonial laws we inherited. Sexual orientation has been deliberately excluded from post-Independence protection measures.
Homophobia affects us all, from growing anomie and homelessness among LGBT youth on the streets of our capitals, to heterosexual males’ persistent underachievement in our educational systems, to how we rob our national productivity of the contributions of whole groups of people. Our sister states in Latin America share rank with the Global North in political leadership and domestic institutionalization of LGBT equality and human rights. Meeting in Brasilia in April with Cuba to forge a regional perspective on how to advance sexual orientation and gender identity in multilateral human rights systems, they emphasizedstrengthened dialogue and cooperation mechanisms, including South-South and triangular ones, according to countries’ needs, to allow for sharing of good practices and incremental political changes.
On the occasion of our joint participation in the XLIII General Assembly of the Organization of American States, in Antigua Guatemala in June 2013, we appeal for a new partnership:
1.    to fully support the 2013 resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression
2.    to approve, ratify and bring into force in domestic law the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance jointly with theInter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance
3.    to request, receive and, where appropriate, provide technical cooperation from hemispheric and other partners in implementing domestic measures that fulfil the commitments of the suite of resolutions on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity enacted at the General Assembly
4.    to strengthen domestic human rights education programmes and institutions, and build national cultures of human rights and plural citizenship
5.    to take significant steps to more fully join and to strengthen the Inter-American human rights system
6.    to convene a CARICOM forum to engage with dialogue and cooperation on these issues.
We are the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities. Our 16-year old non-governmental body, owned and operated by the region’s leading LGBT NGOs, is a regional network with offices in Castries, Kingston, Port of Spain and Santo Domingo and leadership in Suriname. In advancing an indigenous LGBT agenda for the Caribbean, we engage with regional governments and civil society, donors and international partners — to expand protective environments at the community-level where Caribbean LGBT people can enjoy safety and support and be linked to services, community, health, spirituality and empowerment; to build local LGBT infrastructure and leadership; to forge alliances, participate politically and electorally, influence policy and legislation; to utilize judicial and human rights institutions to ensure justice and access to the fruits of citizenship; and to build nations that reclaim the values of our Independence generation.
 
 
DECLARATION OF THE COALITION OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRAVESTI, TRANSEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX PERSONS FROM THE AMERICAS
BEFORE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE OAS
LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA, GUATEMALA, JUNE 4th, 2013
 
Mister Secretary General, Honourable Ministers, Representatives of Official Delegations, Civil Society Colleagues: 
 
We, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Travesti, Transsexual, Transgender and Intersex (hereinafter LGBTTTI) organizations, convened in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, from May 31st to June 2nd, 2013,
in accordance with the directives established by the OAS General Assembly in Resolutions AG/RES.2092 (XXXV-O/05); CP/RES.759 (1217/99); AG/RES.840 (1361/03) through the resolutions AG/RES.1707(XXX-O/00) and AG/RES.1915(XXXIII-O/03), which set forth a regulatory framework to enhance and strengthen civil society participation in the OAS and in the Summit of the Americas process, would like to express that: 
The policies of repression and criminalization of drug possession for personal consumption have led to human rights violations of vulnerable groups. Decriminalization and a fresh perspective on this reality will reduce discrimination, resulting in processes of social inclusion and democratic guarantees. 
 
In the countries of Central America, organized crime groups are controlled by neither the police nor any other arm of the state, which promotes citizen insecurity. 
In this context, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has increased, with acts of verbal and physical violence, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, forced disappearances, and killings as the extreme expression of such violence. 
 
Trans persons are among those most affected by these attacks. They are also denied their right to health, to education and to work, in short, to dignity. Lack of documents recognizing the gender identity that trans persons have adopted and constructed, or conditioning their issuance on humiliating medical procedures, constitutes an insurmountable limit on their access to rights. 
 
Low self-esteem among lesbian women, caused by a patriarchal system that ignores and stigmatizes them, makes them vulnerable to problems related to mental health, addictions, domestic violence, and also limits their access to comprehensive health care. In the“English-speaking” (Commonwealth) Caribbean, this same system pushes LGBTI youth into homelessness and young heterosexual men to under performance in school. 
 
Eleven Caribbean countries – one third of the states in the Americas – continue to retain laws that criminalize and prohibit consensual same-sex intimacy, crossdressing “for an improper purpose”, as well as entry of foreigners based on their homosexuality. Some of these governments have very recently enacted or enforced such laws; others deliberately exclude LGBT persons from protections against discrimination. 
 
In these contexts, access to justice and the mechanisms of human rights protection are weak, Constitutional protection excludes sexuality, access to supranational human rights defence mechanisms is limited, and Caribbean governments have declared that human rights protection of sexual minorities requires a "political mandate" of the majority. 
 
Nonetheless, in this context we welcome the conclusion of the negotiations on the draft Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and appreciate the leadership role of the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda.
 
 
Tags: OASLGBT RightsCaribbeanDeclaration