History lesson: Jamaica ‘in violation of human rights obligations’

Human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson drafted this history of modern human rights in response to a commentary by Shirley Richards, former president of the Jamaican Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship. It appeared in The Gleaner on Dec. 11 under the heading “A tragic case of ignorance.”


Security guards in Kingston, Jamaica, slap and hit a University of Technology student suspected of being gay in an incident that got them fired. The footage, posted to YouTube Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, focuses on the attack most clearly after the halfway point. (Click image for video.)
UTech security guard in Kingston, Jamaica, hits a student suspected of being gay. The guards in this incident were later fired. (Click the image for link to the Nov. 2 video on YouTube. WARNING: Text associated with the video is offensive. The confrontation is visible in the second half of the video.)

I write with reference to your column published in the December 9 edition of The Sunday Gleaner under the caption ‘Wrestling with rights’.

As a member of the religiously conservative Lawyers Christian Fellowship, your ignorance of the source of modern human rights is understandable. After all, the theology your group exists to promote once supported such heinous practices as slavery, requiring a woman to marry her rapist, and the stoning to death of individuals found engaging in adultery. Or would you say that your theology has evolved from those original biblical injunctions?

Permit me, as a human-rights lecturer, to update you on a few things regarding the evolution of human rights:

First, before 1948, there was no universal standard of ‘human rights’. Up to that point, each state determined the rights enjoyed by its citizens. The result was that Germany thought it was fine to kill millions of Jews, the Spanish government had no problem with executing millions of ‘heretics’ who didn’t subscribe to Catholicism, slavery was permissible, and even today, Christians are publicly beheaded in some Muslim countries for daring to preach the gospel.


Jamaican university security guard attacks a  student suspected of being gay. (Click the image for link to the YouTube video.)
Jamaican university security guard attacks a student suspected of being gay.

Partly in response to these (so-often-religion-inspired) atrocities, the world decided in 1948 to inaugurate the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). This established basic human rights standards for all citizens of earth, simply because they are humans. A state may grant human rights protection over and above those found in the UDHR, but not less. While the UDHR was not a binding treaty, it inspired the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and that is a binding treaty.

States could certainly exceed the protections afforded by the ICCPR, but must never provide for less. Jamaica ratified this treaty in 1975 and is, therefore, bound by it. Among other things, the treaty provides that the UN Human Rights Committee will interpret its provisions and assess the states’ compliance. In 1994, the UN Human Rights Committee found that a law similar to Jamaica’s which criminalised the right of consenting adults to engage in their private acts of intimacy was a violation of the rights to privacy, as well as protection from cruel and inhuman treatment, and the right to equality before the law.


By maintaining the anti-buggery law, Jamaica is, therefore, in violation of its human-rights obligations, and the relativist arguments you raise, clothed in bigoted sophistry, will not change that fact.

Jamaican university security guard attacks a  student suspected of being gay. (Click the image for link to the YouTube video.)
Jamaican university security guard attacks a student suspected of being gay.

You, Madam, are entitled to your own beliefs, but you are NOT entitled to your own set of facts. I would certainly hope the recent barbaric attack at the University of Technology, which you belatedly and disingenuously condemned, demonstrated the immense harm that results from the anti-gay animus you and other fundamentalist Christians are whipping up in Jamaica. You are as guilty as the hooligans who so savagely abused this young man.

In this regard, I would like to commend to you the excellent article [“End discrimination against sexual minorities”] by the associate editor of The Gleaner, Byron Buckley, which was also published in The Sunday Gleaner of even date. The horrendous UTech attack has obviously caused Mr Buckley to experience an evolution in his thinking and he has abandoned his previous position [“Backing down on buggery? Some personal rights can be sacrificed for general morality,” Dec. 25, 2011] that the privacy rights of consenting adults should be sacrificed for some perceived moving target of “general morality”.

It is indeed tragic that you, as a member of the noble legal profession, refuse to allow evidence-based logic to help you to grow beyond the narrow confines of your harmful ideology.

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Written by Maurice Tomlinson

Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica and Canada has been involved in HIV and AIDS and LGBTI rights activism in the Caribbean for over 15 years. An attorney-at-law, he leads and supports legal challenges seeking the repeal of the region's homophobic laws. Contact him by email via 76crimes (at) gmail.com.


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