Jamaican PM reneges on promised review of sodomy law

Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In response to a question from the press at the State opening of Parliament on April 3, 2014, the Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, said that there will have to be consultations with constituents before Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law is reviewed.

However, she gave no indication whether this consultation will actually take place and refused to provide any timeline, as the issue, she said, “doesn’t impact, in a very serious way, the majority of our people.

A Jamaican activist informed 76Crimes he believes this admission of a no-vote by the PM:

“puts to rest any hope of bringing the matter of the anti-sodomy law to Parliament, a position she had supported in her 2011 election campaign; kept alive by her Minister of Information who promised that the vote would take place before the end of last year, and more recently confirmed by the Minister of Justice who declared that the vote would have happened before the Parliamentary year ended in March. These were 3 promises by senior government Ministers to have the nation’s legislators consider the human rights of Jamaicans. And they all lied”.

The activist added that the PM’s statement was both “short-sighted and patently disingenuous”.

Last year, Jamaica found the time to read down the law against “obeah” (a form of witchcraft) because the punishment (whipping) was deemed to be in violation of international human rights obligations against cruel and inhuman treatment. Numerous international and Jamaican domestic bodies have pointed out that criminalizing same-sex private acts of intimacy between consenting adults also violates the rights to privacy and protection against cruel and inhuman treatment. In 2011, at the UN’s Human Rights Council, several countries recommended Jamaica should repeal all provisions that criminalize same-sex activities between consenting adults, but Jamaica refused.

The Jamaican activist believes that the PM now takes the view that the decriminalization of same-sex acts of intimacy may be put to popular vote.  He feels this would make a mockery of the Jamaica’s constitutional guarantee of the right to privacy. He stated:

“Further, subjecting human rights to a vote is always a dangerous thing.  Mrs. Simpson-Miller makes the false choice between human rights and economic well-being. The fact is that by retaining this British colonially imposed law, Jamaica gives license to abuses against LGBT people. This drives away tourists and denies the country a share in the near US$200 Billion annual tourism market for LGBT travelers and our allies.” Tourism is Jamaica’s major foreign exchange earner.

“The retention of the anti-sodomy law supports a culture of fear, stigmatization, and discrimination that drives gays and men who have sex with men (MSM) underground, away from effective HIV interventions. The result is that the country has the highest HIV prevalence rates among gays and MSM in the western hemisphere (33%). Often, these men also have sex with women to mask their true sexual orientation.

“If the PM really cared for the poor, as she so often states, then she would act on the fact that the anti-sodomy law and the bigotry and hate it supports has led parents to throw their young LGBT kids on the streets. Some of these youngsters are now living in the sewers of the capital Kingston, and selling sex to survive. The kids are paid extra for condom-less sex by their married clients. Consider the HIV vulnerability of these kids as well as the wives and/or girlfriends of their clients!” he added.

In 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee confirmed that laws criminalizing homosexuality violate rights to privacy and non-discrimination in breach of States’ legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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