Thursday, October 6, 2011

News from the Region on Belize's Case and UNAIDS response


October 6th, 2011

While Belize's case  zoom's to December 5th to 9th, with all affidavits in, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Antigua have commented on the case thus far. What was interesting in Antigua was that the media comments were far different from the actual position made at the Universal Periodic Review. Here is what the country committed to at the UPR:


 At the UPR consideration of Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday, recommendations relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, including reform of the criminal law, were made by a number of States. Today, the Working Group report came up for adoption, and Antigua and Barbuda gave the following responses:

"67. The following recommendations enjoy the support of Antigua and Barbuda:

67.24 Condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensure adequate protection for those human rights defenders who work on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (USA);

67.25 Institute policies and initiatives to address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity (Canada).


68. The following recommendations will be examined by Antigua and Barbuda which will provide responses in due time, but no later that the 19th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012:

68.35 Implement public awareness campaigns on discrimination based on sexual preference (Spain).


69. The recommendations below did not enjoy the support of Antigua and Barbuda:

69.17 Abrogate the provisions criminalizing sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex (France);

69.18 Eliminate legal sanctions against consensual sex acts between adults in private (Canada);

69.19 Repeal all provisions that may be applied to criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults, and which are contrary to its commitment to equality and non-discrimination (Hungary);

69.20 Decriminalize homosexual conduct by reforming the penal code so that for the purposes of prosecution, gross indecency would not apply to private acts between consenting adults (USA);

69.21 Adopt policy and legislative measures to establish a specific framework for the protection against discrimination based on sexual preference along with the abrogation of criminal provisions that criminalize consensual relations between adults of the same sex (Spain)."
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So, Antigua and Barbuda has accepted recommendations to address  SOGI-related violence and discrimination, will consider the possibility of public awareness campaigns, but rejected all recommendations relating to decriminalisation. A scanned copy of the report is attached, and all statements are also available on the UN webcast.

What is interesting is not the formal statements, but the news statements that was circulated in the following way.

AG: Anti-Buggery Law Here To Stay

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua – While he’s softened his language from a few days ago, Attorney General Justin Simon said yesterday he remains resolute that Antigua & Barbuda will not change its anti-buggery law unless there is a mandate from the electorate.
Simon is in Geneva, Switzerland, presenting the national human rights report to the 12th Session of The Universal Periodic Review.
The attorney general told OBSERVER that, yesterday, some of the 31 country delegates posed questions about the twin-island’s stance on homosexuality.
“I had to indicate that the Sexual Offences Act in Antigua does criminalise homosexuality (and) whilst the government is committed to protecting all members of society from harassment and discrimination, violence and any unfair practices because of sexual orientation, we do continue to have the provision which criminalises homosexual behaviour.
“And I also informed and advised them that we do not have a political mandate to change the laws at this state but that we will continue, in terms of informing and educating the public, in terms of international treaty principles which are being accepted and adopted elsewhere,” Simon said.
His response to OBSERVER was less acerbic than his response in a Caribarena.com report of October 3, in which he declared homosexuality morally wrong.
“There will be no change in the law on buggery in Antigua & Barbuda, at least not if I can help it. Being gay is morally wrong, and to be honest personally, I am still homophobic.
“I know they are going to ask me this same question at the Human Rights United Nations meeting I am attending, and I will give them the same answer,” the news portal quoted the AG as saying.
He was responding to an apparent question about the upcoming judicial review of the buggery law in Belize.
The United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) is mounting the challenge. As reported in a September 26 article in this newspaper, the leaders of more then 20 Caribbean organisations representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as well as human rights activists, have pledged support to UNIBAM.
On the ground here, a confidential source said the gay community is quietly monitoring the situation in Belize, which is viewed as a test case that could reverberate around the region.
In defending the existing law, Simon told the news portal “Antigua is still very much led by male and church influences.”
Yesterday, he told OBSERVER he was not aware that conversation he had with Caribarena was for the purposes of a published interview, but that he had maintained, at all times, that he was expressing his “personal position and opinion.”
Speaking on behalf of government to OBSERVER Tuesday, the AG said any change to the legislation would have to be pushed by the people.
“One has to understand that one does not just change laws because we are living within a society where laws and norms have to be accepted and it is important that you do have, when I talk about a political mandate, that it is not a mandate in terms of the government, but it is a mandate of the people based upon their perceptions, based upon what they expect, because there is no point having a law which people are not going to … have general acceptance and respect (for),” Simon said.
The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), which has representation in Antigua & Barbuda, said it would not comment publicly on Simon’s assertions.
A regional spokesman who did not want to be identified said CVC has taken note of Simon’s statements but prefers to focus on the Belize case rather than doing or saying anything to derail success. The spokesman said CVC also does not want to cause any disruption for the gay community in Antigua & Barbuda.
President of Women Against Rape (WAR) Alexandrina Wong was less circumspect, saying the attorney general was simply maintaining the status quo.
“He’s yielding to religion and patriarchy,” Wong told OBSERVER.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)


HERE IS UNAIDS RESPONSE TODAY:

By OBSERVER News - Thursday, October 6th, 2011.
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ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A number of representatives at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday recommended that Antigua & Barbuda do away with its anti-buggery law.
The recommendations came following Attorney General Justin Simon’s presentation of the country’s human rights policies. As expected, there were several questions and recommendations raised with many focused on the anti-buggery law.
US representative Charles Blaha said homosexuality should be decriminalised, and he also urged the twin-island state to condemn human rights violations based on sexuality.
“We urge Antigua & Barbuda to decriminalise homosexual conduct by reforming the penal code so that for the purposes of prosecution, gross indecency would not apply to private acts between consenting adults,” the US representative said.
“We (also) urge Antigua & Barbuda to condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and to ensure adequate protection for those human rights defenders who work on the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons,” Blaha added.
The US representative at the UN said discrimination against the LGBT community remains a major concern of the US.
“The criminisalation of homosexual conduct exacerbates homophobic attitudes in the general population and prevents LGBT persons from fully participating in society and taking advantage of opportunities afforded to all other Antiguans,” Blaha said.
Simon also came under pressure on the LGBT matter from other representatives including Spain’s Manuel Alhama Orenes.
“We recommend the adoption of political and legislative measures to set up a specific framework for the protection of discrimination on the grounds of sexual discrimination as well as the striking of legal provisions that criminalise consensual same-sex adult relationships. In a similar vein, we recommend the implementation of public awareness raising campaigns in this area,” Orenes said.
In response, the attorney general, who is a strong proponent of the buggery law, said he does not believe the proposal would receive the support of residents right now. However, he said public opinion could change.
“There is a certain amount of public acceptance, it’s rather acceptance in a rather silent way, but we do not believe that at this stage that we do have the political mandate in respect of changing the laws notwithstanding the fact that the enforcement of those laws are not actively sought,” Simon said.
“The government will continue with its efforts in respect of education and information to ensure that at some later date, that public opinion in respect of this particular matter would certainly adopt the international standards,” Simon added.
Thirty-one country delegates intervened following the presentation of the opening statement by the attorney general on the Human Rights National Report to the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Tuesday morning.
By OBSERVER News - Thursday, October 6th, 2011.
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Director of the Caribbean Regional Support Team, UNAIDS Ernest Massiah says the AG’s comments on the Sexual Offences Act has opened a necessary public dialogue.
ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Rather than just an emotive issue about the public’s views on homosexuality, the attorney general’s recent comments about maintaining buggery laws should be viewed as the starting point for an important discussion Director of the Caribbean Regional Support Team, UNAIDS Ernest Massiah said.
“It’s not just about a buggery law. This is about looking at equality, equality of all citizens in all Caribbean countries, and when you start that discussion from that point as opposed to a buggery law, I think then you see a discussion as well as points of convergence that would be different than if you start looking just at a buggery law,” Massiah told OBSERVER from his office on Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Attorney General Justin Simon told the delegates at the 12th Session of The Universal Periodic Review, which comprises the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council, that any change in the Sexual Offences Act would have to come as a result as a mandate from the people.
Among other things, the Act criminalises buggery.
The AG is in Geneva, Switzerland, at the meeting, but his comments sparked lively discussion here, with the topic being narrowed down by most people to a conversation on the immorality of homosexuality. The minority has attempted to broaden the scope to a discussion about human rights.
Massiah said Simon’s comments should be viewed as an opportunity to move forward the dialogue on matters like public health.
“There are fundamental issues of public health where the legal framework works against the public health, and that is where one needs to be very clear … because the objective of the law should be to protect the public health,” said Massiah, who holds a doctorate in public health.
The three areas he highlighted where the law has negative impact are in the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS; the perpetuation of stigma; and the overall climate of discrimination.
“For example, you cannot provide condoms in prisons because prisons are state-run, and … you know that sex (is) likely to be anal sex. In some countries in the region we have seen ministers of national security saying they’d like to engage in good public health but the law prevents them,” Massiah said.
He also noted that while a case might be made that the buggery law is rarely enforced, a climate exists for those affected by the legislation where they could be subject to what he called “arbitrary discrimination” at any time.
Speaking to Caribarena.com, the attorney general opined that he did not see the law changing anytime soon, since “Antigua is still very much led by male and church influences.”






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