Strengthening Human Rights Protection through Constitutional Reform

Three specific recommendations for constitutional change were submitted
jointly to the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution Reform Commission by

Richie Maitland, Staff Attorney, CAISO • Lynette Seebaran Suite, Board Chair, ASPIRE • J Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director, CVC • Dona Da Costa Martinez, Executive Director, Family Planning Association • Luke Sinnette, Executive Member, Friends for Life • Jeremy Edwards, Director, Silver Lining Foundation • Stephanie Leitch, Founder, Womantra • Sharon Mottley, Director, Women’s Caucus of Trinidad & Tobago

in response to the Absence of Human Rights Recommendations in the
27 December 2013 
Report on the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform

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26 February 2014

“Several of our groups’ stakeholders and others in our communities participated in and contributed to the national consultations throughout 2013, where we noted the dominance of two concerns we share deeply:

a) the weakness or ineffectiveness of mechanisms for government and institutional accountability; and

b) that particular groups advantage members of their own unfairly, and respect for human dignity is selective and not universal.

Chapter 1 of the Consultation Report opens with observations about the vulnerabilities of citizens in small states to majoritarian democracies; that in Trinidad & Tobago “the state has emerged as a an agent of victimization”; and cites the need for more rapid development of a “a culture of scrutiny of public officials by dedicated institutions that are expected to play an enquiring role” (paras. 21-22, p. 6). These are fundamentally issues of human rights, an area in which the Commission Report, unfortunately, proposes no amendments to the Constitution (p. 13), and a dimension in particular need of strengthening in our national “political culture”, the concern with which the Report concludes.

We urge the following:

  1. Enshrinement within the Constitution of an independent National Human Rights Institution compliant with the “Paris Principles”, which would create an effective structural mechanism (unlike the Office of the Ombudsman, described as “ineffective”) to monitor, protect and promote human rights in Trinidad and Tobago, and entrench a national and institutional culture of respect for human rights, grounded in the Constitution
  2. Elimination altogether of the Savings Law Clause, Section 6, which the Report, without any discussion or explanation, recommends ((c), p. 13) continue to immunise from constitutional challenge any law in force prior to 1 August 1976 that violates fundamental human rights and freedoms
  3. Addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender” as prohibited axes of discrimination in the Bill of Rights, Section 4 – issues to which the Report affords significant importance and more attention than any other human rights consideration (p. 2; para. 14, p. 4; paras. 56-62, p. 12; p. 13).

Continue reading “Strengthening Human Rights Protection through Constitutional Reform”

Joshua Hamlet, an unlikely voice for LGBT rights on an unlikely platform

We’re always talking about young people taking the lead on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and politicians acknowledging that the LGBT community needs protection against discrimination in Trinidad & Tobago. Just this week, we might’ve got both. At a People’s National Movement rally in St. Barb’s, Laventille, youth speaker Joshua Hamlet went on the podium to say that LGBT people need the Equal Opportunity Act, and that “we cannot make it about people (individuals), it needs to about the issues of the everyday person”.

Not only does this mean that people – especially young people – are taking stands in their own ways to speak out against discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation, but that politicians (at least within the PNM) can’t ignore that this is a real issue in our country. Remember in 2009 when their then Gender Minister and current Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, said that they were “quite categorically” against dealing with our issues? Now these same issues are coming back on their own platform in a completely different way. CAISO has its own fair share of young members, and I speak not only as one of those youth but as someone who knows Mr. Hamlet personally. As a student, and activist and a friend, Joshua has always been the kind of guy that I thought our country needed on gender and sexual orientation issues, because of his insight and willingness to put himself out there for a cause no matter the arena, much like he has done here.

CAISO believes that every political party here in Trinidad & Tobago should be focusing on the issues of every single member of its society, and that the human rights of those members should not be ignored. And that is why it feels so good that a young man would stand from within a party of his own accord and say what he said. With the country approaching its 50th birthday, we should be talking about ways our country and democracy truly include every single person regardless to creed, race or sexual orientation. And it may very well be happening, in some small way, now.

We at CAISO salute you, Mr. Hamlet, for the courage to speak up on these issues in one of the places it matters the most. We truly hope that people in the PNM, and in fact every politician, is listening.

Put change into your hands: CAISO is recruiting for a community organiser to join our staff team.

The job is to build hope and capacity for making change in our communities, to help forge alliances with others, and to manage training, meetings and advocacy campaigns, actions and communication.

You’ll have to coordinate logistics, coach and inspire community advocates, travel, build your political knowledge and analysis, be savvy about computer and communications technology, keep up with administrative tasks, and work flexible hours. That means thinking ahead, having people and team skills, and being self-starting and adaptive.

Candidates should have done organising and mobilisation work in T&T or elsewhere in the Caribbean, understand political processes, know how to get around our communities, and have a depth of knowledge and comfort working with GLBT issues. The strongest candidates will have managed volunteers, have existing ties to issue and political work, be competent at facilitation and training, and bring new skills and diversity to the CAISO team.

Email us a resume and at least two references who can speak to your ability to meet the criteria above. Feel free to call us to chat about your interest: 758-7676.

One letter can make a change

In the coming weeks our community will either make a difference in our own lives, or we will lose an opportunity of a lifetime. Parliament will come the closest ever in history to outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. They’ve made it clear this can happen BUT ONLY if you speak up for yourself. People with HIV and five old people have.

One letter can make a change.

Send the letter below or at this link to the Prime Minister’s Office. FILL IN YOUR NAME AND THE AREA OR CONSTITUENCY YOU LIVE OR VOTE IN.

Get people who love you to do the same. Or you can speak up in other ways of your choosing. Please forward and repost this. One letter can make a change. Watch this video.

 

Office of the Prime Minister

13-15 St. Clair Avenue

Port of Spain

Dear Madam Prime Minister and Members of Parliament:

At the June 2011 opening of Parliament, our President said, “Our policies and practices must reflect a determination to ensure equal opportunity for all of our citizens, regardless of political affiliation or any other subjective consideration.” 

What’s your position? Should legal protection from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care and services be denied to any citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, based on whether they’re young, elderly or middle-aged, HIV-negative or not, heterosexual or not? Very shortly you will have a bipartisan opportunity to take an important and overdue step to advance Government protection of human rights in Trinidad & Tobago and bring our 49-year-old developing nation further into the 21st century. When the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) comes before Parliament for amendment in the coming weeks, you can help add ageHIV status and sexual orientation to statuses it protects from unfair discrimination in employment, education and the provision of accommodation, goods and services.

Please don’t pick and choose which one(s) to add: Add all three. Discrimination is a cancer. Tolerating it against any group means politicians get to decide which minorities have rights and which do not, which human beings are worth less than others. All three statuses are used daily as grounds for unfair discrimination that offends the principles of equality on which our nation was founded. Such discrimination, when tolerated or excused by the State, robs people of their human dignity and citizenship in profound ways. You will have the opportunity to vote and show Trinidad & Tobago’s position on these matters to the world right around the time that we undergo our first comprehensive human rights review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and each member of Parliament can work and can engage others to ensure all three statuses are included in the Equal Opportunity amendment bill that Parliament passes. You will have the gratitude and support of thousands of citizens like me and the people in my life I love who are living with HIV, who are young, who are gay, and who are old, many of whom are afraid if they sign this letter they might lose their job, family support or public respect. The risk for discrimination is quite high for those the Equal Opportunity Act would protect if you add these three statuses. Yet, adding all three statuses to the bill together is hardly risky for a modern Parliament to do as an act of human rights leadership. It’s time we joined other great nations and set ourselves apart from the shameful ones that deny human rights and freedom of expression to their citizens, or that use the law to impose the rules of a particular faith on everyone.

Newspaper editorials, university researchers, legal and human rights professionals, leading civil society groups and Parliamentarians themselves have all spoken out against discrimination based on these three statuses and urged their inclusion in the EOA. I am adding my voice to theirs.

Yours truly,

Name:

Address:

Date:

Julian Kenny

Born in Woodbrook eight decades ago, Julian Kenny, the UWI professor and environmentalist who died yesterday, repeatedly stood up for the humanity of GLBT people, as a senator, a journalist and a scientist. He spoke out in the Senate about the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunity Act. Most recently, from October 18 to November 8 of last year, he authored an important four-part series of newspaper columns on the natural science of sexual orientation. Here he is writing in his May 23, 2007 Express column, titled “Genes for ignorance, bigotry?”.

Given the millennia of occurrence of homosexuality in humans, and amongst many mammals and birds, it is not unreasonable to assume that there is probably a strong genetic component, possibly even of more than one gene interacting with others, that express themselves to varying degrees as human homosexual behaviour in all its diversity.

I have often wondered at the growth of homophobia in the region and the country, when homosexuality is being muted, understood and accepted in the developed world, and, reflect back on the debate on the Equal Opportunities Bill in the Senate. When I spoke in favour of the Bill I did question the exclusion of sexual orientation. The response on the Government side while I spoke was snickering by the front bench, even from that champion of the human rights movement, rather like first formers hearing their first risqué joke. Sexual orientation was simply ignored in the final version passed by that House. And I reflected also on my childhood observations of the ways in which St Mary’s College students used to taunt a Down’s syndrome teenager being walked by a carer in Lord Harris Square – 12-year-olds shouting “chupidee, chupidee”.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that any behaviour that in any way differs from what is demanded by convention in society is fair game for discrimination and ostracism, and, even violent suppression and assault. And people use it at all levels. Historically all religions have used it to control followers or to increase numbers.

Another step in the region towards bodily freedom, in Belize

Why do modern independent Caribbean states, where people have fought for centuries to free our bodies from enslavement, indentureship, control by our husbands, exploitation of our labour, colonial subjection, sexual harassment and prohibtions on dancing still defend laws that say that adults cannot use our bodies in mutually consenting ways with each other sexually in private? Why are only certain forms of sex between consenting adults against the law? Why aren’t other forms of sex, which are just as “unusual”? Or others that are unlikely to produce children, simply pleasure? Why are eating pork and beef and wearing headcoverings and extramarital sex not the subject of our secular laws, but homosexuality is?

Why would anyone committed to liberty deny someone of maturity control over her or his body and sexuality?

Although in many jurisdictions our laws against private sex are only occasionally enforced, they remain on the books and serve to legitimate violence, discrimination and stigma against gay men and lesbians whom they render “unapprehended felons”, as a South African jurist quoted in a judgment overturning that country’s sodomy laws. And their enforcement is technically just one election, or even one enterprising police officer, away.

The first constitutional challenge to the region’s colonially derived laws against sexual activity between consenting adults has been filed, in Belize, targeting a law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which in common law means anal sex.

Many of our regional Independence constitutions, through “savings clauses”, hold immune from constitutional challenge any of these archaic laws (like others which PNM MP Colm Imbert mocked recently in Parliament that address wounding pigeons, bathing in the Maraval River and hanging clothes out to dry in the front of a shop) that were  put in force in colonial times; these savings clauses in effect say the colonizers knew best. Belize’s constitution limited that period of immunity to five years. Trinidad & Tobago preserved our savings clause through our 1976 Republican constitution, and in a number of more recent proposals for constitutional “reform”.

We wish our Belizean GLBT counterparts, the community organizers there, and their visionary legal advocates the best success with this landmark lawsuit; and we hope their bravery and jurisprudence will benefit the region as a whole.

Statutory penalties in the Caribbean for consensual sexual activity between two adult human beings; and the most recent date of the law’s enactment
Antigua & Barbuda 1995 15 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)
Bahamas 1991 20 years any adult male who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
20 years any female adult who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
Barbados 2002 life buggery
10 years an act, whether natural or unnatural by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, on or towards another or inciting another to commit that act with the person or with another person
Belize 2000 10 years carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person
Dominica 1998 10 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
4 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
Grenada 1958 10 years unnatural connexion
Guyana 1893 life buggery with a human being
10 years attempts to commit buggery
2 years any male person, who in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person
Jamaica 1864 up to 10 years hard labour the abominable crime of buggery with mankind
up to 7 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
up to 2 years, with or without hard labour any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person
St. Kitts-Nevis 1990 up to 10 years, with or without hard labour the abominable crime of buggery
up to 4 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
St. Lucia 2005 5 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anus by a male person with a male or by a male person with a female person
10 years (5 years on summary conviction) an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
St. Vincent & the Grenadines 1990 10 years commit buggery with any other person; permit any person to commit buggery with him or her
5 years commit an act of gross indecency, in public or private, with another person of the same sex, or procure or attempt to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her
Trinidad & Tobago 1986 25 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)

Caribbean Groups Join International Community in Saluting Murdered African Human Rights Worker David Kato Kisule

Photo: Mark Hofer, Agence France Presse/Getty Images

Caribbean associations working on reproductive, sexuality and HIV issues have issued a brief joint statement of condolence and tribute to the life of slain Sexual Minorities Uganda human rights defender David Kato Kisule. The statement, signed by over 30 groups in 16 territories, calls attention, in the United Nations Year of People of African Descent, to David’s international inspiration as an African defender of sexual rights. It notes the continuing danger that sexuality and the human rights defenders who work in this area face in the Caribbean and elsewhere; and Governments’ failure to champion people’s freedom over their own bodies when it comes to sexuality.

Across the Caribbean, those of us who knew Sexual Minorities Uganda advocacy officer David Kato Kisule as a friend, as well as those who only read of his work, are deeply moved by his powerful and courageous life. As fellow sexual rights advocates, we convey deepest condolences to all his loved ones and fellow activists on his awful murder. We have been horrified by the inhumanity and hysteria of Uganda’s parliamentary, media and clergy campaigns to deny gay people like David the simple right to liberty, privacy, dignity and joy. We join others throughout the African diaspora in our pride in David’s conviction and passion as an outspoken African champion of sexual autonomy – even when it put his liberty and life in great danger – and his record as an internationally recognized human rights defender. His inspiration stretches around the globe to those who also struggle against ignorance, indifference and violence to create countries and a world where everyone can enjoy our sexuality as something good and wholesome and worthwhile, free from shame and coercion.

Were it not for advocacy late last year, 13 Caribbean countries would have allowed “sexual orientation” to be removed from an international statement of commitment to protect persons from unlawful killing because of who they are. David’s death, following threats against his life, is a gripping reminder of the importance of those protections, and a sobering one of how much more work needs to be done to give people the right to freedom over their bodies in places like Africa and the Caribbean, where battles against slavery, colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide, gender inequality and religious persecution ought to have taught us better lessons. David’s life and death are reason to renew international commitment to sexual rights, to increase our vigilance for our colleagues in danger in Uganda. We respectfully urge Uganda’s politicians, media and clergy and international Christian advocates who have become entangled in this hostility to seize the opportunity to bring an end to yet another painful chapter of intergroup violence in Africa.

AIDS Action Foundation – St. Lucia • AIDS Free World • ALFA: Alternative Life Foundation Aruba • Alianza GTH – República Dominicana • Amigos Siempre Amigos – República Dominicana • ASPIRE: Advocates for Safe Parenthood-Improving Reproductive Equity – Trinidad & Tobago • Barbados Family Planning Association • Belize Family Life Association • Belize National AIDS CommissionCAISO: Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation – Trinidad & TobagoCaribbean Family Planning AffiliationCaribbean Harm Reduction CoalitionCaribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition • CariFLAGS: Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities • DiBo: Diversity Bonaire • DominicaChaps • Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago • Foko Curaçao Pride • Fondation SEROvie – Haiti • GrenCHAP – Grenada • J-FLAG: Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays • MOVADAC: Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee – Barbados • Pink Orange Dutch Caribbean LGBTI Alliance • Pride In Action – Jamaica • RevASA: Red de Voluntarios de ASA – República Dominicana • SASOD: Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – Guyana • SASH Bahamas: Society Against STIs & HIV • Tjenbé Rèd: Fédération de lutte contre les racismes, les homophobies & le sida issue des communautés afrocaribéennes • UniBAM: United Belize Advocacy Movement • United and Strong – St. Lucia • Women Against Rape, Inc – Antigua • Women’s Institute for Alternative Development – Trinidad & Tobago • Women Way – Suriname

The statement has appeared, among other places: GBM News, Guyana Chronicle, International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region News Update, International Resource Network, Kaieteur News (Sun. 31 Jan, p. 48), SASOD blog, St. Lucia VoiceTjenbé Rèd