Countdown to Tolerance

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Tue Apr 9, 2013

Maurice Tomlinson: Belize's Homophobic Laws Go Against Treaty Obligations

In mid-March 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee issued its concluding observations on Belize. The Committee, which is charged with reviewing states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), issued its concluding observations on Belize. Belize acceded to the binding human rights treaty in 1996. Two years earlier, the Committee had ruled that discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation violated the treaty’s anti-discrimination provisions.
It was therefore no surprise when the Committee concluded that Belize’s patent discrimination against gays (as found in the country’s anti-sodomy law, as well as the Immigration Act, which bans the entry of homosexuals) is irreconcilable with the country’s treaty obligations.  AIDS-Free World is supporting a domestic challenge to the anti-sodomy law, and has also launched a case before the highest regional court, the Caribbean Court of Justice, seeking a repeal of the homophobic provisions in the Immigration Act.

The Committee’s observation on these cases and Belize’s treatment of homosexuals is found below:

13. The Committee takes note that certain individuals in the State party have instituted proceedings challenging the constitutionality of section 53 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits same sex relations, and of section 5(1)(e) of the Immigrations Act, which includes homosexuals on the list of prohibited persons for purposes of immigration. The Committee further notes that as such these matters are sub-judice [being considered by a court]. However, it is concerned that the State party lacks any constitutional or statutory provision expressly prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Committee is further concerned at reports of violence against LGBT persons (arts. 2, 12 and 26).

The State party should review its Constitution and legislation to ensure that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited. The Committee further urges the State party to include in its initial report information on the outcome of the case challenging the constitutionality of section 53 of the Criminal Code and section 5(1)(e) of the Immigration Act. The State party should also ensure that cases of violence against LGBT persons are thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that the victims are adequately compensated.

While the Committee's recommendations are largely unenforceable, such a strong condemnation of anti-gay discrimination by the UN will be extremely helpful in the cases we have filed as AIDS-Free World advocates for an end to homophobia in Belize and around the Caribbean. There is unassailable evidence that the institutionalized support for homophobia by regional governments is fueling the HIV epidemic, particularly among marginalized groups such as men who have sex with men (MSM). After sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean has the highest HIV burden worldwide.