Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Western Imposition or Knowledge Deficit? The Road of Political Engagement

22nd April, 2015

I was at a presentation at Michaal Kirby lecture called: Can the Commonwealth of Nations Survive? A Dismal Story of Human Rightsand it was fascinating to listen to the evolution of the Commonwealth. What was clear from the presentation was that political rights did not occur without a cost.

He explained that The Commonwealth of Nations being a voluntary association of 53 states, constitute more than 25% of the membership of the United Nations; nearly 40% of the World Trade Organisation; more than 35% of the Organisation of American States; and just under 40% of the African union. The represent 26% of the South East Asian Association for Regional Cooperation; around 90% of the Caribbean Community and Pacific Islands Forum and over 20% of the Organisation of Islamic Countries.

He pointed out that litigation helped to advance rights, among Commonwealth countries came 'in a number of courtroom',..For Example, ' in Botswana;[1] Kenya;[2] Malaysia;[3] and Australia... In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Bermuda found in favour of a same-sex couple who complained about their inability jointly to adopt a child whom they were raising together. The Supreme Court of Bermuda held that the case was one of direct discrimination against unmarried couples because of their marriage status and indirect discrimination against them because of sexual orientation... Fiji (lately readmitted to the Commonwealth) adopted constitutional provisions in 2013 prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ‘sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression’.... A minor amendment was made in Samoa by the Crimes Act 2013 deleting ‘indecency between males’ from the Crimes Ordinance 1961. The same amendment in 2013 removed the previous offence of a ‘male impersonating a woman...’Rwanda where the President terminated a Bill to introduce a sodomy crime saying that it was not part of that country’s legal tradition (which had been Belgian). Similarly Mozambique adopted a new Penal Code in July 2014. This removed a previous provision criminalising same sex sexual conduct even though between consenting adults...The hard work for removal was done by the local legislature after local civil society organisations sought reform, supported by the United Nations.'

Kirby goes on to point out the culture of indifference in the Commonwealth and referred to the efforts of the EPG or Eminent Persons Groups to recommend support for a commissioner. The EPG at the Perth CHOGM  2011, found out,'Effectively, the Secretary-General’s negative opinion torpedoed the proposal for a commissioner.' When this is placed in context with addressing the political commitment to the rights of L.G.B.T individuals, he reports,

'Perhaps the most virulent opposition to the EPG recommendations on HIV/AIDS and sexuality came from The Gambia. On 9 October 2014, President Yahya Jammeh signed into law an amendment of the Criminal Code Act 2014 introducing life imprisonment for a broad and vaguely worded offence of “aggravated homosexuality”. He described homosexuality as “satanic behaviour”. According to the Human Dignity Trust website, 8 persons were arrested under the new law after November 2014, including a 17 year old boy. President Jammeh, who originally came to office following a coup d’état, claimed in January 2015, that L.G.B.T people and supportive Western nations, like the United States of America, were parts of an “evil empire”. Of one development, however, we can take satisfaction. Just prior to the 2013 CHOGM, President Jammeh announced that he was taking Gambia out of the Commonwealth. The Secretary-General, instead of taking the opportunity to express hopes for the country’s return, to the Commonwealth should have insisted, in a clear voice, that the nation’s laws were an affront to the Commonwealth Charter and to universal human rights...

He goes in his presentation, 'Not a week goes by, but reports are published concerning serious human rights violations in Commonwealth countries. These include: 
* The imposition by the State of Punjab High Court in Pakistan of the death sentence against a Christian mother of five Asia Bibi. Human Rights Watch says that the blasphemy law has long been unduly misused to target religious minorities;[4]

* The about turn of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, following an earlier promise to introduce repeal of that country’s Sedition Act, a legacy of colonial rule, adopted first to deter antagonistic protest against the Government but used now for contemporary means of control;[5] and

*The complaints in the UN Human Rights Council against the alleged refoulement by Australia of Sri Lankan refugee applicants arriving in recent years by boat. These steps were part of a legal regime to which the refugee applicants have been subjected, under successive governments, to “enhanced screening process”.[6]  '

What the presentation did was to offer insight into how countries of the commonwealth value human rights in practice and how present weak mechanism and political responses of the commonwealth has helped to perpetuate abuses. More precisely, it offers, a context into, the not so unique practice of ignoring the civil, social and political rights of citizens.    
Belize is no different in this regard, the Maya's of Belize fought for close to 30 years for customary land rights acknowledgement and used the courtroom  as a tool to hold the state accountable for its lack of recognition. It finally succeeded in 2015. The strength and effectiveness of Civil Society,it seems, in using democratic tools like, international systems at the OAS, UN or national and regional courts, seems to be the last bastion of upholding commonwealth values in practice. What is clear is that Civil Society has a clear role in advancing rights, in an environment where political leader lack knowledge about their legal responsibility to their L.G.B.T citizens. This is reflected in in the idea that that L.G.B.T issues is a Western Imposition,despite, constitutions across the commonwealth, which speaks to all citizens rights. For Belize, the education, laws, religion, political system are western concepts that have been adopted already. The laws specifically, were adopted from the British. More precisely, the constitution, does not say fundamental rights extends only to heterosexuals and as such, leaders already have a legal responsibility to protect all their citizens. Regionally, among CARICOM member states political leaders, seems to play on national values, which is self-serving that reflect, the self-interest and personal prejudice of political leaders willing to absolve their legal responsibility. So what makes leaders resist acknowledging their legal responsibilities? Is anyone guess, one can theorize, personal prejudice, never meeting anyone L.G.B.T, being in the closet themselves, self-interest in sustaining personal power, are just some assumptions.  

What is clear,is that courtroom process is just one layer in the march to equality, shadow reports in international treaty obligations, a regional court in the Caribbean and public engagement around diversity, seems to be the compliment.

In a process in 2011, U.N.D.P in collaboration with WIN Belize was able to organize a National Dialogue on Human Right where Michael Kirby appeared by video at the Radission in Belize. We influence that process and saw, the planning given life in the process.

It was clear, however, that U.N.D.P role is to provide technical assistance, as it maintains a fragile balance of diplomatic relations and supporting civil society in rights engagement in Belize. To have call our government to task, would have disturbed its diplomat standing. Furthermore, in advocacy, one realises that its about timing, strategy, human relations and politics and that getting attention for an issue can be either a cloudy or clear process. 
It is clear to me that L.G.B.T advocates domestic and international is affected by political messages and that we have a responsibility to share strategies to help transform policy norming, development interventions, mechanisms and laws into a process that is accessible, reliable, and helpful in holding national system accountable for the lack of protections that exists. More importantly, international spaces are vital, in leverage political engagements, nationally. This also applies to international spaces that can be used to advance funding targeting areas, policy priorities and development positions on a global scale. In the end, the idea that we can progress with our rights, in societies that are accustom to marginalising groups, is to ignore fundamentally that no society will just acknowledge rights of a marginalised group without opposition. 

[1] “Gaberone High Court Ruled in Favour of LGBABIBO Barred from Registration by Department of Labor & Home Affairs” 14 November 2014.
[2] Court is considering an application the National Gay & Lesbian H.R. Group to be registered as a NGA, Kenya..
[3] Court of Appeal of Malaysia, 7 November 2014, Khamis v State Government of Negeri Sembilan and Ors (Prohibition on cross-dressing held void).
[4] The Australian, 13 February 2015, 8 (“Pakistan to Defend Blasphemy Accused”).
[5] BBC News, Asia, 2 July 2013 (“Malaysia PM Najib Razak makes sedition pledge” but see “Malaysia’s creeping authoritarianism”, Wall Street Journal, 17 March 2015, 12.
[6] E. Howie, “Understanding Australia’s Opposition to the Investigation by the Human Rights Council of Sri Lanka’s War Crimes”, CHRI, Newsletter (2014) Vol. 21, no. 2, 5.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Knowing Political Structures to Advance LGBT Rights: Comparative Analysis of the UK, the CARICOM, and Belize

Posted 19th April, 2015

In my years of doing Advocacy, I have met many people with titles, like Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, UN Special Envoy for the Caribbean Dr. Edward Greene, in Belize. the Canadian High Commissioner and the list goes on. What has not taken place is an analysis of the national and international environment under which L.G.B.T issues must advance. To be clear, this blog is not about making a decision about the rights or wrongs of the past, but offers on prospective, as we seek to advance L.G.B.T concerns in Belize, in networks like CARIFLAGS and engage in international spaces. Advocacy experience teaches that we look at one issue at a time. But can we, as we are one group, in  sea of concerns that is affected by history, social marginalisation and possibly Pink-washing. Do we march ahead in our desperate attempt to get protections at any cost, our do we seek a balance. How that will balance out is anyone guess, only time will tell. The references below only offer one layer of why developing countries resist addressing L.G.B.T issues. It is not the only layer in the internationalization of rights.

According to Physician for Social Responsibility report called Body Count (see below for link) that studies the effect of the War on Terror on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Executive Summary report, March, 2015 says:

'This investigation comes to the conclusion that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.'

When one looks at British history, the case of India comes to mind, George MonBiot wrote in 2005;

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines which killed between 12 and 29 million Indians(1). These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy.

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”(2). The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.” The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. Within the labour camps, the workers were given less food than the inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94%.

The writer article adds, at, '.. least twenty such atrocities overseen and organised by the British government or British colonial settlers: they include, for example, the Tasmanian genocide, the use of collective punishment in Malaya, the bombing of villages in Oman, the dirty war in North Yemen, the evacuation of Diego Garcia.'

In a separate article, Michiko Kakutani wrote in 1998:

...'Under the reign of terror instituted by King Leopold II of Belgium (who ran the Congo Free State as his personal fief from 1885 to 1908), the population of the Congo was reduced by half -- as many as 8 million Africans (perhaps even 10 million, in Hochschild's opinion) lost their lives...' He continues

'..Marchal, the Belgian scholar, estimates that Leopold drew some 220 million francs (or $1.1 billion in today's dollars) in profits from the Congo during his lifetime. Much of that money, Hochschild suggests, went to buying Leopold's teen-age mistress, a former call girl named Caroline, expensive dresses and villas, and building ever grander monuments, museums and triumphal arches in honor of the king...'

Whether these reports are more nuance in complexity in their local political and social environments, the point is made that human rights violations have a long history, as L.G.B.T activists around the world seeks to do international work, they must all understand the context of that history, as work continues in political engagement with power structures that few understand in its complexity.

We don't have a complicated political system in Belize and among the 11 CARICOM member states that criminalised same sex activity. What we have is a challenged in understanding our power structures,rules of parliament, parties and legislative processes at the national level. While at the regional level, its about defining regional vision, common themes in policy advancement, addressing research structures at the political level to make a case for reform; improving knowledge of regional mechanism and power brokers and facilitating sustained regional action. More importantly, we are challenged to recognised the long-term end-game in the region. With all this said, CARIFLAGS offers L.G.B.T issues a regional level mechanism. The question is how do we take advantage of any mechanism?

Mechanisms, it seems, start with understanding, the political structure under which L.G.B.T citizens live. When one look at Westminister and compare political environment of Belize, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Guyana and Belize, activists seems to hold inadequate knowledge of how to engage political systems at home. More precisely, comparative analysis shows us that we have an advantage politically in the following way 1). Our systems of government is centralised 2). We need not duplicate our issues at the national level multiply times. Furthermore, our system does not have four different forms of parliament like the UK has among Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales to engage politically. Looking deeper into Scotland political structures, for example,  it seems, after the establishment of Parliament,  approving laws  must go through  the Scottish parliamentary, even if WestMinister approves. A process, which calls for civil society concern about diversity issues to duplicate human and financial resources, to ensure there is rights protection in Scotland.

Further observations revealed that the political power structure have been devolved, making law reform a decentralised process in the UK. For example, a referendum was held on 11 September 1997 to ask the Scottish people whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament and whether it should have tax-varying powers. A clear majority of voters voted yes and in 1998 The Scotland Act became law. 

The people of Scotland elects 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). MSPs represent their constituents on devolved matters in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh while, an additional, 59 MPs represents Scotland in the House of Commons at Westminster in London. Their role is to represent their constituents on reserved matters. MSPs and MPs are elected by separate general elections.

In addition, with the elections in 2011 in Scotland and the Scottish National Party, a referendum on Scottish independence was tabled to the public. The results, helped to shape efforts on 18 September 2014 to try to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament in areas such as taxation, welfare and power’s over Scottish Parliament and local government elections in Scotland.

When Wales is looked at more closely, research revealed that it has a devolved assembly which comprises 60 members, who are known as assembly members, elected for four years, under an additional membership system. 40 represent geographical constituencies and 20 elected by the plurality system while 20 represent 5 electoral regions.The assembly was created by the Wales Act of 1998 following a referendum in 1997. Its primary law-making powers were enhanced following a Yes vote in the referendum on 3 March 2011, making it possible for it to legislate without having to consult, in certain matters, with the UK parliament or Secretary of state  for Wales.

At present, the National Assembly for Wales does not have powers in areas of defence, tax or welfare benefits. In March, 2011 the voters of Wales support the referendum so the Assembly could make laws for 20 subject areas, such as agriculture, education, the environment, health, housing, local government.

When the Parliament of Northern Ireland was established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, it was intended to establish two devolved Parliaments, within the UK and lasted till 30th March, 1972 when the Act was suspended to introduced direct rule from Westminister. This ended 8th May, 2007 when parliamentary arrangements devolved to include 15 areas called transferred matters while West Minister retained control over 12 expected matters areas, like defence, constitution, international relations, currency, security, energy, international treaties, conferring honours. There is also a reference to reserve matter which has 11 areas that the Northern Ireland can legislate with consent from WestMinister.

Analysis of the UK political system revealed that UniBAM does not have four systems of parliament that it needs to address in advancing its concerns around L.G.B.T human rights, neither does St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad nor Guyana, as all have one central government. What is clear is that activist and organizations alike need not duplicate resources and political mobilisation to address national anti-sodomy or buggery laws or to address concerns about discrimination or violence legislation. What we need to understand in our countries are the political rules at the national level like 1)Who are the power brokers in each political party. 2).Who helps to lead and shape a party's manifesto. 3).When does the manifesto development occur. 4). Establish how L.G.B.T organization can help to influence the contents of the manifesto. 5). Develop intimate political engagement processes to improve politicians knowledge and response to L.G.B.T citizens and 5). Study legislative procedures and identify a political champion to act.

Beyond this, L.G.B.T organizations in the region have not advance legal capacity to 1). Analyzed constitutional frame works to identified legal gaps in national subsidiary laws, 2). Improved knowledge about the rules of national parliaments legislative processes 3). Identified, sufficiently, the power brokers who drive legislative development nationally and regionally. 4). Identified, the mechanisms that drive reform at national and regional spaces.

While litigation on Belize and Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Act is still on-going at the Caribbean Court of Justice, legal processes are on-going in Guyana (cross-dressing case) and in Jamaica ( media challenge) and Belize section 53. Litigation, is just one strategy in the fight to sustain calls to action for political acknowledgement and policy advancement. In Belize, we have complimented litigation with public education using art, pride events, ADS, conferences to amplify its public education work. What we have seen, is the the region and small countries like Belize have moved faster on the use communication plans to complement its litigation strategy.

The use of litigation is not unique among CARICOM member states, nor in Belize which leads the region with two litigation efforts at the regional and national court system. In the UK, for example, the combine efforts of Dudgeon v UK, legislation followed, the establishing of Age of Consent, Military Service and Immigration. Litigation work at the European Court of Human Rights around age of consent, was advanced by Sutherland v UK in (1996); litigation around military service which spoke to cases that violated Article 8 of the Convention – the right to a private life. The cases were Lustig-Prean and Beckett v UK (1999)[1], Smith and Grady v UK (1999)[2], Perkin and R v UK (2002) and Beck, Copp and Bazeley v UK (2002)[3]. For Darienne Flemington, immigration case,on 4 August 1994, the Home Office finally granted leave to remain in the UK . The couple, lobbied and appealed through the courts, founded the Stonewall Immigration Group – now the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group[4] – many members were deported, put in prison for false documents or false marriages.[5] The group reported that lobbying Labour while still in opposition resulted – after their election – in the “unmarried partner’s concession”. At the outset in 1997, 4 years of prior cohabitation was required to qualify, reducing to 2 years in 1999, with the concession becoming law in 2000. In November 2004, the Civil Partnership Bill was passed. Once this legislation came into use in December 2005, it ensured equal immigration rights for same sex couples. Offering, a strategy shift in L.G.B.T rights advancement.

The second shift that highlights an important policy movement event was the European Directive of 2000, in regards to employment and discrimination. The European Directive (2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000)[6] in regards to employment and discrimination spoke to religions belief, race, gender, disability, age and sexual orientation. A process, that recognised the intersectional issues of race, sexuality, gender, religion and disability, helped to advance the centralisation and prioritisation around policy and advocacy engagement in the political environment in parliament.

The policy frame work of the directive, gave life as well to 2007 legal amendments which made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation when providing them with goods or services. The 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act added a new criminal offence of ‘incitement to homophobic hatred.’ The amendments spoke to behaviour or materials which stirred up hatred towards gay people. Reproductive rights was never far behind in the advancement of Civil rights issue for L.G.B.T citizens as a 2009 law made it easier for same sex couples to both be recognised as the legal parent of their child. Push Forward 2010 and we have the Equality Act of 2010 which supersedes the regulations and sought to centralise the issues of equality under one law[7]. The Equality Act 2010 was intended to replace over 100 acts of parliament, regulations and judicial clarifications. The framework for equal rights protection in Britain can be traced back to the 1960's and 1970's and the Labour Government of Harold Wilson. Further traces of addressing equality can be found in the Representation of the People Act in 1928 – which finally gave equal voting rights to women. The legislative road began with the first Race Relations Act in 1965 which was updated in 1976 – followed by the Equal Pay Act in 1970-The Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. The efforts at reform followed similar forms of protection introduced in the United States a decade prior. Indeed these three Acts of Parliament (Pay, Sex, Race), plus a few accompanying regulations, were all you needed to know about Equality in the 1970's and for almost two more decades. With Britain becoming a member of the European Community in 1972 and which became the European Union in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the conservative government opted out of the social Chapter of the Treaty which includes references to anti-discrimination. Nevertheless, the conservative government did enact the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995. It was not until Tony Blair's "New Labour" government won the 1997 election that the UK opted in to the social provisions of EU law.

The UK had the European Convention and the 2000 European Directive, Belize has, made used of the Organization of American States General Assemblies, the Inter-American Commission, thematic hearings, the Universal Periodic Review of 2009 and 2013 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Shadow report processes to amplify political engagement nationally. The results can be seen in the PM Barrow, 2013 independence day speech, the leader of the opposition comments and extended invitations to contribute to the consultations processes for the country national report.

The third shift, in UK L.G.B.T history is that politicians have been coming out the closet in all parties which meant in practice that no party owned the the equality and diversity issued. Of note, Union representations, pointed out that there was an L.G.B.T committee in every major party and that dialogue and engagement does happen across party lines. We don't have out MP's in Belize or in any country among CARICOM member states, we have rumors only. What is interesting is that Belize is at a place where the UK was 30 years ago, where one's private business remain private, even if a person is a public secret. We don't have an L.G.B.T committee to advance political engagement within both parties and we have not successfully engagement in manifesto development between the parties that exists and we have not engage the legislative process in any significant way as yet. What I can say we have done is change the political tone in the country, but not the substance. The sky is the limit in how we push forward to extend legislative protections.

 [1] Lustig-Prean&Beckettv UK:{"appno":["32377/96"]," itemid":["001-58407"]}
[2] Smith & Grady V UK:{"itemid":["001-58408"]}
[3] Beck,Copp and Bazeley v UK:{"itemid":["001-60697"]}
[4]UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group:
[5] Immigration challenge:
[7] The Equality Act of 2010:
[6]  European Directive:

Also see:  

Scotland Act 1998:
Welsh power:
Northern Ireland:

Physician for Social Responsibility

Geroge Monbiot

Michiko Kakutani

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Trouble in the Caribbean

Posted: February 1st, 2015
Author: Tess Robinson

The Problem
With 64% of the population of the Caribbean comprising of people below 30 years of age, Caribbean society can be described as youthful and vigorous (UNDP 2012). Given the predominance of young people in Caribbean society, it stands to reason that our collective priority should be to create an enabling environment for young people, by passing policies and laws which enhance their performance and contribution to Caribbean society. Sadly, quite the opposite is true, and young people in the Caribbean remain largely powerless and voiceless.
Studies in Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Haiti (the list goes on) tell a story of truancy, poor academic achievement, crime and violence amongst our youth. The Caribbean is now faced with a growing number of young people defined as unattached. Unattached youth refers to young people who are either jobless, or who are not within the education system or other training programme. In other words, they exist outside of society. Aged between 14 and 25, these young people are unable to adequately read and write, are unskilled, and consequently are unemployable. The existence of entire communities of unattached youth right across the Caribbean is the product of decades of neglect and indifference. They are the generation which Caribbean society has both forgotten and failed. The ugliness of neglect blights the landscape; a landscape populated by urban ghettoes, gangs, drugs and guns. The terrible plight in which so many of our youth find themselves is evidence that either our priorities lie elsewhere, or that the measures and solutions aimed at engaging with and solving youth problems are not working.
The subject of unattached youth in the Caribbean represents a vast area of research, and much of the data tends to focus on the various kinds of antisocial behaviour associated with this particular group. The primary response of Caribbean states to unattached youths who commit offences has been to criminalise them as delinquent and follow this up with incarceration. Incarceration tends to be a pan Caribbean solution to the growing ranks of increasingly angry, disenfranchised, and impoverished youth. Rather than address the underlying causes to what we, in the Caribbean, have conveniently termed ‘youth delinquency’, we chose the easier option of incarceration (Singh 1997; UNDP 2012). As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. Incarceration has offered a handy way to divest ourselves of social responsibility; we wash our hands off the fallout from decades of youth neglect. Consequently the Caribbean has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. If we opened up our prisons, I think we would find that they are primarily comprised of youths, mostly from urban ghettos such as Jamaica’s Tivolli Gardens or Belize’s Southside.
Unattached Youth and the Growth of Gang Culture
With unattached youth comprising as much as 32% of the total youth population, Belize is home to one of the largest communities of unattached youth not just in the Caribbean, but in Latin America (Massari 2011). Belize is closely followed by Jamaica, where unattached youth make up 29% of the total youth population (UNDP 2012). This breaks down to over 200,000 unattached youths in Jamaica alone. Where unattached youth are concerned, Belize and Jamaica are not anomalies but reflect what is now a growing trend in the Caribbean. The numbers of unattached youth in the Caribbean bear testament to the existence of a culture of youth neglect. The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 notes that ‘involvement in crime and violence among Caribbean youth have become linked to other developmental issues’ such as ‘high levels of youth unemployment, poor educational opportunities, and feelings of voicelessness and exclusion from national and regional governance processes (UNDP 2012)’. The report also notes that the majority of Caribbean youth who fall foul of the police or justice system are the product of long standing neglect, abuse and abandonment and are, in fact, desperately in need of care and protection (UNDP 2012). These so called ‘delinquent youths’ are better described as ‘at risk youth’. Delinquency, a term used to frame the behaviour of a section of young people in the Caribbean, is fast turning into a characteristic or pathology seen as inherent to Caribbean youth as a whole. The great convenience of the term ‘delinquent’ is better appreciated when we look at Caribbean prisons, now home to entire communities of apparently ‘delinquent’ youths. Replace ‘delinquent’ with ‘at risk youth’ and suddenly the crime is open for all to see; it is not the youth who are delinquent but a society grown indifferent to the needs of its young people.
It is critical that Caribbean society, its policy makers and legislators, recognise that it is from the ranks of unattached youth that gang members arise. To understand gangs requires understanding the whole phenomenon of unattached youth. To illustrate this, we only have to search for the one thing which gangs share in common in the Caribbean. Although the structure of gangs, and the kinds of crimes with which they are associated, vary between Caribbean countries, there are consistencies. Gang members tend to come from the lowest socio-economic group and enter gangs because legitimate access to opportunities and resources (academic, social and economic) are denied them. Gangs circumvent the obstacles and barriers to economic resources through criminal activity (UNDP 2012).
Why Incarceration Is Not A Solution
Research in the US has shown that the prison system has played an important role in creating, sustaining, and facilitating gang culture. Further, evidence suggests that the rapid growth in prison incarceration rates is actually facilitating the growth and spread of gang culture, and what we are now seeing is a parallel growth between incarceration rates and the growth of gang/criminal groups.
It is becoming clear that prisons are central to gang life. If the Caribbean really wants to address the problem of gang culture then it needs to start by a thorough investigation of the prison system. Prisons have always functioned as focal points for recruiting and building gangs. Young men entering the prison system, with no previous gang affiliation, soon realize that to survive prison requires protection, and this is achieved by joining in-house prison gangs. In US prisons, as in the Caribbean, there are many options with multiple gangs being housed within a single prison. Examples of gangs which had their inception in prison are the Mexican Mafia, Neta, Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, La Nuestra Familia and the Texas Syndicate. None of these gangs had counterparts on the street (Carlie 2002).
Incarceration, a primary solution to so called delinquent behaviour amongst Caribbean youth, may well be one of the factors aiding the rise in gang culture in the Caribbean.
Why Is The Caribbean Choosing Incarceration As A Solution To What Is In Effect A Problem Of Youth Neglect?
As part of the war on drugs, the US has instituted policies in the Caribbean aimed at suppressing gang culture. Elite police corps, trained in the US to combat gangs, can now be found across the Caribbean and Latin America. In order to gain insight into our approach (in the Caribbean) to gang crime, it is important to look at the US, because methods used in crime prevention in the US, are being trialled in the Caribbean. In particular, US penitentiary culture, largely a response to the war on drugs, is touted by many as a model to be emulated by the Caribbean. Where incarceration is concerned, America leads the way, but to our shame, the Caribbean is right up there, a close second. Following the example set by the US, we have succeeded in criminalizing a whole segment of our population, primarily unattached youth, stigmatised by poverty and having few skills to trade on the job market.
We are so keen to emulate all things American, but if we knew a little bit more about what we are emulating, there would be less reason to be proud of our achievement. Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University law professor, civil rights activist and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, claims that more black American men are behind bars today or being processed within the criminal justice system (on parole or probation) than were slaves before the Civil War. Alexander shows how, in the US, racism has been restructured in such a way as to be almost invisible, mediated through a penitentiary system which stealthily removes certain people off the streets. The demographic of US prisoner populations is 50% African American, 35% Latino and 15% white. These statistics have been used by law enforcement and white citizens alike as evidence of the pathology of US African Americans and Hispanics. Backed by these statistics law enforcement can target African Americans and Hispanics, whilst white communities can find support for segregation. US prisoner demographic continues to be manipulated as evidence to support arguments which caste black and Hispanics as inherently criminal.
The truth, however, behind the over representation of African-Americans and Hispanics in US prisons is much more complex. As activists, teachers and researchers point out; there is a system of state sponsored racism at work in the US which functions to roundup and usher young black and Hispanic children into the prison system. African-American and Hispanic children are channelled into the prison system, a process referred to as the school to prison pipeline.
The Ghetto
In the US, the ghetto is an important component of the school to prison pipeline. The ghetto is a place where poverty is concentrated, where opportunities are few and consequently, where crime is rife. Ghetto communities are marred by social and economic inequalities that are traceable to events in the in the early 1900s, notably laws and policies designed and enforced by federal and state governments to segregate blacks from whites. Seitles notes that the ‘emergence of the black ghetto did not happen by chance, but was the result of deliberate housing policies of the federal, state, and local government and the intentional actions of individual American citizens. As a result, the creation of the urban ghetto has had a lasting impact on America. The consequences include: a lack of capital in inner city communities, segregated minority neighbourhoods, and minority families unable to find affordable housing in the suburbs due to government sponsored racism (Seitles 1996)’.
The social conditions and the mind-set which gave rise to the ghetto in the 1900s, can be traced back to the American Civil War. In the American South, following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, laws were enacted which allowed whites to regain control over freed slaves so as to ensure the continuation of cheap labour. These laws, first the Black Codes and then the Jim Crow Laws (1880s-1960s), gave white communities vigilante status, and encouraged individual citizens to actively police and keep blacks under constant surveillance. These laws functioned as a code of conduct by which blacks had to abide when in the presence of, or in dealings with, whites. The number and intricacy of these laws meant that a black person was always a hairs breadth away from an infraction. Therefore a black person not only risked prison but also lynching for such small infractions as looking directly into the eyes of a white person or not showing enough deference to a white person in social exchanges (Rudd, Hanes and Hermsen 2007). Prison was a place where African Americans were directed to.
Implications for the Caribbean
As in the US, ghettos are also common to the Caribbean. The similarity is more than just coincidental. Caribbean ghetto communities are the results of decades of state sponsored discrimination. This discrimination is directly linked to structural racism which still persists in the Caribbean region in the form of residue infrastructures originally set up by colonial powers to govern the colonies, and which functioned to maintain the status quo. These governing bodies, now outdated, continue to structure the life of people in the Caribbean. The inability of Caribbean nations to develop new governance structures that reflect the changed circumstances of post-colonial life has brought criticism by researchers and NGOs. For instance it has been noted that Caribbean police forces are still functioning as colonial forces (UNDP 2012). Under colonial rule, the police force functioned to maintain the power, prerogatives and security of the colonial overseers who formed a politically and socially elite substratum. This could only be achieved by ensuring that the populace did not claim their equal rights to protection and security. The police force actively mediated for, as well as enforced the prerogatives of, the colonial rulers. Following independence, the colonial elite were replaced by a new home-grown political elite, who very quickly took on the same power relationships with the populace that had defined the colonial overlords. In other words, colonial masters were replaced by local politicos, and the structures which maintained the absolute power of the colonial elite continued to serve a new local elite. These home-grown elite, because they were and still are on the receiving end of an unfair balance of power, see little reason to change the structures inherited from colonial times even though those structures never have and never will give representation to, or serve the needs of, Caribbean peoples. The Caribbean Human Development Report (2012) suggests that ‘post-colonial nations striving for full democracy, economic development, social stability and citizen security must find ways to evolve the role of security personnel into one whereby the rights of all people are protected and defended. This means that the security agency must transition from a state security-oriented force to a citizen-oriented force. This type of force should include professional managers, a personnel system that makes the force representative of the population it has sworn to serve and a standardized method so that citizens can share their grievances with police, and it must include officers who see their first duty as loyalty to their countrymen and the rule of law, not the state or its political leaders (UNDP 2012).’
Discrimination, mediated through institutions originally set up to serve colonial prerogatives, now has as its target Caribbean youth. Rather than resolve to look at the processes by which our youth have become pathologized as delinquent, we augment an already discriminatory system with further suppressive and punitive measures emanating from the US, as part of its war on drugs strategy.
Is it any wonder that Caribbean youth have appropriated black American ghetto identity with all its cultural forms, including rap music and gang fraternity? Rather than blame Caribbean youth for departing from Caribbean cultural norms, and for adopting imported black American identities, we need to start reading this as both an act of protest and a position of solidarity with an equally disenfranchised and much abused sector of society.
Alexander, Michelle 2010 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press: New York.
Carlie, Michael K. 2002 Into the Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs.
Massari, R 2011 La juventud en los mercados laborales de América Latina y el Caribe. Draft Paper
Peirce, Jennifer and Alexandre Veyrat-Pontet 2013 Citizen Security in Belize Inter-American Development Bank.
Rudd, Kelly, Richard Hanes and Sarah Hermsen 2007 ‘Racial Segregation in the American South: Jim Crow Laws.’ Prejudice in the Modern World Reference Library. Vol. 2. 333-357. UXL:Detroit.
Seitles, Marc 1996 ‘The Perpetuation of Residential Racial Segregation in America: Historical Discrimination, Modern Forms of Exclusion, and Inclusionary Remedies.’ Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law.
Singh, W. 1997 Alternatives to Custody in the Caribbean: The Handling of Children Who Come into Conflict with the Law
UNDP 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 – Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security. New York.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Deconstructing a System of Oppression in Belize and the Caribbean

Posted 4th November, 2014

As a presenter at  the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex Association World Conference in Mexico City in October. It was my hope that I could share our experience on L.G.B.T activism in Belize. Knowledge transfer, it seems is not static, as I learned to appreciate how activism have given life to the term,"Deconstructing a system of Oppression." Whether in Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran or Belize we have all sought to assert and defend our rights, freedoms and dignity, in creative ways. When compared to efforts in the Caribbean, the death sentence that hangs in five countries in the world does not hang over activists heads. In this blog, we will look at how our response to deconstructing system of oppression have evolved organically at the national and regional levels.

In over three decades of independence, Belize has not needed to address sexual orientation or gender identity issues. UniBAM mission of using a rights-base approach to reduce stigma and discrimination was magnified when it agreed to support the role of claimant in the constitutional case around section 53 of the criminal code, Belize's sodomy law. The case became 668 of 2010.

Looking back, we did not see that the strategy of litigation as an effort to deconstruct a system of oppression and that it would amplify, the gaping holes in our rights protection and enforcement mechanisms. We did not know how, it was a means to an end that would be transformational. We discovered very quickly, however, how, our opponents would defend the current system of oppression, driven by ideology. We saw the media play its part with a non-scientific polls trying the shape the narrative of public attitude and playing the sovereignty card that calls US support for L.G.B.T rights as a " war" on poor countries.

Advancing L.G.B.T Human Right through litigation was further met with threats, character assassination, physical assault, rallies, demands to remove the H.F.L.E teachers manual,blacklisting of the organization by the Catholic school system to do health and rights education work in in March 2013 and constitutional marches as well. A traditional strategy of institutional isolation, knowledge stigmatization and intimidation through mass mobilisation. In addition threats, but the lesson, it seems, is that rights advancement does not come without action that tries to maintain the social status quo of invisibility. It does not come without personal sacrifice and insecurity and one learns that fear, must inform, but not dictation how we live our lives. The national narrative has evolved, however, like never before.

One of the crucial things one learns about sustaining a system of oppression, is controlling information using half-truths with a goal to make people believe or trust the information given. The (HFLE)-Health and Family Life Education teachers Manual is an example. Scott Stirm on 13th September, 2012 was quoted as saying the following:

“It was obvious to us, you could see a homosexual agenda that was in the manual but the general feel and overtone of the whole manual was kind of like stepping on the gas concerning sexual activity and that flies right in the face of some of the policies of the Ministry of Health and some of the others that are saying to discourage sexual activity among young people, particularly adolescents or pre-adolescents and yet here this is geared for standards four, five and six, ages nine to twelve and it’s asking questions like: how long should a couple date before having sex?  If a guy pays for the date is he entitled to, you know, kissing, touching, having sex?  This is to our nine and ten year olds right, and so those kinds of things just immediately started to jump out, as well as at the beginning of the manual it’s very strongly the emphasis that they are talking.  They are intentionally presenting values that they know are going to fly right in the face of the parents of these children.”

Stirm Spoke of the homosexual agenda, but failed to inform the people of the fundamentalist agenda of propagandizing, using legitimate spaces like business, education etc. Proof of that agenda comes from the Belize Prayer Network which clearly speaks of control of a society using the seven pillars as referenced in this snapshot below. Stirm, through Belize Action, coalition paved the way to get the Anglican and Catholic Churches to signed up against the section 53 challenge and  supported a statement sent to the Secretary General of CariCOM that led to the deferment of regional leaders endorsing a road-map on reducing stigma and discrimination. Belize Action also worked on misrepresenting our presence at the OAS in March, 2014 where a circular spoke of " filing a complaints!" and additional statements that our concerns expressed was,"a pack of lies straight from the pits of hell!"


At the regional level, we saw Advocates International through its contacts, organize regional meeting with Lawyers across the Caribean.A meeting held in Jamaica in 2010 highlighted how American groups have sought to push the American Christian right wing agenda. We know that a meeting was held between November 5-7, 2010 with 50 lawyers from the Caribbean region whose agenda was to speak about the “Truth” of Human Rights from Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica and other English speaking territories that was hosted by Advocates Caribbean in association with the Lawyers Christian fellowship of Jamaica at Knutsford Courts Hotel. Among the international speakers were Pierro Tozzi, senior counsel for Global Alliance Defense Fund; Justice, Alice Soo Hon, judge of the court of Appeals for Trinidad and Tobago and attorney at law Carla Soverall of Trinidad and Tobago who spoke on 'The Truth Behind Discrimination Law: The Constitution and Equal Opportunity Legislation'. Local Jamaican speakers spoke of The Truth Behind Abortion', with presenters Hyacinth Griffith, Jamaican attorney-at-law; Roma Paul, attorney-at-law of Trinidad and Tobago and local advocates of pro-life Dr Wayne West and wife Dr Doreen Brady-West. Dr Brady-West and Dr West have been advocates of the anti-abortion stance, working together with Shirley Richards and members of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship of Jamaica to lobby Government on the bill now before the Houses of Parliament for debate and ratification.

These meeting follows previous efforts in Jamaica, like one that happened on 10th December, 2011. Fellow activists reported that Pierro Tozzi was present at a human rights meeting at the University of the West Indies. Pierro was also present for a Belize Action meeting sharing his knowledge abut the ‘True Human Rights.”

At the seven hour long meeting, fellow activists Maurice Tomlinson wrote his experience below:
…Among the persons who sacrificed an entire Saturday to be in attendance at this event (which ran from 8:30 a.m. to well after its stated end of 2:30) were two sitting judges of Jamaica’s Supreme Court, the country's Attorney General (who brought greetings on behalf of the Justice Minister), the Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission (which regulates content distributed via the electronic media), Jamaica's Chief Parliamentary Counsel (who is responsible for drafting the country’s laws), the Legal Counsel to all Parliamentarians, the Director of the Norman Law School Legal Aid Clinic (which is responsible for training all lawyers in Jamaica) and the Executive Director of the Airports Authority of Jamaica. Special mention was made of the presence of a Jamaican couple now residing in Britain who were denied the right to foster children there because they objected to homosexuality.   

The stated aims of the symposium were to:
1) Re-examine the role of law in society;
2) Increase public awareness of the potential danger that exists if human rights are freed from their traditional moral foundations;
3) Examine the subversive effect of the “fallacies” of popular human rights rhetoric on the democracy and
4) Examine major human rights treaties.

These meeting follows previous efforts in Jamaica, like one that happened on 10th December, 2011. Fellow activists reported that Pierro Tozzi was present at a human rights meeting at the University of the West Indies. Pierro was also present for a Belize Action meeting sharing his knowledge of ‘True Human Rights.” In Addition, he has been to meetings in the Caribbean on November 5-7, 2010 with 50 Caribbean lawyers again September 21-23, 2012. The Accra Beach Hotel in Christ Church, Barbados as a speaker.

This is important, as US right wing groups attack not only the gatekeepers of rights, but the social and cultural issues related to gender and sexuality. Way Out Ministries have sought to promote Reparative Therapy as a solution to cure homosexuals. They have offices in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. This is despite, Exodus International denouncing the approach as not working.
The work of Right wing groups continued in 2013 with World Congress for Families meeting in Port of Spain as they did their thing. We saw the presence of the Elpis Centre,   Rebekah Ali-Gouveia speak at the August 2013 event in Port of Spain, along with many other speaks of dominionists ideology mindset. In addition, Sarah Flood Beaubrun of St. Lucia, former Health Minister, former Minister of Home Affair and Gender Relations, and UN Deputy Permanent Representative. We saw Justice Alice So Hon as well  as seen below. A familiar face, Pierro Tozzi, a US lawyer, has been working the Caribbean for quite awhile now. He has shown up in Belize, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Deconstructing oppression, it seems is a process, it is opportunistic in nature and must be sustain with a clear vision. The United Belize Advocacy work is about policy engagement and research at the national, hemispheric, regional and Global levels. When the state refused to engaged us locally, we simply wrote a shadow report for the Universal Periodic Review in 2009 and got a statement globally, to frame our narrative. When we needed to leverage platform issues, we joined WIN Belize and became a Commissioner of the National AIDS Commission. When we had the constitutional marches in 2013 against UniBAM and the Gender policy, we simply supported the launched of the Southern Poverty Law Center Report, Dangerous Liaisons. When the state did not take us seriously, we engaged the OAS General Assembly in 2008 to 2014 and worked as part of the LAC coalition to advance sexual orientation and gender identity resolutions which created systems of support, like the L.G.B.T Unit, thematic hearing, calls for research on legislation and member states to address adequate protections in policies and laws base on sexual orientation and gender identity. We wrote again shadow reports in 2013 for the Universal Periodic Review and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.The result, was direct engagement with the state. When we needed a Global Voice, we joined the Sexual Rights Initiative, Global Rights and Heartland Alliance. 

Regionally,we re-joined CARIFLAGS in 2014 after a couple of years of laps and continued our approach to leveraging spaces in international relationships. When we wanted regional support on Professor Bain, the regional relationships were leveraged to get the UWI to respond to our concerns and 35 organizations joined in support.  It was the first time that Civil Society collectively showed their political muscle in the region. Now, its about harnessing that energy again. At the regional level, our Jamaican allies, filed, constitutional challenges on against their buggery law locally,another on right to information against the media and another case at the OAS. Furthermore, a case was filed against Belize and Trinidad Immigration law to advance rights concerns at the regional level. While we are not there yet at dismantling our system of oppression, we certainly are on the right track in the use of section 53  of the criminal code  and other litigation, as tools to try to deconstruct systems of oppression.

In addition, we have used research to build a knowledge infrastructure, that is both international and local. For example,we have the only L.G..B.T legal Review that looks at constitutional protections and gaps in subsidiary laws among CARICOM member states and have seen the political tone changed nationally as  a result of eight years of Advocacy.

In an interview done May 13th, 2011 the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow made the comment about our litigation and it’s consequence in the following way:

one of the things that we have to be grateful for in this country is the culture wars we see in the United States have not been imported into Belize Well obviously this is the start of exactly such a phenomenon,...

Until the Prime Minister Of Belize said in his response to the Gender Policy, which came up on May 30th, 2013. The Belize Prime Minister of Dean Barrow is noted as saying, “There can be no discrimination in terms of employment opportunities, in terms of access to health care, in terms of the services that the society offers. This administration certainly is not concerned about what happens in the bedrooms of the employees of the government, there are constitutional protections for public officers, properly appointed, and even with respect to open vote workers there can never be any kind of interference, any kind of surveillance, any kind of concern about the sexual orientation of the employees of government"

While the Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca said prior on 29th May, 2013, “I am the leader of a political party that embraces all Belizeans. I have Belizeans in my party who are homosexuals and we embrace all Belizeans........that will make for a stronger and vibrant party that is reflective of Belize and our society..."

 Later on Independence day, the Prime Minister Of Belize added in his Independence Day Speech in 2013, the following, "...Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law."

What this indicated to us, was a change in the political tone in Belize, but the substance remains a challenge. What this indicated was that The United Belize Advocacy Movement work in litigation, community mobilisation and political engagement  had challenged the system to reflect on protection-gaps that are a concern specifically for L.G.B.T Citizenry, but as a whole as well. While we are far from advancing the work of societal acknowledgement and broader protection. The work we have done so far, has enabled us to refine our work better, not only in Belize, but in our response among CARICOM member states.Time will tell, how far we get in addressing violence and discrimination. At the moment, its one hell of a ride, as we struggle to refine our approach to deconstruct hundreds of years of oppression.

PM 2013 Independence Day Address


PM comments on the Gender Policy 2013 

Leader of the Opposition Speaking on Gender Policy and inclusion

Blacklisting of UniBAM

HFLE Blacklisting

Elpis Centre 

Speakers for the WCF meeting in Port of Spain 

AIDS Free World Comments on right wing in Jamaica

Sarah Flood Beaubrun CARIFAM  

Way Out Ministries