Sunday, June 3, 2012

LGBTI Carribean Success, Drama and lesson at OAS

June 3rd, 2012

On Saturday June 02, 2012  at the XLII General Assembly of the Organization of American States(OAS) in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the LGBTI coalition of Latin American and the Caribbean went to the OAS meeting on Soverignty, Food and Security as a collective sharing the space and presenting one statement on LGBTI issues to the ambassadors for Latin America and the Caribbean. Especially important was the effort of  the Caribbean LGBTI delegates Teneke Sunpter -Suriname, Caleb Orozco-Belize, Maurice  Tomlinson-Jamaica, Kareem Griffith -Trinidad & Tobago and Namela Rowe -Guyana to increase visibility of the Caribbean in the informal dialogue the OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and The presentation of statement of concerns to the ambassadors.

 Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica spoke on behalf of the English speaking Caribbean and pointed out that for the past five years we have been participating in the OAS General Assembly that many resolutions have been passed, yet LGBTI people in the English speaking Caribbean continue to be discriminated against and marginalized. He gave the examples of Trinadad &Tobago and Belize which have laws that refuse homosexuals entry into the country, while in Guyana one can be imprisoned for life for same sex adult intimacy and in Jamaica violence and murder continue unabated against LGBT people. Tomlinson urged the Secretary General to convene an urgent meeting with Caribbean leaders and civil society in an effort to get the Caribbean countries to comply with the OAS resolutions, but his response was devoid of any meaningful feedback.

Teneke Sunpter, LGBTI activists from Suriname, contributed and reminded the Secretary General that there were 11 states in the Caribbean which criminalises same sex intimacy to which the Secretary General replied that he did not know the issue was “ so bad.” He then said that he would seek to address the issue in an action plan. The Suriname representative in her coat.

In the afternoon, social actors came together to negotiate who would speak.  An attempt was made by Caribbean LGBTI to try and negotiate a space for the Caribbean, after previous discussions that the Sexual and Reproductive Rights group had expressed a willingness to resign their space to the Caribbean  at the Hotel Plaza Ceaser on May 30th, 2012. Base on this discussion, lead by Jamaica, an effort was made that tried to  create a space for the Caribbean. However, at the informal dialogue with Secretary General Insulza, groups began to realize that social actors were few and as such, the position was rescinded about the resignation of spaces.  Still, a table was created for the Caribbean and an effort was done, laying the argument that the Caribbean 15 voting block would continue to be a barrier to progressive human rights efforts and the reason we were trying to build visibility. This centered around  Caribbean regional leaders value about the OAS and links to the absence of Caribbean Civil Society. The message, it seem was lost in translation. The effort, led to an understanding that the Caribbean region could not call for a space when it was very visible in the LGBTI movement for the pass 5 years at the OAS. We discover as well that because the effort did not have a clear strategy that it was creating the perception that we were splitting off from the Latin American Coalition, which was never the intent. In the end, we gave up the idea for a Caribbean space, but continued to strategies on increasing our visibility. During the negotiations, we were able to submit two paragraphs to the LAC LGBTI coalition and  I worked on clarifying the language that we had submitted the previous night to strengthen our presence in the statement.  We worked as well on bulleted points for the Caribbean called, “ Caribbean Prejudice Violates LGBTI Rights,” during the negotiations as well. The points called for Caribbean leaders to condemn all forms of rights violations against LGBTI persons and immediate action to be taken to end all forms of LGBTI discrimination.

It was agreed at the end of negotiations that five civil society actors would address Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Indigenous, LGBTI, Food and Security, and Gender to the foreign ambassadors for June 3rd, 2012. The whole process had the Caribbean reflecting about the intersectionality of issues and reevaluating strategies for the next Assembly to strengthen the work. As it was recognize that Caribbean countries are a potential barrier to progressive Human Rights action around LGBTI as well as Sexual and Reproductive Rights; recognizing the Inter-American Court and in signing various instruments.  This concern was extended in a conversation with Jorge Sanin of the OAS.

On June 3rd,LGBTI activists from the Caribbean stepped up their advocacy and stood while an LGBTI Coalition statement was read aloud that said,

"Indifference, omission and complicity by many states in cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTI community…limit the enjoyment of the basic needs of our communities. This situation is even more serious in the case of the legislation of 11 Anglophone Caribbean countries. We are here with our colleagues from Belize, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, countries that criminalize same sex conducts between consenting adults. In fact, the lack of political will of the Anglophone Caribbean member states denies human rights and, as a consequence, represents a limit to job opportunities and for decision-making on public policies related to HIV, as well as increase the number of homeless youth.”

The LGBTTI coalition from the Caribbean was on a roll as members, specifically, our Suriname partner who proceeded to hold up a copy of the Draft Convention on Sexual and Reproductive Rights for the Foreign Ambassadors to see. The Caribbean activists, however, were the only one to have stood up silently to bring visibility to the issues of LGBTTI human rights in the Caribbean. The action, we believe also, highlighted that LGBTI persons are willing to expose their experience of discrimination and violence with the OAS system.

I did talk to the first secretary, Kendall Belisle, but was disappointed not to see the ambassador, Nestor Vasquez. I will admit that he was more accessible in San Salvador General Assembly in 2011 and very helpful in providing insight into the OAS process. Beyond this, what could not be over looked was the absence of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda. What could not be overlooked as well, is the ambassador and Permanent Representative to the OAS Jacinth L. Henry-Martin use of the word” culpable” and the Trinidad and Tobago response.

Next , we await news of the approval of the 5th resolution on Human Rights Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The present resolution called for the following:

To encourage member states to consider, within the parameters of the legal institutions of their domestic systems, adopting public policies against discrimination by reason of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 To condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against persons by reason of their sexual orientation and gender identity; and to urge states to strengthen their national institutions with a view to preventing and investigating these acts and violations and ensuring due judicial protection for victims on an equal footing and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

To request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to pay particular attention to its work     plan titled “Rights of LGBTI People” and, in keeping with its established practice, to prepare a hemispheric study on the subject; and to urge member states to support the efforts of the Commission in this area.

To request the IACHR to prepare a study on legislation and provisions in force in the OAS member states restricting the human rights of individuals by reason of their sexual orientation or gender identity and to prepare, based on that study, guidelines aimed at promoting the decriminalization of homosexuality.

To urge the member states that have not yet done so to consider signing, ratifying, or acceding to, as the case may be, the inter-American human rights instruments.

Gone are the bad days, of the Caribbean resisting the resolutions, but aware of the Caribbean potential to kill any additional progressive rights instrument like the Draft Convention on Racism and the protocol on intolerance. Originally, this was one document, until Antigua and Barbuda took an interest in the process.What has been more interesting is th absents of the four States from Caribbean,

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