AIDS-Free World adds offensive Belize Immigration Law to the chopping block
December 19, 2012: Only two countries in the Western Hemisphere, Belize and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, arbitrarily ban the entry of homosexuals as a “prohibited class”. AIDS-Free World is working to bring that to an end.
As Legal Advisor for Marginalized Groups at AIDS-Free World, Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican LGBT and HIV activist, travels to all parts of the Caribbean. He has made presentations about the devastating impact of homophobia on the HIV response before UN conferences, government ministers, senior judicial officers, and national AIDS councils across the region. He has also conducted human rights documentation and advocacy training with groups engaged in the Caribbean HIV and AIDS response. Mr. Tomlinson is gay, and as such he is legally barred from entering Belize and Trinidad.
The United Belize Advocacy Movement, Belize’s only civil society group working exclusively to promote the health and human rights of LGBT/MSM citizens, has invited Mr. Tomlinson to conduct training and sensitization sessions in Belize City on 14th-16th January 2013. The aim of the sessions is to ensure greater protection for the rights of individuals infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, which is in line with the human rights approach to combatting HIV promoted by UNAIDS. Despite the invaluable contribution he can make to Belize’s HIV response, as an attorney-at-law, Mr. Tomlinson is unwilling to break the law to conduct these sessions. He also considers the ban on his entry into Belize to be a violation of his right to freedom of movement within the Caribbean Community. He has therefore been obliged to refuse the invitation and with the support of AIDS-Free World, he has initiated a challenge to Belize’s Immigration Act before the highest court in the region, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Earlier this month, Mr. Tomlinson was invited to present at a UN meeting in Trinidad and had to turn that invitation down as well. He subsequently initiated a challenge to the Trinidadian immigration law before the CCJ.
Repealing that law, and section 5 of the Belize Immigration Act, will also liberate other marginalized
groups. Among the other classes of persons prohibited from entering Belize are the mentally challenged (described as “any idiot or any person who is insane or mentally deficient…”) and the physically disabled (described as “deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind,…”). It is noteworthy that in 2011, Belize signed and quickly ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In accordance with the rules of the CCJ, Mr. Tomlinson has written to his government, Jamaica, asking that it insist that the government of Belize remove this unreasonable travel restriction. Alternatively, Mr. Tomlinson wants the Jamaican government to bring the matter before the CCJ on the grounds that Belize’s immigration act breaches the provisions for free movement of persons under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. If the government of Jamaica fails or refuses to bring the matter before the CCJ, Mr. Tomlinson intends to try and do so himself.
The offensive and overbroad prohibitions in section 5 of the Belize Immigration Act must be repealed in order to combat the crushing stigma and discrimination against vulnerable populations that still pervades most of the Caribbean, restricts the fight against HIV, and contributes to the fact that the region has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world after sub-Saharan Africa.