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Jamaica’s anti-buggery laws may be facing their biggest legal challenge yet

Jamaica’s anti-buggery laws may be facing their biggest legal challenge yet

Pride-goers enjoying the beach at Montego Bay Pride in Jamaica.

Jamaica’s anti-buggery laws might be about to face their biggest legal challenge yet.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced it would review whether it could make a case to challenge Jamaica’s anti-buggery laws.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States. It’s mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

Like many former British colonies, Jamaica still criminalizes consensual same-sex activity between men. But advocates argue that the ‘abominable crime of buggery’ and acts of ‘gross indecency’ laws fuel violence against the LGBTI community.

Two members of Jamaica’s LGBTI community have put themselves forward as petitioners in the case. The first is gay man Gareth Henry and the second is lesbian Simone Edwards. Both claim they fled Jamaica because of those laws. 

In its report setting out the decision, the Inter-American Commission acknowledged the victims’ concerns about  ‘violence and discrimination against LGBTI people and the impact of buggery laws’.

‘If proved, the alleged facts relating to threats to life, personal integrity, interference with private and family life, obstacles to the right of residence and movement, unequal treatment, lack of access to justice and judicial protection, and interference in access to health care, could establish possible violations of (…) the American Convention [on Human Rights],’ the report read.

Escaping violence

Henry left Jamaica to escape to Canada 10 years because he grew tired of police brutality and homophobic gang attacks.

I was forced to flee Jamaica in fear of my life simply because of who I choose to love. I am convinced that putting LGBT people in Jamaica outside the protection of the law leaves us vulnerable to violence and harassment,’ he said.

It took the Inter-American Commission six years to decide to investigate Jamaica’s homophobic laws. The two victims filed their complaints six years ago and now the Commissioners will consider the substance of the legal arguments and make a finding on whether and how Jamaica’s maintenance of these laws violates rights under the American Convention on Human Rights – which Jamaica has ratified – and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. Based on the outcome of the investigation it will the make recommendations to the Jamaican government.

‘I want to go home without fear of attack’

Edwards welcomed the move and hopes it makes a difference.

She fled Jamaica in 2008 after two men in a homophobic gang fired shots at her house. They also tried to kill her two brothers, one of whom is gay. Edwards was granted asylum in the Netherlands after the police failed to protect her or her family.

‘I believe that the gang members who almost killed me and my brothers felt emboldened to do so by the very existence of these homophobic laws,’ she said.

‘Despite this, it’s a real boost to see that the Commission is taking our complaint seriously. It gives me hope that one day these outdated laws will be done away with, and I’ll be able to return to my homeland without fear of attack.’

The Inter-American Commission’s decision comes about a month after the Supreme Court of India ruled to repeal its anti-gay sex laws in a landmark decision. Advocates are hopeful other former European colonial countries will follow in India’s footsteps.