November 18, 2019 at 6:22 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
OAS commission holds hearing on Jamaica sodomy law challenge
A Jamaican and Pride flag fly on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Oct. 15, 2018, during the city’s Pride celebration. Jamaica is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson’s Facebook page)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Nov. 11 held a hearing that focused on challenges to Jamaica’s sodomy law.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network Senior Policy Analyst Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World Legal and Research Advisor Sarah Bosha and Samir Varma of the Thompson Hine LLP law firm spoke on behalf of two gay Jamaicans who are challenging the country’s colonial-era statute that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A press release about the hearing notes the petitioners in the case, which was filed with the commission in 2011, remain anonymous because of “concern for their safety.” Representatives of the Jamaican government did not attend the hearing.

“The root cause of our ongoing abuse and neglect by the Jamaican state as this commission has repeatedly highlighted is the presence of (an) anti-sodomy law that makes the petitioners, me and all other LGBT Jamaicans, at least in the minds of the Jamaican government and the majority of Jamaicans, unapprehended criminals with few, if any, human rights,” said Tomlinson during the hearing.

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Javed Jaghai in 2013 challenged Jamaica’s sodomy law in the country’s Supreme Court, but he later withdrew his lawsuit after he and members of his family received death threats. Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican man who represented Jaghai, in 2015 filed his own lawsuit against the statute.

Tomlinson told the commission the Jamaican government earlier this month once again asked for another delay in his case.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said. “This commission must act to give LGBT Jamaicans justice, and I pray that you will not fail us.”

The hearing took place against the backdrop of other challenges to sodomy laws in English-speaking Caribbean countries.

Gay men in Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in July filed lawsuits against their respective countries’ sodomy laws.

Alexa Hoffman, a transgender activist in Barbados, along with a gay man and a lesbian woman in 2018 brought a challenge to their country’s sodomy law to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a regional LGBTQ advocacy group, on Nov. 1 said it plans to challenge sodomy laws in Barbados and four other Caribbean countries — St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St. Lucia — by the end of the year.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has appealed a 2018 ruling that declared the country’s sodomy law unconstitutional. An appeal of the Belize Supreme Court’s 2016 decision that struck down the Central American nation’s sodomy law is pending.

The Organization of American States, which is based in D.C., created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1959 as a way to promote human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. The commission works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights.

The court in 2018 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and trans rights. Jamaica is among the OAS member states that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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