Is the Jamaican Government serious about protecting the rights of all its citizens? A recent vote in the United Nations certainly does not reflect this.
On December 19, a second attempt was made to block the United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) at the 71st Plenary Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Burkina Faso introduced a resolution amendment to defer the work of the Independent Expert. 77 countries (including Jamaica) voted in favor of the resolution; 84 voted against; 16 (including several Caribbean countries) abstained. So, the resolution failed.
For your interest and information, here is the voting record of Caribbean nations on this resolution. We might conclude the Caribbean region is divided on this issue. Our Central and Latin American neighbors voted unanimously against it.
For: Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Against: Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts & Nevis
Abstained: Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago
Suriname and Cuba did not vote.
The Independent Expert is Professor Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. The original UN Human Rights Council resolution to establish such an Expert for the first time was adopted on June 30, 2016. In November a group of African states tabled a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly 3rd Committee in New York that threatened to undermine the creation of this mandate.
Please find below a press release from the ILGA – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Founded in 1978, it is a world federation of national and local organizations dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. It is an umbrella organization of more than 1,100 member organizations in six different regions: Pan Africa ILGA, ILGA-Asia, ILGA-Europe, ILGA-LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean), ILGA North America and ILGA-Oceania (Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and Pacific Islands). The ILGA enjoys consultative status at the UN Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC), publishes an annual world report and a map on legislation criminalizing or protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation or recognizing their relationships.
Here are a few interesting comments by country representatives on December 19 (all of these voted against):
- “The mandate does not seek to create new standards, but to address existing violations” (Brazil)
- “The resolution against the Independent Expert will undermine the authority of the UN Human Rights Council” (United States)
- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called the resolution “unsubstantiated, unjustified, and unprecedented”
- “The mandate is only about equal protection from violence and discrimination, a core principle of the UN” (Slovakia)
- “Human rights apply to each and every individual” (Netherlands)
- “The EU is concerned by a fresh attempt to re-open the decision of the Human Rights Council” (European Union)
The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society and other local fundamentalist groups have been heavily lobbying the Jamaican Government to vote in favor of the resolution to set the Independent Expert’s work on one side. One might deduce that the Government listened, and agreed. Despite the failure of the vote, one would expect these groups to fight on, as they have every right to do. The result of their efforts is that, on behalf of its citizens, Jamaica happily signed up to undermine the UN’s human rights mandate. We are in the company of countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Syria and North Korea – all of whom have a marvelous record on human rights, don’t they!
It remains, then for nations – and citizens, and NGOs – to throw their full weight behind the Independent Expert – who began his work on November 1, and will continue.
Anyway, here is the ILGA press release:
December 19, 2016
Yet another attempt to block the United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) has been halted today at the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly plenary in New York City.
In a tight vote, States refused to support an attempt to “defer consideration of and action on” the new expert position- a move that had targeted the SOGI Independent Expert by preposterously claiming that there would be no legal basis for it.
“ILGA is delighted that the mandate has once again been safeguarded,” said ILGA’s co-Secretaries General Helen Kennedy and Ruth Baldacchino. “Once more, States have reaffirmed the importance of monitoring human rights violations against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, a crucial leap towards a world where all are treated free and equal.”
The Independent Expert mandate was created last June by the UN Human Rights Council, and in September Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn was appointed for the role. An international law professor and a human rights expert, Muntarbhorn has already assumed office and commenced work as of 1st November 2016.
However, attempts to block his work began almost immediately. In November, a group of African States tabled a resolution at the Third Committee to “allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis” of the mandate. Human rights defenders quickly mobilized to voice their concerns with a joint statement endorsed by almost 900 organizations from 157 countries around the world, leading the hostile initiative to a failure. Only a few weeks after States had chosen to safeguard the Independent Expert, this further attempt was tabled at the General Assembly plenary – again, to no extent.
“We commend what human rights defenders from all over the world were able to do by highlighting the need for states to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council,” explains André du Plessis, UN Programme and Advocacy Manager at ILGA. “This outcome is important not only because it shows that States believe that violence and discrimination faced by LGBT persons around the world deserve attention, but also because it confirms the authority of the UN Human Rights Council, the leading human rights body in the world. Never before had a country or group of countries attempted to challenge a special procedures mandate by the Human Rights Council with a fully functioning mandate holder. If the General Assembly would have reopened the Council’s annual report to block or defer resolutions with a selective approach, it would have fundamentally undermined the authority granted to the Council by the General Assembly, setting a dangerous precedent for the whole human rights framework.”
Today’s vote has clearly shown that a majority of States support the mandate. While all 193 countries in the UN General Assembly had the right to vote, only 177 exercised their vote: 77 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 84 voted against it, and 16 countries abstained from voting.
“The Independent Expert has already begun his important work,” comment Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy. “We recently had the pleasure to host him as a keynote speaker at the ILGA World Conference, an event that gathered more than 700 LGBTI human rights defenders and allies from 101 different countries, and we have personally witnessed his commitment to bring forward a message of equality: all we ask for is that this mandate be safeguarded and Prof. Muntarbhorn is left to continue his work without worrying that his mandate may be under attack.”
The SOGI Independent Expert is tasked with assessing the implementation of existing international human rights law in this area, raising awareness of violence and discrimination suffered by LGBT persons, engaging in dialogue and cooperating with States to implement measures, and providing advice and technical assistance where needed.
“As we had the pleasure to witness during our World Conference, we are confident that the SOGI Independent Expert will work to build bridges, rather than to widen the gaps between our communities and those who think that we are seeking ‘special rights’,” commented Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director at ILGA. “Now more than ever, our communities need allies to ensure that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, is a reality and not only a dream.” End
My suggestion to the Jamaican Government is this: You might like to refresh yourselves on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed on December 10, 1948. Here are some relevant excerpts…
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
And how about this one (Article 6):
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
And finally (Article 1) – as quoted above.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Does our Government still concur with the UN Declaration of Human Rights preamble, which suggests that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of ALL members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”? Or are we a little equivocal about that?
One might also care to take a read of the UN Report Living Free and Equal – a thorough and substantial document – from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, here.
I really liked Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck’s Message for International Human Rights Day – published just nine days before the UN vote. You can read it here. I find Minister Chuck a very kind, sincere and thoughtful man. Referring to Jamaica’s strong anti-apartheid stance in the past, he speaks of a “new era in human rights in Jamaica.” He also urges: “But most important of all, we must abandon our seemingly ready recourse to retribution, brutality and cruelty, especially in tough times.” This is critical, since clearly it is a threat to human rights across the country. What is also critical is the need for this Government to reassess its current stance on LGBT rights. It must come firmly down on the side of human rights for all its citizens, unequivocally – and be seen to be supporting this principled approach. Don’t skirt the issue!
I am unaware of any press release or publicity given to the UN vote here in Jamaica. Was there a press release from any arm of the Government on this?
We are talking about a UN-appointed expert to report on violence and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, here; and yet officially we are very concerned at the level of “brutality and cruelty” in our society. But there was me, thinking human rights was for all. Some more than others?
“The Government must lead from the front,” said Minister Chuck in his Human Rights Day message. Sadly, though, actions always speak louder than words and promises.