A gay Jamaican activist is suing the government of Belize over its entry ban against homosexuals
Maurice Tomlinson, an LGBT advocate is to challenge Belize’s entry ban on gays in an international court.
Tomilnson, a Jamaican national and legal advisor for the NGO AIDS-Free World has been invited to conduct training and sensitization sessions regarding the rights of individuals infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
The sessions, due to take place in Belize on the 14-16 January 2013, are an initiative of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, the country’s only civil society group promoting the health and human rights of LGBT and men who have sex with men citizens.
However, section 5 of Belize’s Immigration Act prohibits entry to homosexuals, people with mental health issues and physical disabilities.
The law, which is written in an archaic and offensive language, prohibits entry into Belize to:
‘(b) any idiot or any person who is insane or mentally deficient or any person who is deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind;
‘(e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour;’
As an attorney-at-law Tomlinson has no intention of lying, nor breaking the law and therefore he had to reject the invitation from the United Belize Advocacy Movement.
This despite the recognition that Belize is in urgent need of such expertise, and the sessions are in line with the human rights approach to combatting HIV promoted by UNAIDS.
Tomlinson also considers the ban on his entry into Belize to be a violation of his right to freedom of movement within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which the country is a member.
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).
Last month Tomlinson was invited as a speaker in a UN meeting in Trinidad and Tobago but had to turn that invitation down as well, as the country has a similar prohibition to Belize’s.
He subsequently initiated a legal 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.
It is noteworthy that in 2011, Belize signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In accordance with the rules of the CCJ, Tomlinson has written to his government, Jamaica, asking that it insist that the government of Belize remove this unreasonable travel restriction.
If this is not forthcoming, Tomlinson can petition 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 in CARICOM.
If the government of Jamaica fails or refuses to bring the matter before the CCJ, Tomlinson intends to try and do so himself.
Tomlinson told Gay Star new: ‘The offensive and overbroad prohibitions in section 5 of the Belize Immigration Act contribute to crushing stigmatization and discrimination against the most vulnerable populations in the Caribbean.
‘The law must to be expunged if the region is to rid itself of the last vestiges of its horrific past of exploitation and unspeakable cruelty.
‘Such laws have no place in the pluralistic societies that we wish to forge’.
He further pointed out that Belize’s anti-gay law acts to restrict ‘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’.
Belize and Trinidad - a lesson in homophobic exclusion
LGBT rights advocate, Maurice Tomlinson, explains his legal challenges to Belize and Trinidad anti-gay laws
It’s getting cold in the global north and some lucky souls will be able to get away for a few days (or weeks) in the sun.
The Caribbean is usually a very popular vacation destination for northerners because of the variety of leisure options available to suit just about every taste.
Two Caribbean territories that demonstrate the range of delightful diversions on offer are the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (which is quite cosmopolitan, with a strong creole influence) and the central American territory of Belize (decidedly more rustic and Latin inspired).
Both countries are at almost opposite ends of the Caribbean and although there are some common traditions flowing from a shared history of British colonization, very little else links these countries.
There is, however, one very noticeable similarity; both territories ban the entry of homosexuals, and they are the only countries in the Western Hemisphere to do so.
As a national of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the regional economic union which seeks to unite the very far flung territories in the Caribbean region, I have launched legal challenges to the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago on the grounds that they violate my right to freedom of movement across the region.
Both these matters were launched in the past 2 weeks.
I was therefore intrigued by a recent story in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper about leaked correspondence between the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and a representative of the UK based group Kaleidoscope Trust.
Apparently, over four months ago, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago wrote a private letter to a British citizen to say that she intended to include the recognition of the human rights of homosexuals in the country’s new gender policy and this would include repealing the decidedly homophobic section in the immigration act.
While I certainly applaud this potential human rights advance by the government of Trinidad and Tobago, I found it bewildering that such a significant public policy change - a change that will have an impact on a significant number of Trinidadian and CARICOM citizens - is communicated to a private individual in the UK months before our region gets to hear about it.
This is not normal procedure in a democratic society.
More, the timing of the ‘leak’ is entirely suspect: As was stated above, I launched my challenge against the Trinidad and Tobago immigration law just a couple of weeks ago. The release of the letter at this moment smacks of damage control.
I certainly hope this will not be another empty political promise similar to the one made by Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller.
Nearly a year ago she promised during a much reported election campaign debate that she would call for a parliamentary conscience vote to review the country’s 148 year old anti-buggery law.
This offensively invasive law was imposed on the island during the period of British colonization.
Even so, Jamaica’s Minister of Information recently announced that the vote on reviewing the law has been placed at the ‘bottom of the [legislative] pile’ (read: no longer up for discussion).
In this regard, I would be curious if there is an actual timeline in the mind of Mrs. Persad-Bisseaur.
After all, four months have already elapsed since her promise of a new policy.
The homophobic provisions in the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago are a blight on the Caribbean.
They undeniable contribute to the marginalization of groups vulnerable to HIV and AIDS by proving legislative support for the debilitating stigmatization and discrimination against members of not only the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, but also the mentally and physically disabled who are derisively referred to in the acts as ‘idiots’ ‘imbeciles’ ‘physically defective’ and other dreadful names.
It is noteworthy that both countries have signed the Conventions on the Rights of the Disabled.
It is time for these horrendous laws to be repealed; there is simply no excuse for their continued existence.
AIDS-Free World will do all it can to ensure that they are consigned to the rubbish bin of history, once and for all.
Maurice Tomlinson is an attorney-at-law and has been involved in LGBTI and HIV and AIDS activism in Jamaica and the Caribbean for over 12 years. He is Legal Advisor, Marginalized Groups for AIDS Free World and helped coordinate the first ever legal challenge to Jamaica’s British colonially imposed 19th century anti-sodomy law. In 2012 Maurice was awarded the inaugural David Kato Vision and Voice Award which celebrates the life and work of murdered Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato.