Caleb Orozco Fights to Uphold his Dignity and Rights in Belize

On 7 May 2013, the Chief Justice of Belize, sitting in the Supreme Court, will hear a groundbreaking challenge brought by Caleb Orozco, Executive President of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNiBAM), which is challenging the constitutionality of s.53 of the Criminal Code of Belize.

Section 53 criminalises homosexuality. It states that “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years”.

The Constitution of Belize protects the fundamental rights and freedoms for “every person in Belize.” The Constitution also recognises “the equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family are endowed.” These rights and freedoms include the rights to dignity, equality and privacy.

Caleb will seek to establish that section 53 by criminalising homosexuality violates his human rights and is therefore unconstitutional and must be either struck down or amended to protect private, consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex.

International human rights law ratified by Belize (and binding upon Belize) is clear that private, consensual sexual activity between adults is protected human rights conduct, whether carried out by adults of the same sex or opposite sex. Laws criminalising homosexuality violate dignity, equality and privacy.

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, said:

“International law is clear that criminalising Caleb in Belize is a breach of Belize’s international human rights treaty obligations. This case is not about gay marriage or wider gay and lesbian rights. This case is about ensuring Caleb’s right to his identity without the threat of criminalisation. It is as serious and simple as that. Caleb’s very essence is being denied and this is precisely what human rights are designed to protect. Caleb should not have to go to court to have his rights recognised, but it is hoped that the Chief Justice will give a strong and robust judgment in Caleb’s case guaranteeing all the rights in the Constitution to everyone in Belize.”

Despite this certainty in international human rights law and the fact that these rights are at the heart of Belize’s Constitution, the Attorney General of Belize is defending section 53. Supporting the Government’s position as interested parties in the case are the Roman Catholic Church of Belize, the Belize Church of England Corporate Body and the Belize Evangelical Association of Churches. They have joined together as the Belize Council of Churches.

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, said:

“Many Catholics and Anglicans across the world may be surprised that their Church is actively supporting the criminalisation of homosexuals in Belize and, in turn, the violence, extortion, alienation, stigma and persecution that flows from this.”

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Human Dignity Trust are also interested parties. Each of these organisations seeks to uphold human rights values. They are dedicated to the promotion and protection of international human rights.

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, said:

“Human rights are the world’s common standards. They do not belong to one country or region. They are owned by the people of the world and ultimately they are there to hold governments to account. Human rights standards are not imposed. Human rights belong to everyone everywhere. The question for governments is whether they will guarantee them. Human rights prohibit the criminalisation of gay and lesbian identity because gay men and lesbians are people like everyone else and, like everyone else, gay men and lesbians have a right to dignity and private and consensual adult sexual relations.”

The interested parties joint submissions to the Supreme Court of Belize are intended to assist the Court by providing a comprehensive summary of international and comparative law in this area as well as drawing together statements made by, amongst others, the United Nations Secretary General and representatives of the Vatican and the Anglican Church condemning the criminalisation of homosexual conduct. Included among these statements is one from the Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in which he compared the criminalisation of homosexual conduct to the laws which upheld apartheid in South Africa and characterised them as perhaps the “ultimate blasphemy”.

The trial is listed for four days and it is expected that judgment will be reserved.

>I notice that we have recently been reported as being a homosexual organisation. I am not sure what a homosexual organisation is, but we are a human rights organisation which focuses on a particular serious and systemic human rights violation: the criminalisation of identity by criminalising homosexuality. Archbishop Tutu has called the use of the criminal law to stigmatise and alienate the gay and lesbian community as perhaps “the ultimate blasphemy”.

The HDT is a lawyers human rights organisation and our patrons are distinguished jurists from around the world. We have all worked on some of the most serious human rights violations across the world from Guantanamo Bay to child abduction, from the rights of the Kurdish people to protecting the cultural identity of Tasmanian aboriginal people. A consequence of criminalisation of homosexuality is the persecution of gay people and therefore the international community is engaged. If it was not such a serious human rights violation, we would not be involved.

The Trust has also been reported as being involved in 80 cases. We are involved in three (Belize, Jamaica and Northern Cyprus), although we have advised people in six or seven other countries. Nor do we have large resources at our disposal. For the time being, I have managed to secure funding for the Trust from foundations. We employ five people, but we are hoping to appoint another lawyer soon. We are able to work as we do because of the pro bono support that we get from international law firms. In Caleb’s case the interested parties are represented by Debevoise and Plimpton. Our team is lead by Lord Goldsmith and Godfrey Smith. All the lawyers involved are not charging us a fee. It is all done pro bono. Those law firms work pro bono because of the seriousness of the human rights violations that flow from criminalisation.

With kind regards


Jonathan Cooper