a local organisation which campaigns for the rights of LGBT people.
Types of criminalisation
- Criminalises LGBT people
- Criminalises sexual activity between males
- Criminalises sexual activity between females
Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Sexual Offences Act 1998, which criminalises acts of ‘gross indecency’ and ‘buggery’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of twelve years’ imprisonment, and the possibility of compulsory psychiatric treatment. Both men and women are criminalised under this law.
The law was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Dominica. Dominica retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today.
There is no evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, however there were some claimed arrests under the criminalising provisions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, though it appears none resulted in conviction. The fact that the buggery provision applies to both heterosexual and homosexual sexual activity makes the collection of accurate data challenging. Nevertheless, the mere existence of this law is itself a violation of human rights and underpins further acts of discrimination (see further).
There have been reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, though many LGBT people conceal their identities and do not report incidents to police for fear of further abuse, which limits the amount of information available.
In September, the High Court heard a constitutional challenge case against Sections 14 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act criminalising same-sex activity, originally filed in 2019. The plaintiffs are awaiting judgment.
On 19 July, a case was filed by a gay man to challenge the criminalisation of private, consensual same-sex sexual activity under Sections 14 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act. The case is being supported by Minority Rights Dominica, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program, and Lawyers Without Borders. In a statement, the individual claimant said: “These laws are not only discriminatory themselves, but they incite and encourage hateful and violent conduct towards LGBT individuals. The laws also condone police discrimination and inaction against such acts of harassment and violence.”
In November, an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 1998 was passed which increased the maximum sentence of the ‘gross indecency’ provision to twelve years’ imprisonment.
We’ve also assessed Dominica’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Dominica criminalise same-sex sexual activity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and people with disability, from sexual offences.
According to the US Department of State report, the government reported that enforcement of the gross indecency and buggery laws was “rare”, and that there were no incidents during the year. The same result has been found in recent iterations of this report.
In a July statement to Caribbean Media Corporation, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit asserted that Dominica does not enforce its law against homosexual activity, at least in private homes, and has no plans to do so.
In May, responding to an article which stated that “between 1995 and 2000, 35 people were arrested by local authorities and charged with buggery”, a Dominican police inspector, John Carbon, dismissed the claims. Whilst admitting that 35 people were arrested, he claimed that police reports show nobody was sent to jail. The article also indicated that 15 women and 10 men had been arrested, charged with ‘gross indecency’, and sentenced in 2001. Inspector Carbon similarly referenced police reports to deny these claims.
The Kaleidoscope Trust reported that two men were arrested for having sex on a cruise ship which was docked at Dominica.
Reports suggest that the law is only rarely enforced. A Caribbean HIV Aids Partnership (CHAP) Dominican Sector shadow report revealed that between 2000 and 2010 there were 50 reported cases of buggery. The report emphasised, however, that these statistics do not show whether those arrested were gay men (the sodomy law applies to both homosexual and heterosexual couples), and did not show whether they involved a lack of consent.
The US Department of State report found anecdotal evidence of strong societal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which affected LGBT people’s access to employment, housing, and education. LGBT people avoided reporting hate crimes to the police due to the likelihood of police abuse. Civil society organisations were unable to develop their membership or activities such as Pride marches due to social stigma. The report did, however, quote a prominent local activist who noted that acceptance of LGBT people was “slowly growing”. These findings have been consistent in recent years.
The Human Rights Watch report, I Have to Leave to Be Me, documented cases of discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Dominica. Interviewees noted the existence of the criminalising provisions encourages negative treatment of LGBT people in society.
During Dominica’s second UPR cycle, the Sexual Rights Initiative indicated that: “Human rights defender groups in Dominica are forced to operate underground because of fear that their members will be victimised. Those who are openly gay complain of acts of physical abuse and are often victims of vandalism committed against their positions, as well as being expelled from home.”
a coalition of local organisations which advocate for the rights of different marginalised groups.
Saint Lucia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.
Jamaica criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour.
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