On the second anniversary of a landmark decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urging the Jamaican government to repeal the country’s homophobic laws, Rainbow Railroad and the Human Dignity Trust call on Jamaica to immediately comply with the top Americas human rights tribunal’s recommendations. 

Despite two years having passed since the IACHR’s decision was made public, Jamaica has failed to show interest in complying with a single recommendation made by the Commission, say the international organisations. In particular, homophobic laws remain in force and there is inadequate protection from discrimination for the LGBTQI+ community.  

In the face of this lack of progress, the organisations today released a joint report, A Caribbean Outlier: Repeal anti-LGBTQI+ laws in Jamaica, documenting the violence, harassment and discrimination faced by LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica over the last two years.   

Gareth Henry, petitioner and Senior Program Officer at Rainbow Railroad, said, ‘Rainbow Railroad continues to receive requests for help from individuals in Jamaica experiencing serious violence and persecution. Action from the Jamaican government is long overdue and would be a significant step in making Jamaica a safer place for LGBTQI+ communities.’ 

Devon Matthews, Head of Programs at Rainbow Railroad, said, ‘On the second anniversary of this crucial decision, we call on the Jamaican government to urgently repeal the criminalising sections of the Offences Against the Person Act, and to take immediate action to put in place effective anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQI+ community.’ 

Jamaica still refuses to make changes to its outdated, homophobic laws, even in the face of progress sweeping through other Caribbean nations, including Barbados, St Kitts and Antigua, where the courts struck down their criminalising laws in 2022. With just six remaining countries in the Americas and Caribbean outlawing same-sex sexual activity, Jamaica is increasingly looking like an outlier in the region.

Victoria Vasey, Head of Legal at the Human Dignity Trust

According to the new report, in 2021, Rainbow Railroad received 322 requests for assistance from individuals in Jamaica, up from 280 the previous year. When seeking help, 221 LGBTQI+ people reported being beaten up, shot at or “chopped”. 101 people reported family-based violence, and there were a further 185 reports referring to public humiliation, sexual violence and police brutality.  

 In 2011, represented by the Human Dignity Trust and their pro bono legal team, Jamaican citizens Gareth Henry and Simone Edwards sought a declaration that Jamaica was violating its legal obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights. Their petition claimed that sections 76, 77 and 78 of the Offences Against the Person Act fuelled the discrimination, threats, violence and lack of State protection that Henry and Edwards faced, forcing them to flee Jamaica and claim refugee protection abroad. 

Ten years later, on 17 February 2021, the IACHR published its decision, finding that Jamaica is in direct violation of its legal obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR urged Jamaica to repeal the offending provisions, and also issued recommendations to the Jamaican government, including requiring the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation and the collection of data on discrimination faced by the LGBTQI+ community. 

 Notes to editors 

  • The new report, A Caribbean Outlier: Repeal anti-LGBTQI+ laws in Jamaica, can be downloaded here 
  • Rainbow Railroad is an international charitable organization with headquarters in New York and Toronto that helps LGBTQI+ people seeking safe haven from state-enabled violence and persecution in countries where same-sex intimacy and diverse gender expressions and sex characteristics are criminalized. Rainbow Railroad continues to support a safe house in Jamaica to protect people on their path to relocation. Rainbow Railroad is a registered Canadian charity and 501(c)3 organization in the USA.  
  • The Human Dignity Trust uses the law to defend the human rights of LGBT people globally. We envisage a world in which LGBT people are free from criminalisation and enjoy protection in law, by supporting strategic litigation and law reform.  
  • The pro bono legal team who worked on the case with the Human Dignity Trust comprises international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and senior counsel Douglas Mendes SC and Edward Fitzgerald QC, with advisory input from Professor Clara Sandoval-Villalba and Monica Feria-Tinta. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer continues to support the Human Dignity Trust on various matters. 
  • For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact [email protected]  and/or [email protected]

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Jamaica

Jamaica

Jamaica criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

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