The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has said that gay and lesbian people in Jamaica suffer disproportionately in the deteriorating situation in the Caribbean nation.
IACHR issued preliminary observations after its visit to observe the human rights situation in Jamaica, which took place at the invitation of the government last week.
It focused particular attention on the situation of citizen security in the country and the human rights of women, children, and persons suffering discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The Commission said it had “verified an extremely high level of violence in Jamaica,” which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
“The historical response of the State has been inadequate, due to the absence of an integral policy to address and prevent violence, the failure to dedicate sufficient resources to the problem, and the absence of an effective response by the police, judiciary and other authorities,” it reported.
“This has led to a progressive deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.
“This critical situation disproportionately affects the poorest sectors of the population, as well as women, children and people who face discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The situation for gay and lesbian people was highlighted by IACHR. Homosexual acts are illegal in Jamaica.
“The Commission strongly condemns the high level of homophobia that prevails throughout Jamaican society,” it said.
“This homophobia has resulted in violent killings of persons thought to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual, as well as stabbings, mob attacks, arbitrary detention and police harassment.
“The resulting fear in turn makes it difficult for people within this group to access certain basic services, for example, medical services that might reveal their sexual orientation.
“Defenders of the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals have been murdered, beaten and threatened, and the police have been criticized for failing in many instances to prevent or respond to reports of such violence.
“The State must take measures to ensure that people within this group can associate freely, and exercise their other basic rights without fear of attack.
“During its visit, the Commission received reports on four murders in circumstances suggesting homophobia over a period of a year and a half.
“One such murder was reportedly a consequence of the firebombing of the house of a person thought to be homosexual, and another man perceived to be homosexual was chopped to death by machete.
“The IACHR reminds the government and the people of Jamaica that the right of all persons to be free from discrimination is guaranteed by international human rights law, specifically the American Convention on Human Rights.
“The IACHR urges Jamaica to take urgent action to prevent and respond to these human rights abuses, including through the adoption of public policy measures and campaigns against discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as legislative reforms designed to bring its laws into conformity with the American Convention on Human Rights.”
In June a poll commissioned by the Jamaica Gleaner found that 45% are more likely to vote for incumbent Prime Minister Bruce Golding and his Jamaica Labour Party after he told the BBC that he would never allow gays in his Cabinet.
26% of people who identified as supporters of the rival People’s National Party said they were more likely to vote for Golding after his outburst.
Just five percent said they were less likely to vote for him after his widely-reported comments.
70% of Jamaicans do not believe that gay men and lesbians should be granted equal rights, the island-wide poll found.
The dancehall music scene on the island is notorious for its homophobia, with many artists taking pleasure in calling for gays and lesbians to be murdered.
A British minister raised the issue of decriminalisation of homosexual acts at a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Gareth Thomas, minister of state at the Department for International Development, told PinkNews.co.uk that tackling state and cultural homophobia is vital to the fight against HIV in the Caribbean.
He said he was concerned that “things are not getting better on either front, and more change is necessary.”
His role at DFID has responsibility for HIV and Mr Thomas has visited the Caribbean several times.
“During those visits I have been struck by the extent to which homophobia and the anti-gay legislation is impacting the effort to fight the surge of HIV infections,” he said.
During a recent meeting with Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Trade Minister, Mr Thomas raised the issue head on.
“We had an acknowledgment there was an issue, though there was not a conversation about immediate next steps,” he said.
Mr Thomas also met with members of Jamaica’s gay community and said he was shocked by their experiences.
“Some of their stories are horrific,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.
“People who have been forced out of churches, out of their jobs and on occasion, violence.
“By any stretch of the imagination it is a disgrace and we need the state to take action.”
Mr Thomas said the UK asylum system would look at gay and lesbian asylum seekers on a case by case basis.
The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Its mandate is found in the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR represents all of the member States of the OAS.
It also reported on the treatment of Jamaicans living with HIV after its recent visit.
“The Commission received information about the situation of discrimination against HIV-infected persons in Jamaican society,” it said.
“Approximately 27,000 persons in Jamaica are reported to be infected with HIV, 73% of these are between the ages of 20 and 49.
“The Commission was informed that once an HIV-infected person’s family and community are made aware of his/her status, they are often rejected from their homes and communities.
“Further, HIV infected persons are reportedly denied equal access to healthcare due to discrimination based on their medical status.
“Public education and prevention outreach with the HIV infected population is difficult because this illness remains a social taboo in Jamaican society and largely associated with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, who also suffer severe discrimination.
“Given that Jamaica’s legislation criminalises sodomy, gay persons living with HIV are especially vulnerable to discrimination and violence.”