Rights groups are calling for Jamaican
leaders to condemn the comments of a lawmaker who has called for life
imprisonment for being gay.
On February 10, Ernest Smith, a Jamaica
Labor Party parliamentarian, described gay men and lesbians as
“abusive” and “violent,” and called for tightening of
Jamaica's law that outlaws being gay. Smith said the law should
impose sentences of up to life in prison.
Six days later, Smith told a Jamaican
newspaper that J-FLAG, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals
and Gays, “should be outlawed.” Smith said, “How can you
legitimize an organization that is formed for the purposes of
committing criminal offenses?''
Human Rights Watch, a group dedicated
to defending the rights of racial, economic and sexual minorities
around the world, wrote to Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding
“In calling for the the strengthening
of an already-draconian stature against homosexual conduct, and in
citing that law to urge the banning of legitimate organizations, he
[Smith] demonstrates the malign effect of so-called 'sodomy laws' on
a democratic body politic,” Human Rights Watch said in their letter
“Such laws permit not just the
invasion of privacy, but the restriction of public rights, such as
the freedoms to associate and assemble. They mark out certain
persons as second-class citizens, permanently suspect.”
“We urge you to condemn Mr. Smith's
statements, and to affirm Jamaica's commitment to real equality for
all its citizens without exceptions.”
Violence against LGBT people in Jamaica
is at near epidemic levels, fueled in large part by the openly
homophobic remarks of its leaders.
In the town of Mandeville on Easter
Sunday, April 8, 2007, about 100 men attacked 150 people attending
the funeral of a gay man. The men became violent, breaking windows
and threatening to kill the mourners. Police officers called to the
scene neither restrained the mob nor detained members as they
escaped, Human Rights Watch reported.
In another 2007 incident in the town of
Kingston, a vicious mob of at least 200 demanded the death of four
men because they were gay. This time police officers joined in the
violence – they verbally abused the men and struck one in the face,
head and stomach.
“The prime minister should
unequivocally condemn public figures who call for denying people
their human rights,” Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the Health and
Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“In a climate of violence where homophobia puts LGBT people's lives
at risk, spewing such hatred is inexcusable.”