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10 March, 2014

Strengthening Human Rights Protection through Constitutional Reform

Three specific recommendations for constitutional change were submitted
jointly to the Trinidad & Tobago Constitution Reform Commission by

Richie Maitland, Staff Attorney, CAISO • Lynette Seebaran Suite, Board Chair, ASPIRE • J Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director, CVC • Dona Da Costa Martinez, Executive Director, Family Planning Association • Luke Sinnette, Executive Member, Friends for Life • Jeremy Edwards, Director, Silver Lining Foundation • Stephanie Leitch, Founder, Womantra • Sharon Mottley, Director, Women’s Caucus of Trinidad & Tobago

in response to the Absence of Human Rights Recommendations in the
27 December 2013 
Report on the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform

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26 February 2014

“Several of our groups’ stakeholders and others in our communities participated in and contributed to the national consultations throughout 2013, where we noted the dominance of two concerns we share deeply:

a) the weakness or ineffectiveness of mechanisms for government and institutional accountability; and

b) that particular groups advantage members of their own unfairly, and respect for human dignity is selective and not universal.

Chapter 1 of the Consultation Report opens with observations about the vulnerabilities of citizens in small states to majoritarian democracies; that in Trinidad & Tobago “the state has emerged as a an agent of victimization”; and cites the need for more rapid development of a “a culture of scrutiny of public officials by dedicated institutions that are expected to play an enquiring role” (paras. 21-22, p. 6). These are fundamentally issues of human rights, an area in which the Commission Report, unfortunately, proposes no amendments to the Constitution (p. 13), and a dimension in particular need of strengthening in our national “political culture”, the concern with which the Report concludes.

We urge the following:

  1. Enshrinement within the Constitution of an independent National Human Rights Institution compliant with the “Paris Principles”, which would create an effective structural mechanism (unlike the Office of the Ombudsman, described as “ineffective”) to monitor, protect and promote human rights in Trinidad and Tobago, and entrench a national and institutional culture of respect for human rights, grounded in the Constitution
  2. Elimination altogether of the Savings Law Clause, Section 6, which the Report, without any discussion or explanation, recommends ((c), p. 13) continue to immunise from constitutional challenge any law in force prior to 1 August 1976 that violates fundamental human rights and freedoms
  3. Addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender” as prohibited axes of discrimination in the Bill of Rights, Section 4 – issues to which the Report affords significant importance and more attention than any other human rights consideration (p. 2; para. 14, p. 4; paras. 56-62, p. 12; p. 13).

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10 June, 2012

Put change into your hands: CAISO is recruiting for a community organiser to join our staff team.

The job is to build hope and capacity for making change in our communities, to help forge alliances with others, and to manage training, meetings and advocacy campaigns, actions and communication.

You’ll have to coordinate logistics, coach and inspire community advocates, travel, build your political knowledge and analysis, be savvy about computer and communications technology, keep up with administrative tasks, and work flexible hours. That means thinking ahead, having people and team skills, and being self-starting and adaptive.

Candidates should have done organising and mobilisation work in T&T or elsewhere in the Caribbean, understand political processes, know how to get around our communities, and have a depth of knowledge and comfort working with GLBT issues. The strongest candidates will have managed volunteers, have existing ties to issue and political work, be competent at facilitation and training, and bring new skills and diversity to the CAISO team.

Email us a resume and at least two references who can speak to your ability to meet the criteria above. Feel free to call us to chat about your interest: 758-7676.

27 January, 2012

One letter can make a change

In the coming weeks our community will either make a difference in our own lives, or we will lose an opportunity of a lifetime. Parliament will come the closest ever in history to outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. They’ve made it clear this can happen BUT ONLY if you speak up for yourself. People with HIV and five old people have.

One letter can make a change.

Send the letter below or at this link to the Prime Minister’s Office. FILL IN YOUR NAME AND THE AREA OR CONSTITUENCY YOU LIVE OR VOTE IN.

Get people who love you to do the same. Or you can speak up in other ways of your choosing. Please forward and repost this. One letter can make a change. Watch this video.

 

Office of the Prime Minister

13-15 St. Clair Avenue

Port of Spain

Dear Madam Prime Minister and Members of Parliament:

At the June 2011 opening of Parliament, our President said, “Our policies and practices must reflect a determination to ensure equal opportunity for all of our citizens, regardless of political affiliation or any other subjective consideration.” 

What’s your position? Should legal protection from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care and services be denied to any citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, based on whether they’re young, elderly or middle-aged, HIV-negative or not, heterosexual or not? Very shortly you will have a bipartisan opportunity to take an important and overdue step to advance Government protection of human rights in Trinidad & Tobago and bring our 49-year-old developing nation further into the 21st century. When the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) comes before Parliament for amendment in the coming weeks, you can help add ageHIV status and sexual orientation to statuses it protects from unfair discrimination in employment, education and the provision of accommodation, goods and services.

Please don’t pick and choose which one(s) to add: Add all three. Discrimination is a cancer. Tolerating it against any group means politicians get to decide which minorities have rights and which do not, which human beings are worth less than others. All three statuses are used daily as grounds for unfair discrimination that offends the principles of equality on which our nation was founded. Such discrimination, when tolerated or excused by the State, robs people of their human dignity and citizenship in profound ways. You will have the opportunity to vote and show Trinidad & Tobago’s position on these matters to the world right around the time that we undergo our first comprehensive human rights review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and each member of Parliament can work and can engage others to ensure all three statuses are included in the Equal Opportunity amendment bill that Parliament passes. You will have the gratitude and support of thousands of citizens like me and the people in my life I love who are living with HIV, who are young, who are gay, and who are old, many of whom are afraid if they sign this letter they might lose their job, family support or public respect. The risk for discrimination is quite high for those the Equal Opportunity Act would protect if you add these three statuses. Yet, adding all three statuses to the bill together is hardly risky for a modern Parliament to do as an act of human rights leadership. It’s time we joined other great nations and set ourselves apart from the shameful ones that deny human rights and freedom of expression to their citizens, or that use the law to impose the rules of a particular faith on everyone.

Newspaper editorials, university researchers, legal and human rights professionals, leading civil society groups and Parliamentarians themselves have all spoken out against discrimination based on these three statuses and urged their inclusion in the EOA. I am adding my voice to theirs.

Yours truly,

Name:

Address:

Date:

24 December, 2011

Make the Yuletide gay

Filed under: community organizing,history,Jamaica — caiso @ 18:37

To all our followers – Occupy Christmas. Turn water into wine; throw the moneylenders out. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the yuletide gay, and gather friends near who are dear to you. It can be a tough season for us, so remember: It gets better. And give us a shout if it doesn’t. Next year we’ll make history together, we think. Even if it’s a small step. Look at the Jamaica election! But that’s only if you join with us and guide us. The reason for an organization is to things together that we can’t do alone. Look out and sign up for our session early in the new year on how you can make change. Anyhow, go finish paint or bake or wrap or hang curtain. Be safe. And arrive alive (even if is not you driving). Bless!!

22 May, 2011

CAISO marks T&T’s first IDAHO

On May 17, CAISO organized the first Trinidad & Tobago observance of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia

 CCN TV6 10pm news broadcast [17:37 to 19:46]

CNC3 7pm news

Kejan Haynes, C 7pm news 38:35-40:38 (click to link to video)

On “1 on 1” with Vernon Ramesar, ieTV

New politics means respect rights of all (click to link to story)

Hostility fails to dampen gays’ spirits on awareness march | Gail Alexander, Guardian | Photo: Karla Ramoo (click to link to story)

Gays call for end to homophobia | Gyasi Gonzalez, Express newspaper | Photo: Ishmael Sandy (click to link to story)

CAISO to PP Govt, fight discrimination | Verdel Bishop, Newsday (click to link to story)

Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Fareeda Ramkissoon, Ministry of Science, Technology & Tertiary Education

Maria Rollock, Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of Energy & Energy Affairs

Leeron Brummel, TV6

There were also:

and of course Gail Alexander's Guardian story the morning of IDAHO was the rave of the morning drive on radio

2 March, 2011

Doh take yuh right to wine fuh granted! Have a sweet Carnival

Filed under: carnival,community organizing,community voices — caiso @ 18:44

13 January, 2011

Who will protect you?

Feeling safe?

“Trinidad and Tobago hardly seems a likely battleground for America’s culture wars,” a Georgetown University professor wrote for the Washington Post/Newsweek recently.

“But recent months have seen a drama there involving visits by American pastors with an anti-gay agenda…[and] a response by locally based rights groups…The story begins with announcements of a planned visit by American pastors sent by His Way Out Ministries…a group based in Bakersfield, Calif. … As reported in a Trinidad and Tobago newspaper, the visit’s purpose was pretty clear: ‘Local Christian groups…have declared war on the issue of same-sex attractions…

“a local group, CAISO…were especially concerned by…plans to target young people with an anti-gay agenda. …CAISO was aware of the devastating impact U.S. evangelical groups had in Uganda, where a legislator proposed an anti-gay bill imposing the death penalty for some forms of gay sex…Trying to prevent the HWO visit seemed unwise and probably futile. CAISO alerted public health, HIV, and youth welfare officials to their concerns about the likely damage the visit could do to sexuality education and the effort to combat stigma and discrimination. They challenged leaders to stand up.”

So we did in fact:

And here’s how our Ministry of the People & Social Development – the one where the Prime Minister pledged “any interest group who believes their legitimate cause is not being heard by the relevant authorities” and “feel their needs and pleas for help are being overlooked or ignored by the authorities” can “take their grievances and be heard” – responded. We thought you wouldn’t believe it unless you read it in their own words.

Well, at least they didn’t say the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would protect us. They abstainedtwice – on the issue of whether people at heightened risk of murder, assassination or execution because of their sexual orientation deserved mention in a United Nations human rights resolution a few weeks ago. We’ll put theirs up here too when they write us another letter saying why our Government won’t protect us.

It’s a challenging year ahead educating our clueless leaders about young people’s vulnerability to homophobia and GLBT people’s vulnerability to violence. We’ll need your earnest support.

22 December, 2010

Rwanda puts Trinidad & Tobago to shame

Ambassador to the UN Rodney Charles (Photo: Express)

We wrote our Government. We faxed. We called. We e-mailed. The Foreign Ministry. The UN mission. We thought we could rely on the People’s Partnership campaign promise that “foreign policy and its implementation must be guided by the principles of good governance, i.e. transparency, accountability, participation and effective representation”. Or their commitment to foreign policy objectives that pursue “the sustainable human development and human security of all the people of T&T”. Or their plan to pursue six targeted priorities  at the UN, one of them human rights.

But no one could tell us how our country would vote when the UN decided yesterday whether to restore a reference to sexual orientation in a resolution about protecting people from being killed for who they are. A bloc of Arab and African nations had got narrow support to remove the specific reference in a committee vote in November. Trinidad & Tobago had abstained then. The vote had received a lot of negative attention.

Foreign Minister Suruj Rambachan (UNC-Tabaquite)

Other than St. Lucia, every other country in the region changed its vote on the issue in a positive direction when pressed to take a stand for the second vote yesterday. A majority of Caribbean nations – Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis – voted Yes to including attention to sexual orientation in the resolution! And Jamaica and Belize sent clear messages to their GLBT communities well before the vote that they would not oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation. Aren’t you proud? Of Caribbean governments. And of the calibre of GLBT advocacy in the region.

But we’re a bit ashamed of our own government. The nation with one of the most vibrant GLBT communities in the region – and, we’re sure, gay Members of Parliament – sat on the fence and abstained, again. What reason could we have; and who will explain it?

However, to our delight, an African nation has a lesson for us. Rwanda understands how critically important human rights are, and what extrajudicial executions mean. And their UN delegation told their colleagues what cynically leaving sexual orientation out of the resolution for political or “cultural” reasons would do. Imagine if our Government had shown international leadership like that: sigh! Read below or listen at 01:16:39.

Olivier Nduhungirehe, First Counsellor at Rwanda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, explains his country’s vote in the General Assembly on December 21, 2010 to support an amendment restoring sexual orientation to the language of a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

Thank you, sir, for giving me the floor. Rwanda would like to explain its vote on this amendment submitted by the United States.

Sexual orientation, sir, is a concept which sparks very animated debate in the international level, at the national level, even within our families. It relates to our respective cultures, our way of living, or our religions. This debate generally relates to the definition of this concept of sexual orientation, also the criminalization of such practices, and family rights that have to be granted to people who have a different sexual orientation. This is a complex issue, and no definitive decisions have been taken internationally, and within states or even continents there are very conflicting, seemingly irreconcilable positions. Rwanda feels that sexual orientations of our compatriots is a totally private matter where states cannot intervene, either to award new rights or to discriminate or criminalize those who have such an orientation.

But the matter before us now is very different, sir. Here the General Assembly of the United Nations is called upon, not to grant family rights to people with a different sexual orientation, not to give an opinion on the criminalization of such practices, but to decide whether such men and women have the right to life. Sir, in listing specific groups such as national or racial or ethnic or religious or linguistic or even political or ideological or professional groups, the authors of this resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution have clearly wished to draw attention to high-risk groups that are frequently the target of murder, assassination or execution. We wish to alert states to the vulnerability of such groups and the reality of the crimes committed against them, and to call for prosecution of authors of such acts. Whether or not the concept is defined or not, whether or not we support the claims of people with a different sexual orientation, whether or not we approve of their sexual practices – but we must deal with the urgency of these matters and recognize that these people continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many of the other groups listed. This is unfortunately true, and recognizing this is not a call to give them special rights; it’s just recognition of a crime, that their fundamental rights, their right to life should not be refused. But to refuse to recognize this reality for legal or ideological or cultural reasons will have the consequence of continuing to hide our heads in the sand and to fail to alert states to these situations that break families. Believe me, sir, that a human group doesn’t need to be legally defined to be the victim of execution or massacre, since those who target their members have previously defined them. Rwanda has experienced this sixteen years ago indeed, and for this reason our delegation will vote for the amendment, and calls on other delegations to do likewise.

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3 December, 2010

Thou shalt not bear false witness

Filed under: community organizing,faith,UWI,violence — caiso @ 10:16

“The trip ultimately concluded with Pastor Phillip speaking at the University of the West in Trinidad” Pressure, boy!!

Here is how His Way Out Ministries reports on its recent, October trip to Trinidad & Tobago. If they can’t get the name of UWI right or the fact they were in an engineering lecture room in the corner of the campus, you can imagine many of the other details are pretty imaginative. But we will make a mas again celebrating Trinidad & Tobago’s resilience to imported homophobia when Phillip comes back for Carnival.

At no time was the expression “war on same-sex attraction” ever used during the entire time in Trinidad. The wording was unfortunate and addressed by myself and Hospital Christian Fellowship through various and numerous media outlets.

Photo-Brian NgFatt, Guardian

Aside from the Prayer Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pastor Phillip shared in numerous schools, a Youth Rally, shared at Agape Bible Ministries Church, was a guest on two radio programs, held a training seminar for pastors and Christian leaders in Tobago, and met with the Mayor of Port of Spain in which the Mayor requested training for his staff on the complexities of homosexuality. The trip ultimately concluded with Pastor Phillip speaking at the University of the West in Trinidad which was held in the Lecture Center on the campus.

“We might be witnessing the birth of a strong grassroots LGBT movement in Trinidad and Tobago, and this is only the beginning.” Oops. That's somebody else from the US writing about the same thing…

Hospital Christian Fellowship, a Christian organization comprised of medical doctors and lawyers, could not have been more hospitable with focus and emphasis on every trip detail from beginning to end. Presently, Hospital Christian Fellowship is discussing the possibility of a return trip to Trinidad possibly in March of 2011. With the huge amount of individuals, families and church leaders approaching Pastor Phillip at each and every venue during the trip, Trinidad and Tobago stands on the threshold of birthing and offering ministry to those struggling with the complexities of same-gender attraction.

“the huge amount of individuals, families and church leaders approaching Pastor Phillip at each and every venue” – this was the signature Naparima Girls youth rally, being held in a Pentecostal church in Cocoyea

For our side of the story, read and watch:

30 November, 2010

I am not only a person living with HIV… Our work in HIV prevention has to…deal with…that… I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country

Human Rights and HIV – Living Positively

It is indeed a privilege and an honour to stand before you as a person living with HIV on such an auspicious occasion. I am not only a person living with HIV, but I am currently serving as coordinator of an HIV/AIDS NGO, Community Action Resource, better known as CARe. I  pride myself on saying that I am one of the success stories that have come from this organisation; and it’s an honour to be able to serve the needs of who I fondly call “the community of care”, as I am deeply indebted to this organisation, for when I entered its doors I was literally a “walking dead.”

Since our relocation to our new home in September this year, we have seen a steady increase of newly diagnosed persons accessing our services. Our support group, for example, grew from a number of five to twenty in the space of three months. But, with this success, comes the grim face of reality. Realities of people newly diagnosed which reveal patterns of social and economic inequity. One member lost her job because her workers discovered that she was HIV-positive. Her story indicates that the discrimination began within the health care system – one of the nurses revealed her status to a co-worker, who had come to see her (the member) at the hospital for a totally unrelated illness. The nurse, on seeing the co-worker giving the member a casual goodbye kiss, told the co-worker that she should not have done something like that because the patient has AIDS. The co-worker told the other workers at the member’s workplace, who began to shun her, and in one instance one staff member refused to drink from the same cup as the member did. One day the member called in sick, and the boss called her half-an-hour later letting her know that she was no longer needed. Other members have no steady means of income. Some are unable to have at least one meal a day, much less to ensure that it’s a nutritious one. These issues impact on the individual ability to adhere to their anti-retovirals, as some require that they be taken with a meal.

At CARe, we have made a conscious decision to not play the victim role, but we see ourselves as a community that seeks to deepen its relationships with key stakeholders in order to ensure greater access and decrease levels of economic and social and gender inequity. We are not just a support group, but one that seeks to empower people living with HIV who can demonstrate leadership at any and at all levels of society. It cannot be underscored the value of this work and the need for it to be sustained and supported.

Indeed we are becoming more intuitive and responsive to the society we live in. We understand that we are all in this together – regardless of race, age, class, gender, and sexual identity.

David Soomarie, Coordinator, Community Action Resource (CARe) - Photo: UNAIDS

I am also a member of another community. A community that for far too long have been misunderstood, judged, stifled, or to put it simply: oppressed. A community that, despite its oppression, has managed to contribute to the rich tapestry of a nation’s identity through art, culture, media, and fashion. A community that diligently works in all sectors of labour, be it industry or commerce. A community oppressed by ignorance and religious bigotry. A community labelled outlaws who have no “equal opportunity” in a nation that has written in its national anthem “Here every creed and race find an equal place.”

I speak of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Our archaic laws have driven the lifestyle and culture of these groups underground, forcing many to engage in risky sexual practices, forcing others to lead double lives. Our work in HIV prevention has to move beyond short-term interventions and condom distribution. It has to deal with issues of internalised stigma and shame that one feels living a lifestyle that is “different.”  It requires a reengineering, a deeper understanding of the many sub-cultures that constitute these marginalised groups. It demands a stronger partnering with members of civil society who engage meaningfully with these communities; and a clear demonstration of leadership from the powers that govern us.

In closing, I am not limited by my HIV status or my sexual identity, nor should i be judged by it. I am first and foremost a citizen of this beloved country, one who is passionate about equality, justice, community and country. I long for the day when I can truly believe in those words “here every creed and race find an equal place.” I thank you.

Soomarie shared the panel with Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Hon. Rodger Samuel

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