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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

1452289_10152370880344050_1708886357_a

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).

(more…)

27 July, 2012

Joshua Hamlet, an unlikely voice for LGBT rights on an unlikely platform

We’re always talking about young people taking the lead on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and politicians acknowledging that the LGBT community needs protection against discrimination in Trinidad & Tobago. Just this week, we might’ve got both. At a People’s National Movement rally in St. Barb’s, Laventille, youth speaker Joshua Hamlet went on the podium to say that LGBT people need the Equal Opportunity Act, and that “we cannot make it about people (individuals), it needs to about the issues of the everyday person”.

Not only does this mean that people – especially young people – are taking stands in their own ways to speak out against discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation, but that politicians (at least within the PNM) can’t ignore that this is a real issue in our country. Remember in 2009 when their then Gender Minister and current Chief Whip, Marlene McDonald, said that they were “quite categorically” against dealing with our issues? Now these same issues are coming back on their own platform in a completely different way. CAISO has its own fair share of young members, and I speak not only as one of those youth but as someone who knows Mr. Hamlet personally. As a student, and activist and a friend, Joshua has always been the kind of guy that I thought our country needed on gender and sexual orientation issues, because of his insight and willingness to put himself out there for a cause no matter the arena, much like he has done here.

CAISO believes that every political party here in Trinidad & Tobago should be focusing on the issues of every single member of its society, and that the human rights of those members should not be ignored. And that is why it feels so good that a young man would stand from within a party of his own accord and say what he said. With the country approaching its 50th birthday, we should be talking about ways our country and democracy truly include every single person regardless to creed, race or sexual orientation. And it may very well be happening, in some small way, now.

We at CAISO salute you, Mr. Hamlet, for the courage to speak up on these issues in one of the places it matters the most. We truly hope that people in the PNM, and in fact every politician, is listening.

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:

10 August, 2011

Julian Kenny

Born in Woodbrook eight decades ago, Julian Kenny, the UWI professor and environmentalist who died yesterday, repeatedly stood up for the humanity of GLBT people, as a senator, a journalist and a scientist. He spoke out in the Senate about the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunity Act. Most recently, from October 18 to November 8 of last year, he authored an important four-part series of newspaper columns on the natural science of sexual orientation. Here he is writing in his May 23, 2007 Express column, titled “Genes for ignorance, bigotry?”.

Given the millennia of occurrence of homosexuality in humans, and amongst many mammals and birds, it is not unreasonable to assume that there is probably a strong genetic component, possibly even of more than one gene interacting with others, that express themselves to varying degrees as human homosexual behaviour in all its diversity.

I have often wondered at the growth of homophobia in the region and the country, when homosexuality is being muted, understood and accepted in the developed world, and, reflect back on the debate on the Equal Opportunities Bill in the Senate. When I spoke in favour of the Bill I did question the exclusion of sexual orientation. The response on the Government side while I spoke was snickering by the front bench, even from that champion of the human rights movement, rather like first formers hearing their first risqué joke. Sexual orientation was simply ignored in the final version passed by that House. And I reflected also on my childhood observations of the ways in which St Mary’s College students used to taunt a Down’s syndrome teenager being walked by a carer in Lord Harris Square – 12-year-olds shouting “chupidee, chupidee”.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that any behaviour that in any way differs from what is demanded by convention in society is fair game for discrimination and ostracism, and, even violent suppression and assault. And people use it at all levels. Historically all religions have used it to control followers or to increase numbers.

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

16 April, 2011

Mia Mottley, Champion for Change

“I wonder if you know how good that was”, the Chair of the Barbados National AIDS Commission asked the former Barbados Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Leader of the Opposition as she had just concluded another of the inspiring and visionary addresses she is well-known at home for delivering completely unscripted. But it wasn’t just any other Mia Mottley speech. The hard-hitting and truth-telling early morning address, which she began by playing in its entirety the 2006 anthem, Do You Still Care, for which Jamaican mouldbreaking songstress Tanya Stephens is best known in GLBT communities, by its end had riveted listeners to a standing ovation with its call to clarify our values and its framing of a set of questions that Mottley has repeatedly challenged us to answer as Caribbean people:

What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of children do we want to raise? And what do we have to show for having had control of our nations for two generations since Independence?

Click on Mia Mottley’s image to listen to her full speech

Reminding her audience at Port of Spain’s Hyatt Regency hotel that as a region the Caribbean has always “punched above our weight”, the Member of Parliament for St. Michael North East since 1994 admonished that “leadership is more than being a head of government”, but “about recognizing where we want to take our people, why we must take them there” and “sometimes that means being ahead of your population”. “We have a credible voice that must be heard as a guiding principle to the rest of the world”, she urged, on “building tolerant societies”. “Name me one other region that has been forged in the modern exploitative era…that carries every race that has populated this world within this small basin that have been forced to live together, that have been forced to forge an accommodation with each other. We have a story to tell to the rest of the world. And we have a credibility in telling that story, and our voice therefore must be heard, because it costs nothing to speak.”

At the same time, she drew laughs of recognition as she lamented the cancer of “implementation deficit disorder” that currently plagues the region, with “systems of parliament that are rooted in excessive partisanship that is a battle between political institutions, rather than being a fight to carry forward development and people” and “systems in our public service and other aspects of our governance that are so complex and Byzantine, that not even the Romans would recognize them if they returned today to be responsible for global governance.”

The March 24 plenary address was intended to set the tone at a United Nations consultation on universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, intended to prepare the Caribbean region for participation in the June High Level Meeting of UN member states on AIDS. The meeting drew government ministers and senior officials from Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Most listeners would agree Mottley’s speech was one of the most powerful and cogent things to happen at any of the series of regional meetings that have become well-known as of the key ways we spend HIV money in the Caribbean. In it she called for the creation of a Caribbean Human Rights Charter and for tolerance education to be part of the Caribbean Examinations Council curriculum. And three weeks later she was back at another UN HIV meeting this week in Port of Spain, spurring human rights lawyers and activists in the region to found a Caribbean Coalition for Social Justice, and taking steps towards the creation of a Caribbean Law Reform Commission.

Mottley’s countryman Henrik Ellis wasn’t the only one who thought the speech was breathtaking. I-95.5FM Radio’s Dale Enoch broadcast it in its entirety the following day; and responding to meeting participants’ advocacy, UNAIDS’s Caribbean team has graciously posted both the video of the speech and a transcript prominently on their website. These words, perhaps more than any others were the ones that reached home:

The battle against the abolition of the slave trade took, like, decades. And the battle against the slavery institution also took decades. And the battle for independence took decades. We have already started with a few decades in the battle for a common gold standard of regional human rights. But the time has come upon us to up the ante, and to call on the region to protect your own. You cannot accuse those who governed you through colonial exploitative regimes of perpetrating crimes against you, or taking away from you your dignity and your ability for controlling your destiny – and then when you have control of your own societies for two generations of independence, you are not prepared to secure the rights of every individual irrespective of whatever differences that may occupy the human race. It is unacceptable. And the time has come for it.

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

29 January, 2011

Caribbean Groups Join International Community in Saluting Murdered African Human Rights Worker David Kato Kisule

Photo: Mark Hofer, Agence France Presse/Getty Images

Caribbean associations working on reproductive, sexuality and HIV issues have issued a brief joint statement of condolence and tribute to the life of slain Sexual Minorities Uganda human rights defender David Kato Kisule. The statement, signed by over 30 groups in 16 territories, calls attention, in the United Nations Year of People of African Descent, to David’s international inspiration as an African defender of sexual rights. It notes the continuing danger that sexuality and the human rights defenders who work in this area face in the Caribbean and elsewhere; and Governments’ failure to champion people’s freedom over their own bodies when it comes to sexuality.

Across the Caribbean, those of us who knew Sexual Minorities Uganda advocacy officer David Kato Kisule as a friend, as well as those who only read of his work, are deeply moved by his powerful and courageous life. As fellow sexual rights advocates, we convey deepest condolences to all his loved ones and fellow activists on his awful murder. We have been horrified by the inhumanity and hysteria of Uganda’s parliamentary, media and clergy campaigns to deny gay people like David the simple right to liberty, privacy, dignity and joy. We join others throughout the African diaspora in our pride in David’s conviction and passion as an outspoken African champion of sexual autonomy – even when it put his liberty and life in great danger – and his record as an internationally recognized human rights defender. His inspiration stretches around the globe to those who also struggle against ignorance, indifference and violence to create countries and a world where everyone can enjoy our sexuality as something good and wholesome and worthwhile, free from shame and coercion.

Were it not for advocacy late last year, 13 Caribbean countries would have allowed “sexual orientation” to be removed from an international statement of commitment to protect persons from unlawful killing because of who they are. David’s death, following threats against his life, is a gripping reminder of the importance of those protections, and a sobering one of how much more work needs to be done to give people the right to freedom over their bodies in places like Africa and the Caribbean, where battles against slavery, colonialism, racism, apartheid, genocide, gender inequality and religious persecution ought to have taught us better lessons. David’s life and death are reason to renew international commitment to sexual rights, to increase our vigilance for our colleagues in danger in Uganda. We respectfully urge Uganda’s politicians, media and clergy and international Christian advocates who have become entangled in this hostility to seize the opportunity to bring an end to yet another painful chapter of intergroup violence in Africa.

AIDS Action Foundation – St. Lucia • AIDS Free World • ALFA: Alternative Life Foundation Aruba • Alianza GTH – República Dominicana • Amigos Siempre Amigos – República Dominicana • ASPIRE: Advocates for Safe Parenthood-Improving Reproductive Equity – Trinidad & Tobago • Barbados Family Planning Association • Belize Family Life Association • Belize National AIDS CommissionCAISO: Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation – Trinidad & TobagoCaribbean Family Planning AffiliationCaribbean Harm Reduction CoalitionCaribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition • CariFLAGS: Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities • DiBo: Diversity Bonaire • DominicaChaps • Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago • Foko Curaçao Pride • Fondation SEROvie – Haiti • GrenCHAP – Grenada • J-FLAG: Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays • MOVADAC: Movement Against Discrimination Action Committee – Barbados • Pink Orange Dutch Caribbean LGBTI Alliance • Pride In Action – Jamaica • RevASA: Red de Voluntarios de ASA – República Dominicana • SASOD: Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – Guyana • SASH Bahamas: Society Against STIs & HIV • Tjenbé Rèd: Fédération de lutte contre les racismes, les homophobies & le sida issue des communautés afrocaribéennes • UniBAM: United Belize Advocacy Movement • United and Strong – St. Lucia • Women Against Rape, Inc – Antigua • Women’s Institute for Alternative Development – Trinidad & Tobago • Women Way – Suriname

The statement has appeared, among other places: GBM News, Guyana Chronicle, International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region News Update, International Resource Network, Kaieteur News (Sun. 31 Jan, p. 48), SASOD blog, St. Lucia VoiceTjenbé Rèd

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.

1 January, 2011

Happy New Year!

Standing up for human rights

Published: Saturday | January 1, 2011

The Editor, Sir;

As CARICOM citizens, we are proud that a majority of Caribbean nations stood up in the United Nations General Assembly on December 22 and voted together, in the words of the Rwanda delegation, to “recognise that … people (of different sexual orientation) continue to be the target of murder in many of our societies, and they are more at risk than many … other groups”.

Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and St Kitts-Nevis joined 85 other nations in voting specifically to mention sexual orientation, in a biennial UN resolution, as one ground of vulnerability for being murdered or executed unlawfully for who you are.

All but one of our Caribbean governments had supported an effort in committee by a bloc of Arab, African and Islamic nations, several of which execute gays and lesbians or would like to, to remove the reference. We appreciate their responsiveness, with the notable exception of Trinidad and Tobago, to our reasoned appeals. We salute the foreign ministries of Belize and Jamaica who communicated with gay and lesbian voters about their December vote, a welcome measure of accountability and transparency in our foreign policy.

Non-discrimination

On the other hand, the St Lucia delegation seems not to have listened to their prime minister’s pledge in Parliament this April to “stand against stigma and discrimination in all its forms” and “guarantee non-discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation”. St Lucia stood apart from CARICOM in voting no.

We, in the Caribbean, have lived largely free of the levels of violence experienced by postcolonial nations like Rwanda . But we continue to harbour a colonial mentality that some groups are more worthy than others; and homophobic killings are a reality several places in the region. We hope that, without the need for atrocity to teach us this lesson, our governments will mature in their understanding that everyone has an essential right to equality and protection because they are human.

The vote is a hopeful sign that in 2011 Caribbean governments may get serious about their commitments to these rights at home.

I am, etc.,

MAURICE TOMLINSON

Montego Bay, Jamaica

on behalf of

Dr Marcus Day & Kenita Placide, St Lucia

Ashily Dior & Brendon O’Brien, Trinidad and Tobago

Vidyaratha Kissoon, Guyana

Nigel Mathlin, Grenada

Caleb Orozco, Belize

Daryl Phillip, Dominica

Victor Rollins, Bahamas

 


 

LETTER: CARICOM citizens congratulated for vote at UN Assembly,
Dominica News Online, 31 December 2010

UN vote a hopeful sign
Stabroek News, Guyana, 2 January 2011

Proud Caribbean voted together at UN
Guyana Chronicle, 3 January 2011

Recognising gays and lesbians
Royal Gazette, Bermuda, 3 January 2011

Everyone has an essential right to equality and protection
Kaieteur News, Guyana, 4 January 2011

Region making progress
Barbados Advocate, 5 January 2011

Stand up for human rights
Voice, St. Lucia, 6 January 2011

Everyone has a right to equality and protection
Nassau Guardian, 12 January 2011

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