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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).

(more…)

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12 November, 2013

Gay Day at the CCJ: Pt. 2

Filed under: Belize,Caribbean,CARICOM,courts,human rights,Jamaica,laws — caiso @ 23:39
Lord+Gifford+Stand+with+Jalna+Broderick+JASL+Maurice+Tomlinson+AFW+Susan+Goffe+JFJ

Maurice Tomlinson & Anthony Gifford QC “stand” at Kingston’s Emancipation Park, Sept. 2010

Today the Caribbean Court of Justice, sitting in its original jurisdiction, heard arguments via teleconference by legal representatives of Maurice Tomlinson, the state of Belize and the state of Trinidad and Tobago. Lord Gifford, QC, representing Tomlinson, petitioned the court to allow Tomlinson leave to bring a case before the court, seeking redress for violations of his free movement rights guaranteed under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to nationals of CARICOM member states. He alleges that sections of the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago which prohibit the entry of homosexual persons into those countries, violate his rights. The hearing today was simply to determine whether Tomlinson, a homosexual, can bring the case which, if granted permission, he will bring in the near future.

Gifford presented his case that leave should be granted, to which Belize and Trinidad and Tobago responded. Gifford was then allowed to respond to the states’ arguments. Both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago argued that Tomlinson should not be granted leave to bring the case. The Solicitor General of Jamaica also submitted a brief in the case which makes the case that Tomlinson is not eligible for leave.

Belize, by its lawyer, Ag Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, argued that the term ‘homosexual’ as used in the Belize Immigration Act referred to a homosexual prostitute and not just a homosexual, although the Act prohibits ‘homosexuals’ on a plain reading of it, naming as prohibited immigrants “any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour” (5(1)(e)). This prompted Justice Nelson to press Gifford whether the law must indeed be read that way, whether homosexual behaviour is a sort of occupation, something you can live off of. Hawke argued that his interpretation reflected the Belize government’s position and referred to the written testimony submitted on behalf of the Belize government, saying that Belize Immigration Authorities do not prevent homosexuals from entering Belize. He referred to the fact that Tomlinson himself had entered Belize four times.

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Appearing for Belize Nigel Hawke

Tomlinson says in his written testimony that he had been to both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago on multiple occasions, prior to knowing of the laws. He says that since he came to know of them, he has had to refuse invitations to visit both countries. Gifford relied on cases to show that even if the government claimed they didn’t enforce a law, it could still operate to restrict people’s rights. The essence of the argument runs that the law makes de facto criminals of homosexuals who enter, forcing some people to alter their behaviour. In Maurice’s case the behaviour which was altered (travelling to Belize and to Trinidad and Tobago) was a behaviour he was entitled to by right as a national of a CARICOM member state.

Gifford also cited the little-known CARICOM Civil Society Charter and its equality and dignity provisions, but the Justices questioned its binding nature on the states.

The court seemed unsatisfied by the Belize government’s written evidence that they didn’t prohibit homosexuals, questioning Hawke as to whether they should require further evidence. Justice Nelson even asked Hawke what was the relevance of state practice, inviting him to respond to Gifford’s arguments that the law in and of itself restricted Tomlinson’s rights, irrespective of whether the state enforced it or not. Hawke contended that Belize’s practice of not prohibiting homosexuals evidences the Belize government’s interpretation of the law as argued by Hawke.

When asked whether the court should issue a declaration that the allegedly offending section of the law referred to homosexual prostitutes only as argued by Hawke, Hawke responded that that wasn’t necessary because the Belize government already understood it to mean that.

Also on the legal team for Belize were Crown Counsels Iliana Swift and Herbert Panton, and for Tomlinson Anika Gray.

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Appearing for Trinidad & Tobago Seenath Jairam SC

Trinidad & Tobago through its lawyer, Law Association President Seenath Jairam, SC, appearing with Wayne Sturge and three other attorneys, argued that what is relevant in determining whether a treaty had been violated was the impeached state’s practice. He argued that Trinidad and Tobago had a policy of non enforcement of the law, which he interpreted to refer to homosexuals and not homosexual prostitutes as Belize argued. The allegedly offending provisions in both laws (primarily sections 5(1)(e) of the Belize Immigration Act and 8(1) (e)of the Trinidad and Tobago Act) are almost identical. Jairam supported his arguments with such cases as the recent Shanique Myrie decision, which was repeatedly referenced in the proceedings.

Jairam argued that because Trinidad and Tobago’s state practice was such that it didn’t prevent homosexuals from entering and that because Tomlinson was not prevented from entering before, the application was “an academic exercise”. Tomlinson will not ever be denied entry simply by virtue of being a homosexual, he declared. He drew a comparison to hanging, saying that Trinidad and Tobago had laws on its books which allowed hanging but that they nonetheless did not hang. When asked by the court whether that meant that hanging was illegal, he responded that that was a matter for the constitutional court. He alluded to the fact that governments had financial constraints and that there were costs involved in repealing laws. (Incidentally that has not prevented Trinidad and Tobago from repealing other laws it wished to repeal.)

Jairam argued further that Tomlinson could have applied for a special permit from the Minister responsible for immigration as Sir Elton John did back in 2007. Gifford had earlier stated there is no waiver available to homosexuals of the prohibition in the law, and pointed the court to the section of the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Act which permits the Minister responsible for Immigration to grant such a  permit. While Gifford argued the permit is limited to two classes of prohibited immigrants specifically mentioned in a subsection of the law, who not include homosexuals, Jairam stated the law confers broader powers and the subsection merely qualifies entry conditions for those two classes.

Justice Nelson expressed concern over whether a policy was sufficient protection of the rights guaranteed to nationals of CARICOM countries, asking rhetorically, “what happens when government changes?” He also asked Jairam non rhetorically whether the court should strike out the allegedly offending sections since they weren’t enforced. Jairam responded, to the bemusement of many in the court, that the court should not strike out the sections because that might allow terrorists to enter the country. In back and forth questioning with the justices, he conceded that both the Belize and Trinidad and Tobago laws were likely enacted “when people were  homophobic”, and that has changed.

The Justices asked all parties whether there was case law on the homosexual provisions of the immigration laws, but none had any to offer. Both states argued that their statutes on freedom of movement for skilled nationals allow their entry notwithstanding other laws, such as the homosexual prohibition, and Tomlinson as a lawyer could have availed himself of such a provision for entry. But the Court was clear that the case was not about entry of a skilled national and that such entry was in the specific context of employment and skill certification. This prompted a series of questions as to whether a prostitute could enter to deliver a lecture instead of to acquire earnings through his/her trade.

Both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago argue that Tomlinson’s rights have not been breached as he has not been denied entry and that is the Treaty has therefore not been engaged. Gifford  responded to the State’s arguments by reiterating that a policy was just a policy and was subject to change with any given government. He also reiterated that the mere existence of the laws, whether they were enforced or not, was sufficient to restrict a person’s rights. It’s like putting up a sign that says “No homosexuals”, regardless to what your actual practice is.

The court reserved its judgment which we expect will be delivered tomorrow we have learned may come down any time over the next three months.

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Justices on the leave hearing panel were back row, left Jacob Wit (Netherlands Antilles) and Winston Anderson (Jamaica) and front row: Rolston Nelson (Trinidad & Tobago), CJ Sir Dennis Byron (St. Kitts & Nevis) and Winston Saunders (St. Vincent & the Grenadines)

Listen for yourself – though the audio’s really bad in parts:
CCJ Application No. OA 001/002 of 2013 Maurice Arnold Tomlinson v. The State of Belize & v. The State of Trinidad and Tobago

MORNING SESSION

AFTERNOON SESSION

 

Gay Day at the CCJ: Pt. 1

Quite a bit of sensation and misreporting has been generated in the local, regional and international media about a proposed legal challenge to the immigration law of Trinidad & Tobago. A local television station reported that “An AIDS group in New York is suing the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for prohibiting the entry of homosexuals to the country…so offensive is the law that AIDS Free World has filed suit in the Caribbean Court of Justice…demanding that the discriminatory provision be expunged…The group says the government…does not have a leg to stand on and it is confident of…possibly changing the laws of this country”. Here are some clarifications of what’s actually taking place.

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What is this case about; and who is bringing it? There are in fact two cases. They are being heard jointly. A Jamaican national (who is also a gay activist and lawyer and works for an international organization, AIDS Free World, which is supporting his challenge and has been closely associated with the case in the media) is using the provisions of CARICOM’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramus to make two similar claims with regard to the states of Belize and Trinidad & Tobago. Maurice A Tomlinson is arguing that the immigration laws of each nation which make homosexuals prohibited immigrants violate the freedom of movement provisions he ought to enjoy as a national of Jamaica under the Treaty, as well as his right to not be discriminated against based on his nationality by either state. Under the Treaty, disputes concerning its provisions and related rights are heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) sitting in its “original jurisdiction”. (The CCJ has also been given appellate jurisdiction as the final court for some Caribbean nations, including Belize; but it is not acting in that capacity here.) When an individual CARICOM national like Tomlinson seeks to bring a claim that their rights under the treaty have been negatively affected and that person’s state has either failed to bring the claim to the court on their behalf (something Jamaica did with Shanique Myrie[*]) or has agreed that the national should do so herself, the CCJ holds a hearing to listen to both sides and make a determination if these conditions have been met and if it is in the interest of justice for the national to bring the case directly to the Court. If it finds so, the Court can grant the applicant leave to do so. A decision is expected to be rendered at the conclusion of Wednesday’s proceedings.

The case is an innovative use of the CARICOM treaty to advance LGBTI equality and challenge some of the domestic laws that make LGBTI persons unequal citizens which exist in all CARICOM states. Because the provisions of the immigration laws being challenged target people who are not citizens of the respective countries, the non-nationals the laws affect are the people in a position to challenge them, and the Chaguaramas treaty provides such an opening for CARICOM nationals.

CARIBBEAN-COURT-OF-JUSTICE

Courts also allow parties other than a complainant to play a role in matters before the Court when they have a substantial legal interest that may be affected by the Court’s decision. Free movement of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons between CARICOM member countries, including to Trinidad & Tobago, where its secretariat is located, is critical to the mission of the 16-year-old Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, a regional LGBTI advocacy network involved with such travel multiple times each year. CariFLAGS plans to become a party in the case, with the Court’s permission. CariFLAGS and CAISO will play an active role in educating the public about the case and the law. On Monday November 25 at 6:00 pm, a public forum will take place (tentatively at NALIS at Abercromby & Hart Streets in Port of Spain) with this goal. For updated information visit: www.facebook.com/caiso/events.

What is the suit seeking? Can the CCJ change our laws if its not our court of appeal? If the CCJ finds that Tomlinson’s rights have been infringed, as it did recently in the case of Shanique Myrie*, it is empowered under the Treaty to award damages as compensation and to make a declaration that the domestic immigration laws violate community rights. Because CARICOM countries have agreed, in signing the Treaty, to be bound by decisions of the CCJ in its original jurisdiction, Trinidad & Tobago and Belize could be subject to sanctions from CARICOM if they leave the laws unchanged after such a Court ruling. However, acting in its original jurisdiction, the CCJ cannot alter or strike down national laws the way an appellate court could.

images 10.17 PMWhats does the immigration law do, and what is Governments position on it? Trinidad & Tobago’s immigration laws, whose history dates back to before Independence, retain several antiquated provisions that reflect a historic preoccupation of many immigration codes around the world with keeping out disease, deformity, dependency, deviance, depravity and the darker-skinned. US immigration law, e.g., until 1990 had similar provisions excluding homosexuals, and still maintains references to “moral turpitude”. Our laws deem as “prohibited immigrants” homosexuals, as well as those who live off their earnings and those reasonably suspected of coming or attempting to bring others into the country for homosexual purposes. Each of these provisions is applied in the same stroke to “prostitutes” (Subsection 8 (1) and paragraph (e) of the Immigration Act of 1969). The laws also provide for the deportation of persons who practise, assist in the practice, or share in the avails of homosexualism (Subsection 9 (4) and paragraph (a)). Other groups deemed prohibited immigrants in the law are “persons who are idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded…suffering from dementia and insane…who are likely to be a charge on public funds…dumb, blind or otherwise physically defective” (Subsection 8 (1), paragraphs (a), (c) and (h)).

Ministry of National Security officials have stated that a committee reviewed the immigration law in 2010 and recommended legislative removal of the homosexual provisions; and an Immigration Division spokesperson has told the media that entrants are not questioned about their sexual orientation. When the Patrick Manning administration was pressed by Pastors Winston Cuffie, Terrance Baynes (later appointed a People’s Partnership senator), Archdeacon Phillip Isaac and other Tobago clergymen to enforce the law against Elton John in 2007, Trinidad & Tobago was lampooned by US television comedians, Chief Secretary Orville London declared “we in the Tobago House of Assembly are very clear that we do not support any ban on any individual on these grounds”, and the central government issued John a waiver to enter and perform at the Tobago Jazz Festival. But no bill has been introduced to amend the law, which continues to be an international embarrassment and to stigmatize LGBTI and other people, and 8(1)(e) could potentially be invoked by any zealous immigration officer.

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[*] This is not the first time a CARICOM national has petitioned the CCJ for redress for violation of Treaty rights. The Court recently ordered Barbados to pay Jamaican national Shanique Myrie BDS$77,240 as compensation for violation of her right to free movement when Barbados immigration authorities detained her upon entry, subjected her to taunts and cavity searches, kept her overnight and deported her to Jamaica the following day. All CARICOM nationals share these rights within the region under the Treaty.

7 February, 2011

Another step in the region towards bodily freedom, in Belize

Why do modern independent Caribbean states, where people have fought for centuries to free our bodies from enslavement, indentureship, control by our husbands, exploitation of our labour, colonial subjection, sexual harassment and prohibtions on dancing still defend laws that say that adults cannot use our bodies in mutually consenting ways with each other sexually in private? Why are only certain forms of sex between consenting adults against the law? Why aren’t other forms of sex, which are just as “unusual”? Or others that are unlikely to produce children, simply pleasure? Why are eating pork and beef and wearing headcoverings and extramarital sex not the subject of our secular laws, but homosexuality is?

Why would anyone committed to liberty deny someone of maturity control over her or his body and sexuality?

Although in many jurisdictions our laws against private sex are only occasionally enforced, they remain on the books and serve to legitimate violence, discrimination and stigma against gay men and lesbians whom they render “unapprehended felons”, as a South African jurist quoted in a judgment overturning that country’s sodomy laws. And their enforcement is technically just one election, or even one enterprising police officer, away.

The first constitutional challenge to the region’s colonially derived laws against sexual activity between consenting adults has been filed, in Belize, targeting a law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which in common law means anal sex.

Many of our regional Independence constitutions, through “savings clauses”, hold immune from constitutional challenge any of these archaic laws (like others which PNM MP Colm Imbert mocked recently in Parliament that address wounding pigeons, bathing in the Maraval River and hanging clothes out to dry in the front of a shop) that were  put in force in colonial times; these savings clauses in effect say the colonizers knew best. Belize’s constitution limited that period of immunity to five years. Trinidad & Tobago preserved our savings clause through our 1976 Republican constitution, and in a number of more recent proposals for constitutional “reform”.

We wish our Belizean GLBT counterparts, the community organizers there, and their visionary legal advocates the best success with this landmark lawsuit; and we hope their bravery and jurisprudence will benefit the region as a whole.

Statutory penalties in the Caribbean for consensual sexual activity between two adult human beings; and the most recent date of the law’s enactment
Antigua & Barbuda 1995 15 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)
Bahamas 1991 20 years any adult male who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
20 years any female adult who has sexual intercourse, in a public place
Barbados 2002 life buggery
10 years an act, whether natural or unnatural by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, on or towards another or inciting another to commit that act with the person or with another person
Belize 2000 10 years carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person
Dominica 1998 10 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
4 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
Grenada 1958 10 years unnatural connexion
Guyana 1893 life buggery with a human being
10 years attempts to commit buggery
2 years any male person, who in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person
Jamaica 1864 up to 10 years hard labour the abominable crime of buggery with mankind
up to 7 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
up to 2 years, with or without hard labour any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person
St. Kitts-Nevis 1990 up to 10 years, with or without hard labour the abominable crime of buggery
up to 4 years, with or without hard labour attempt to commit the said abominable crime
St. Lucia 2005 5 years; psychiatric hospitalization for treatment at the discretion of the Court attempt to commit sexual intercourse per anus by a male person with a male or by a male person with a female person
10 years (5 years on summary conviction) an act other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural) by a person involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless committed in private between an adult male person and an adult female person)
St. Vincent & the Grenadines 1990 10 years commit buggery with any other person; permit any person to commit buggery with him or her
5 years commit an act of gross indecency, in public or private, with another person of the same sex, or procure or attempt to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her
Trinidad & Tobago 1986 25 years sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person
5 years an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire (unless in private between a husband and his wife; or a male person and a female person)

20 January, 2011

Who will protect you (2)?

Our new Government is seeking to amend our Constitution. It is not doing so to provide you with stronger guarantees of your rights as people of different sexual orientations. It is not doing so to eliminate the half-century-old provisions in the Constitution that currently insulate the buggery law from legal challenges. It is doing so in large part to make it easier for the State to execute people who have been convicted of murder. It is doing so in order to be (or to be perceived as being) responsive to one of the biggest and most widely shared concerns of voters: the nation’s murder rate, and the ineffectiveness of the State in addressing violent crime.

Their legislative proposal is to add a section of about 2,500 words to our 30,000-word constitution laying out in considerable detail at the constitutional level (vs. in a law) procedures, conditions and stipulations regarding the implementation of capital punishment. The result of this would be to make these provisions unable to be challenged in a court. This would significantly reduce legal challenges to executions; and the proposed amendment specifically seeks to circumvent rulings courts have made previously, which have frustrated many, that provide protections from summary execution for people convicted of murder.

“Hang chi-chi gal wid a long piece a rope / Mek me see di han’ a go up” – Beenie Man

The proposal also seeks to implement within the Constitution a UNC bill passed into law ten years ago to have a three-part framework for offences involving killing someone. Conviction of “Murder 1” would require the death penalty and cover seven types of killing, including intentionally killing someone because of their “race, religion, nationality or country of origin”.

But not their sexual orientation. Or their gender. In fact, last month the Government abstained twice on a UN vote that sought to strengthen international vigilance and responsiveness to murders or summary executions of people based on their sexual orientation.

Here’s how the Government explains the provisions we’re highlighting:

This Bill seeks to amend the Constitution in relation to the implementation of the death penalty.

The Bill seeks to alter the Constitution and, in accordance with section 54(3) of the Constitution, needs to be passed by a special majority of three-fourths of the members of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the members of the Senate in as much as it would amend section 89 of the Constitution.

By clause 2, the proposed Act would come into operation on such date as is fixed by the President by Proclamation.

By clause 3, the proposed Act would be construed as altering the Constitution. Clause 4 would insert into the Constitution a new Part IIA which would make special provisions with respect to capital offences. New sections 6A to 6L contain provisions of the Offence Against the Person (Amendment) Act, 2000 (Act No. 90 of 2000) which has not been brought into force. These provisions pertain to the creation of the categories of murder 1, 2 and 3, the mandatory imposition of the death sentence in relation to murder 1, the circumstances in which the death sentence or life imprisonment may be imposed for murder 2 and other matters connected thereto.

A new section 6M of the Constitution would declare that the imposition of a mandatory sentence of death by a Court or the execution of such a sentence shall not be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of section 4 or 5 of the Constitution. For the removal of doubts, the new section 6M would further declare that on no grounds whatsoever would the execution of a sentence of death be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of section 4 or 5 of the Constitution, including any, or any combination, of the following grounds: (a) a delay in the hearing or determination of a charge for a capital offence; (b) a delay in executing the sentence of death; (c) the conditions or arrangements under which a person is held in prison, or otherwise lawfully detained, pending the execution of the sentence of death; or (d) the effect of reading to a person, more than once, a warrant for the execution of the sentence of death on him.

Read the bill in its entirety for yourself, or follow the debate in Parliament. It requires the votes of 32 members of the House (the People’s Partnership has 29 seats); and 21 members of the Senate (the Government effectively has 15 seats; the Opposition 6; and there are 9 Independent Senators).

26 May, 2010

37-year-old T&T Attorney General Anand Ramlogan

is a leading human rights attorney who “has  represented
many a downtrodden citizen and is re-defining the law in the
area of unfairness and discrimination”
. He thinks current Chief
Justice Ivor Archie’s Appeals Court opinion in the Equal
Opportunity Commission case (Suratt v AG)
is “one of the
best judgments written by a local judge”
. Read it for yourself.
Or browse our excerpts of some interesting sections.

one of the best judgments written by a local judge,

13 April, 2010

What CAISO wants this election season

Thousands of GLBT voters will be participating in the May 24th general election. Like many other Trinbagonians, we want a responsible government that is going to protect and take care of all its people, and not leave some behind, regardless of which party or coalition wins at the polls. We want a government that is going to provide for different groups (young, middle-aged, and elderly, women, transgender people, and men, gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual) according to their needs. We want a country where no one is a second-class citizen.

CAISO is committed to building a nation that is inclusive, forward-thinking and just. We were formed in response to an act of Government exclusion. We are participating in the current election campaign to ensure that GLBT citizens have a voice in national affairs:

  • by educating our communities on the issues, and mobilising them to deepen their political participation; and
  • by engaging and assisting political leaders to understand and respond to GLBT issues.

A member of Patrick Manning's detail promises CAISO a meeting with the Political Leader

CAISO is non-partisan, meaning that we do not endorse one party over another. Our constituents belong to and are active in several political parties. But we will let our constituents know where parties stand on issues important to them, and where there are relevant differences between parties and candidates.

CAISO’s stake in participating in the election is to promote the election of representatives who will fight to ensure that:

  • every person in Trinidad & Tobago is protected from discrimination and violence and has equal access to protection by the police, the courts and the Equal Opportunity Commission
  • no minority group in Trinidad & Tobago is unjustly persecuted or deprived of opportunity
  • PNM Chairman Conrad Enill & General Secretary Martin Joseph with copies of CAISO's election literature

    all children in our nation’s schools are safe from violence and bullying, are treated with fairness and attention regardless to who their parents may be, and are nurtured to express and grow into their individual selves

  • everyone, regardless to where they live, who they are, or how they look, is able to access quality healthcare, which is delivered by personnel at all levels who treat their patients with dignity and respect
  • people, especially young people, who are pushed into homelessness by circumstances in their lives, families or the economy, or by their inability to find employment, can participate in programmes that meet them where they are and provide a bridge to self-sufficiency
  • young people in every community can grow up into healthy sexual lives as adults, free from physical or emotional coercion, abuse or violence
  • CAISO in the Balisier...next stop UNC/COP/TOP (Photos courtesy Bohemia)

    young people in our nation can enjoy a full range of opportunities and dreams without fear that certain choices or achievement are not appropriate to their gender

  • we remain a multireligious society where people have a right to practise the faith of their choosing, or no faith at all, and where the government does not support or promote one faith over others
  • sex in private between consenting adults is not treated as illegal
  • everyone is able to belong to organisations and engage in private social activities of their choosing, without harassment or fear
  • victims of crime, regardless to the nature of the crime, are treated with professionalism and sensitivity by the police and the criminal justice system in general

You can join CAISO this election, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity:

23 March, 2010

Sexual rights: protection of sexuality as something good, natural, precious, essential – at the core of human expression…human freedom…human community

“Too often denied and too long neglected, sexual rights deserve our attention and priority. It is time to respect them. It is time to demand them.” – Jacqueline Sharpe, IPPF President

Nine-month-old CAISO was invited by our partner, the 53-year-old Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT), to be part of the first Caribbean region launch of Sexual Rights: An IPPF Declaration, a powerful new international human rights document developed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, under the leadership of FPATT’s President Dr. Jacqueline Sharpe.
UNIFEM, UNFPA and IPPF representatives joined CAISO as speakers at the March 22 forum at the Hyatt, and distinguished guests included former First Lady Zalayhar Hassanali, Minister of Social Development Dr. Amery Browne, Opposition Senator Verna St. Rose-Greaves, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine School for Graduate Studies & Research Campus Coordinator Prof. Patricia Mohammed, and several of CAISO’s NGO and government partners, including ASPIRE, CCNAPC, Friends for Life and PANCAP.
It was a wonderful experience of coalition and celebration around the forward-thinking and thoughtfully crafted vision of sexual rights that the Declaration advances. It is a bold and thorough tool that employs human rights to advance sexual autonomy, dignity and pleasure free from discrimination, and to strengthen protections from sexual violation and vulnerability. The 32-page page document is available for download in English and 2o other languages, as are an abridged version and a pocket guide in English. It articulates seven broad principles of sexual rights: sexuality as an integral part of personhood; the balance between the guarantee of protection of the rights of children and their “evolving capacity” to exercise rights on their own behalf; the core role of non-discrimination in human rights; the separability of pleasure from reproduction; the critical role of protection from harm; the relationship of individual rights to the rights of others, and limits on their limitation; and the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill sexual rights and freedoms. And it enumerates ten core clusters of sexual rights: equality and equal protection; participation; life, liberty, security and bodily integrity; privacy; autonomy; health; education; choice regarding marriage and reproduction; redress; and a tenth, which CAISO organizer Colin Robinson was asked to reflect on:

Respecting the Right to Freedom of Thought, Opinion and Expression of One’s Sexuality.

https://vimeo.com/41121522 w=727&h=409

These images have repeatedly landed in my e-mail inbox over the past two years, persistently labelled “Gay beating in Laventille”. The tone of the multiple senders who have received them before me (you know those e-mail forwards go…) is usually one of alarm. But occasionally I detect a hint of satisfaction or righteousness.

The images are of a real incident that happened on April 27, 2007. But not in Laventille. In Falmouth, a town a few miles from Usain Bolt’s birthplace in Trelawny, Jamaica. And you breathe a sigh of relief: Oh, Jamaica!

I am honoured that CAISO and I have been asked to join with all of you today in celebrating this wonderful international document, developed under Trinidad & Tobago and Dr. Jacqui Sharpe’s leadership of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, a document which affirms our shared values and beliefs about humanity and sexuality.

I am proud to live in Trinidad and Tobago, and to be part of this wonderful legacy: Of a 53-year-old Family Planning and sexual health movement. Of a feminist movement that has demonstrated leadership on gender and sexuality issues not just for women but for men and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

I am proud that none of our teenagers were detained last year and put to death by the state after having had homosexual sex, as has happened in Iran. Although, how many teenagers in Cocorite or Ste. Madeleine, D’Abadie or Rockley Vale are isolated, bullied and beat up and taunted every day at school? Or robbed as they make their way home through their neighbourhoods? Because they are seen as gay, regardless to what their actual sexual orientation or experience may be. How many of them have tried to kill themselves? This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that no one I know of is in hiding from the Islamic police, like one woman in oil-rich Nigeria, threatened with being hauled before a sharia court for lesbianism, and sentenced to stoning. But I can turn on Isaac and other radio stations any day and hear calls from fundamentalist faith leaders for the state to inflict such Biblical and Koranic punishments on people who have sex in private. This is what we fight against when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that we have a forward-thinking Chief Justice willing to stand up to the executive, and who leads a largely independent judiciary – the very conditions in India that led last year to the overturn (in a case defended by their Government) of the use of Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalises “unnatural sex”. One much like our own buggery law, which can send a man to jail for 25 years for having consensual anal sex, not onlywith a man, but also with a woman – in their own home. This is what our fight is about when we fight together for sexual rights.

I am proud that police will not sweep down on the Avenue tonight, as they have in Commonwealth member Cameroon, arrest the patrons of one of our not-at-all-secret gay clubs, ordering them to be anally examined for evidence of homosexual sex. Or will they, if we do not stand together and fight for sexual rights?


I was born one of Her Majesty’s subjects in the province of Trinidad and Tobago at the sunset of that brief and bright imaginary vision of association that was the West Indian Federation. Our nation of Trinidad and Tobago, now heading like me for 50, was forged in the fires of overcoming several forms of domination and repression: Colonialism, that says your land and decisionmaking do not belong to you. Imperialism, that says your resources do not belong to you and you do not think for yourself. Indentureship, that says your labour does not belong to you. And slavery, that says your body does not belong to you. And, as we know well from the history of miscegenation during slavery, when your body does not belong to you, neither do your sexuality nor your reproduction – they belong to the master.

Now that “massa day done”, we cannot replace massa with husbands; or political leaders; or the state; or laws and policies that say: yes you are free, but we will still tell you what you may do with your free body, with your sexuality, with your reproduction. That we decide from which forms of mental slavery you will emancipate yourselves, as Alissa Trotz wrote recently in Guyana’s Stabroek News, commenting on a constitutional suit by four brave Transgender citizens against a law against cross-dressing.

What is the point of a free body if it is not ours to enjoy and to share? of a free mind if we are not free to engage in fantasy and desire? of the lack of bondage if we are not free to come together in ways limited only by imagination, technology, the exercise of choice, and the rights of others. And, of course, by our age and maturity.

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23 February, 2010

Guyanese transpeople file a landmark constitutional motion to overturn a law against crossdressing: Caribbean GLBT law reform work begins

Okay. The secret’s out. There’s going to be sexual orientation law reform in Trinidad & Tobago. We don’t know what, when or how, but the work here began last year. And it’s not just here. Across the Caribbean region, GLBT people have been working to write ourselves into our nations as full citizens. In different ways, with different strategies, at different paces. And soon you’ll be a part of it.
Our friends in Guyana took a tremendous step in this direction last week when four MtF transgenders (who had been rounded up, arrested, stripped, mistreated in detention, fined for crossdressing and lectured by the Chief Magistrate from the bench to give their lives to Jesus) in Rosa Parks fashion filed a historic constitutional motion for redress and to overturn a colonial-era law that makes it illegal if someone “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire”.
CAISO released the following statement applauding their landmark case today. In it we also indicate that we’re ready to follow in their steps, but would prefer to partner with Government to bring our country to “developed nation status” with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. And we try to move the hard work forward of helping others grasp this question of gender identity that is at the centre of the case.

T&T ACTIVISTS SAY GUYANA CROSSDRESSING LAWSUIT IS A SIGN OF POSITIVE CHANGES TO COME

In what Trinidad & Tobago activists say is just the first step in a regionwide effort to eliminate remaining colonial-era laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy and gender expression, transgender Guyanese citizens and human rights lawyers across the region collaborated last Friday to file a constitutional challenge to a law criminalising ‘crossdressing’ in that country’s high court. The motion was filed February 19, with the support of Guyana NGO Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and lawyers in Guyana, St. Lucia and at the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) on the Cave Hill, Barbados campus.

Peaches (née Joseph Fraser), one of the litigants in the case, introduces herself at the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference, held in Curaçao in September 2009

The litigants were four MtF transgender Guyanese who were rounded up in a crackdown, stripped, denied medical attention, detained over a weekend, and fined $7,500 under §153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8.02. Appearing unrepresented before Guyanese Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson in February of 2009, they were ridiculed by her from the bench, lectured that they were men, not women, admonished that they were confused, and instructed to go to church and give their lives to Jesus Christ. The 2009 cases generated considerable publicity, and there were many domestic and international appeals to the Guyanese Government to remove the law. After these went unheeded, the constitutional motion was filed Friday. In addition to raising due process issues, the complaint says the law is irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and infringes the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and protection from discrimination.

Organisers at CAISO (Trinidad & Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation), who since their founding seven months ago have collaborated closely with other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocates across the region, applauded the Guyanese move. “The way I dress is a fundamental part of who I am, my way of life,” said Beverly Alvarez, who participated along with one of the Guyanese litigants in the first Caribbean regional transgender human rights and health conference in September of last year. “This case that Peaches and others in Guyana have filed goes to the heart of freedom of expression, our freedom to express our gender identity.”

Ashily Dior, another transgender activist with the group added, “It’s a well recognised medical fact that, for transpeople like me, who I am just doesn’t fit with the sex of the body I was born into. This is not a vice. Some of us are lucky to afford hormones and surgery; but many of us just can’t.” Dior recently represented Trinidad & Tobago at a regional meeting of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, where she was elected an alternate delegate for the Caribbean; and she is hoping to find work educating the public about gender identity issues. “At any rate,” she continued, “who is harmed when transgenders dress up? We are simply expressing our gender in non-traditional ways.”

Trinidad & Tobago transpeople have been on the map internationally since 1998. In a landmark case that year, after police officer Eric George arrested and attempted to strip search a 27-year-old transgender woman in San Fernando when she shoved a photographer harassing her, Lynette Maharaj, wife of the then Attorney-General, both clients of her business, represented her in a successful lawsuit.

"It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," said Falatama, one of the litigants. "I felt like I was less than human." She joined three other Guyanese transpeople, like those pictured here, in suing the State.

“Trinidad and Tobago may not be next in line for GLBT law reform, but we’re definitely in the queue,” said University of the West Indies (UWI) law graduate Kareem Griffith, another member of CAISO, reflecting on the case. Griffith played a key role in an international meeting held during the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting last year where representatives of 12 countries planned strategy for sexual orientation and gender identity legal reform efforts. In a session of that meeting held at UWI’s Institute of International Relations and featured on the evening news, Tracy Robinson, one of the U-RAP lawyers in the Guyanese case spoke about the strong prospects for a challenge to Trinidad & Tobago’s buggery laws. One of the lawyers in the recent case that overturned India’s criminalisation of same-sex intimacy also participated in the meeting.

“We’d rather work with the Government and Opposition to create thoughtful policy and amend the old laws, than use the courts,” Griffith emphasised. “We’ve begun this process with an overture to the Gender Minister to work with us, and we’re following up on that this week. But I’m afraid our politicians may be cowards on these issues. Questions of sexual orientation and gender expression must be dealt with in a mature and forward-thinking way if Trinidad & Tobago intends to achieve its 2020 vision and status as a developed and inclusive nation. It is our politicians who will determine if the road to these changes is a litigious one or a collaborative one.”

CAISO was launched last June in response to Government’s move to exclude sexual orientation from the draft Gender Policy, a move the group said reflected a “1919 vision”.

Media coverage:  Reuters (kudos for amending the language from the initial release!)New York TimesStabroek News, GuyanaKaieteur News, GuyanaWMJX Radio 100.5 FM, Trinidad & TobagoPress AssociationThe AdvocateAssociated PressSydney Morning HeraldExpress, Trinidad & TobagoBBC Caribbean NewsAlissa Trotz, The Diaspora Column

17 February, 2010

Remembering our history (Know Your Country)

2010 feels like it will be a historic year. We began by looking forward. Now let’s take a look back. Know Your Country (gspottt’s ongoing effort to document and share a community history of GLBT T&T through monographs and memoirs by diverse Trinbagonians) opens the year with an excerpt of a memoir written for us shortly after CAISO formed by 1940s-born architect and art historian Geoffrey MacLean .

Governor Woodford

Governor Woodford

Historically Trinidad and Tobago has probably always had an active gay community – active in the sense that it has always been there. Its early colonial history is not known, but it can be assumed that it followed the British Victorian pattern – homosexuality was a “gentleman’s vice” that was enjoyed, but not spoken of. And lesbianism was likely considered a curiosity, eccentricity or for male voyeuristic enjoyment.

One of the earliest documents of this history is a reference (in Lionel Mordaunt Fraser’s 1896 History of Trinidad Vol 2: 1814-1839) to the British Governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph Woodford, who reputedly surrounded himself with “pretty young men”. There have always been rumours about the dallying of our colonial administrators, not to mention their wives, up until Independence.

In the late 1920s, a group calling itself the Society of Trinidad Independents that promoted Trinidad and Tobago’s art and published The Beacon magazine, was noted for its tolerance toward the gay and lesbian

Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.

Hugh Stollmeyer (1912-1982) was one of the Independents. They advocated an end to class divisions, capitalism, racism, religious extremism and prejudice against homosexuality.

community, their leading members being homosexual. Made up of all ethnic and social groups, from French Creole to Black, the group was considered bohemian and condemned as immoral.  Preached against by the church, the Independents were forced by the late 1930s to abandon their outspoken views.

The occupation of Trinidad by American naval and military personnel during the Second World War fuelled the free spirit of both the heterosexual and homosexual seeking to make a living to survive. Our Carnival, of course, has always been an excuse to behave in a manner that on Ash Wednesday we can either forget – “I had too much to drink” is often an adequate excuse – or repent.

Throughout the twentieth century, most gay and lesbian interaction has been through private gatherings, but there has never been a shortage of bars that welcome the GLBT Community “after hours” or those that cater purely to them. In the 1970s and 1980s there was the “Grand Canyon” in Curepe, “Lote’s” on Oxford Street, “The Iron Pot” on Abercromby Street, “The Sidewalk” then “Metal House” on Wrightson Road, “Club Liquid” in Barataria and in the 1990s “After Dark” in St. James and then Corbeaux Town. The ramps of the law courts on Woodford Square, and Murray Street in Woodbrook were, and still are, used for the late night parading of transvestites. Most recently gay clubs have opened in San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arima, St. Augustine and Port of Spain. The popular nightspots, from “J.B.s” in the 1970s and “Just Friends” in the 1980s to “Base” in the 1990s, were gay friendly, and even today “Zen” and most of the bars on Ariapita Avenue welcome gay and lesbian patrons.

And the community knew where to “pick up” as well, Victoria Square in Port of Spain in the 1960s and 1970s being a favourite spot and where one could meet with male prostitutes, other “cruisers” and characters like “Stingy Brim” who would give you a free service.

The 1970s were a very active time with well-known and flamboyant characters within the community: John, Tom, Hal (otherwise known as “The Rocket”), “Carlota”, “Pongin’ Patsy” and several others.

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