• ‘The government is in fact listening to civil society, just not to the progressive side of it’

    CIVICUS speaks to Horace Levy, the director of Jamaicans for Justice, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-violent citizens’ rights action organisation that advocates for good governance and improvements in state accountability and transparency.

    1. What led to the formation of Jamaicans for Justice, and what does the organisation do?

    In April 1999, the government announced new taxes, including a special fuel tax and a 30% hike in the cost of licensing vehicles. This prompted widespread protests, both peaceful and violent, including roadblocks and barricades, which lasted for several days. There was one group, in the St. Andrew’s section of Kingston, that included some lower class people, but was mostly middle class, and had gathered to block a road in protest. The poorer people were on one side of the road and the middle class people were on the other, but after a couple of days they came together. Some people from that middle-class group met afterwards to discuss the causes of the protests – the general state of injustice, the oppression of poor people. Out of a series of meetings, held along with a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor Richard Albert, who offered his church as a venue, was born Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). By July the group had formed, in August it registered as a limited liability company, and on 15 October 1999, six months after the riots, it officially became a registered NGO.

    The very first case JFJ took on involved the ill treatment of inner city poor youth by the police. The police had detained 52 poor youths, put them behind bars — then they released some but they kept others. From the beginning, then, ill treatment by police became a major issue for JFJ. As a result of several presentations we made before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the government eventually set up a Special Coroners’ Court, because the Coroner’s Court was totally inadequate to deal with this. The Special Coroners’ Court deals specifically with police abuse, and killings in particular.

    Another broad area of our work involves children in the care of the state. JFJ monitors the situation of wards of the state in children’s homes, places of safety, police lock-ups, remand and correctional facilities. We gather data, provide reports and lobby for the protection of this particularly vulnerable group.

    We are also involved in a wide range of other things: we deliver human rights education in schools, we provide human rights training to police recruits, we bring legal advice to inner-city communities through legal advice sessions and workshops, we give testimony in front of parliamentary committees, we promote citizen awareness of the right to access public information, and we develop media campaigns, among other things. Right now some of us are working very hard on an identification process the government is putting in place, which involves elements of respect for privacy and other rights. But we keep focusing on one of our core issues: the conditions of detention.

    One achievement we contributed to was the establishment by the government of an independent Commission of Enquiry to clarify the events that took place during the State of Emergency declared in May 2010, which left almost 70 civilians dead. A lot of progress was done in prosecuting the police for extra-judicial killings, which helped reduce the number of killings. In order to prevent this from happening again, we keep pushing for radical change in the way the security forces operate.

    2. Organisations defending basic civil rights against actions by the security forces are often accused of “protecting criminals”. How do you get public opinion to take your side on divisive issues such as police brutality?

    I don’t think we have entirely escaped that accusation. But we try in various ways: for instance, when a police officer is killed in the line of duty we issue a press release offering our sympathy to his family and condemning the act. Most of the times the papers don’t print that, but we issue it anyway. Secondly, we work on other issues as well, such as the welfare of children, which shows we are not fixated on police abuses. There was a period when we also did a lot of work on socio-economic rights: education, housing, employment and the development of rural communities. And of course, we also try to explain that the reason why we are concerned with police brutality is that the police are supposed to be protecting human rights. So a criminal killing somebody and a police officer killing somebody are two completely different things. But people seem to overlook that. Criminals are what they are, and they are not going to be moved by our condemning them. But by addressing actions by the state that should not happen, we have a chance to change them.

    3. How would you describe the environment for civil society in Jamaica? Are civic freedoms enjoyed by all Jamaicans equally, or are there restrictions that affect specific groups disproportionately?

    Civic space is quite good in Jamaica. The freedom of the press is perhaps the most unrestricted in the hemisphere. The freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are respected and protected. The state does not attack these freedoms; to the contrary, for instance, the state has facilitated the freedom of expression by passing laws governing the establishment of fresh media outlets.

    About four years ago, we were stigmatised in public comments by the previous government’s Minister of Youth, who accused us of grooming children in state-run homes to be homosexuals, while we were in fact delivering a sexual education programme in about seven children’s homes. But this was an exception rather than a rule, and it was just an individual reaction from a public official that we had criticised. We had only had another situation like that in the past, when we had just started as an organisation and were perceived as hostile to the party that was in power at the time. But as time passed, and both parties spent some time in power, it became apparent that we criticised them both, that we were not partisan in any way, and that we were constructive rather than over-critical, so our position became accepted.

    Along with a quite healthy civic space, we have had free elections since 1945, and elections have been overall free and fair ever since. We never had a party in power that was not legally and legitimately elected. At the same time, slightly more than half the population is currently not voting, which means that each party has the support of about 23% or 24% of the electorate. Although democracy is firmly rooted not just in the political sphere but also among business, civil society and religious groups, recent polls have witnessed an increase in the number of citizens that would favour a military takeover (which is highly unlikely to happen) in reaction to the perceived corruption of politics.

    There are also lot of structural but subtle ways in which democracy is hurt. As a legacy of slavery and colonialism, our country has a hierarchical social structure that has stayed in place even after independence. It is a pyramid on top of which are white people, followed by brown people in the middle, and black people (who account for 85% of the population) at the bottom. Of course it’s not clear-cut: we have black politicians and top public officials, for example. But there is a sharp distinction between the brown and the black. The middle class is largely brown, although there are blacks among them as well. This distinction reflects in education: we have a two-tier education system, with the brown and upper class in private, proprietary and secondary schools, and the large mass of the mostly black population receiving and inferior education. Fortunately, this is changing, and formerly weak schools are now beginning to compete with privileged schools thanks to state funding. As for police abuses, they are directed against the black majority in poor communities: you don’t see upper class and white people being beaten by the police.

    In other words, democracy is in many ways corrupted by overlapping race and class injustices. The system is not corrupt in the sense that officials massively take bribes, but it is indeed damaged by this racial and class hierarchy that, according to public opinion polls, is unfortunately accepted by the vast majority of the people. Interestingly, this is not reflected in the way Jamaicans individually behave: we don’t see ourselves as less than anybody else, and when overseas we are often regarded as aggressive. We have a strong sense of our rights, but at the same time there is a broad segment of black people bleaching their skin in an attempt to climb up the social ladder.

    4. Do you think representative democracy in Jamaica is participatory enough? Do regular citizens and organised civil society have a say in how public affairs are run?

    Our democracy is not participatory enough, which is part of our struggle. Recent events have enhanced the prospects for civil society participation, however. In the latest election, in early 2016, the government won by a very tight majority, which made it more open to civil society. So as to gather as much support as they could, they gave continuity to an institution called Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica (PPJ, formerly known as Partnership for Jamaica).

    The PPJ includes representatives of the state (both from the government and the opposition), the private sector, trade unions and civil society organisations. It was in fact as a result of civil society efforts that we got representation for five distinct civil society groups: a faith-based group, a rights advocacy group, a youth group, a women’s group and an environmental CSO. The Prime Minister, who chairs the Partnership, agreed to our proposal to have three sub-committees: on women and children; on violence and the rule of law; and on the environment. The chairpersons of all three sub-committees are civil society people.

    The chairwoman of the environment sub-committee, in particular, is a civil society representative who is highly respected by both major political parties and who had resigned to her position in the previous Partnership because she was disgusted by the fact that there was all talk and no real action. She just led a petition to the Prime Minister to protect Jamaica’s Cockpit Country against bauxite mining. According to a recently established mechanism, if you gather 15 000 signatures in 40 days, the government will review the petition, and if it complies with certain standards the Office of the Prime Minister will issue an official response. This petition surpassed the target by far, so we are now waiting to see whether we won this battle or not.

    So, there is an element of participation, but making it count is a permanent struggle. Additionally, there is a section of civil society that is mobilised around conservative or even reactionary causes, which means that not all forms of participation are helping advance a progressive agenda. For instance, an area in which we are struggling very strongly is LGBTQ rights. We have long been pushing for the revocation of buggery or sodomy laws, old pieces of legislation that criminalise male same-sex sexual activity. Under these statutes, loosely defined “unnatural offences” and “outrages on decency” can be punished with up to ten years of imprisonment and hard labour. But there is a wide section of society, led by conservative churches such as evangelists and Seventh-Day Adventists, which strongly oppose the repeal of these laws. The majority of the population belong to these churches, while more liberal churches are a small minority.

    Politicians are afraid of conservative religious people, so the government has proposed to submit the issue to a referendum. So the government is in fact listening to civil society, just not to the progressive side of it. Now, why would the majority go against itself, its own social norms and its own privilege? We just had an international conference with leading Anglicans and human rights activists, including Anthony Gifford, explaining why this is not the kind of issue to be decided by a popular vote. It doesn't make any sense to ask the majority whether they would like to respect the rights of a minority they are oppressing. Sodomy laws were repealed in Britain 50 years ago, but in Jamaica we are not likely to have them revoked anytime soon. On this issue, a section of civil society is fighting another section of civil society.

    5. What support, including from international actors, does progressive Jamaican civil society need to play a full role in building a fairer society and a more participatory democracy?

    We get international support, for example in the form of the conference I just mentioned, with highly-respected figures putting forward a cogent argument that will hopefully help shape public debate. UNDP has also collaborated in a similar way.

    Financial support, on the other hand, is not that good. That’s where organisations like JFJ are struggling. We get some funding locally, but it is very little. For instance, we have one donor who gives us nearly 2.5 million Jamaicans, but that’s just a few hundred US dollars. We have an annual fundraising art auction, which is quite unusual for an organisation like ours, but that’s because we have some middle- to upper-class donors, and this brings in a couple million Jamaican dollars a year. And it takes months of efforts.

    So most of our funding comes from international sources. We had funding from the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), but it expired last December. We just got UNICEF funding for our work with children, which is set to last for at least two years. We also have some funding from the European Union, but it ends in about five months, and we are finding it hard to replace it. We have been trying to get funding from the Open Society Foundations but have not yet succeeded. We are approaching the Inter-American Development Bank, and we might get something from them.

    In short, we are struggling with funding. Until 2013 we had a Legal Department but we had to close it. We still employ one of the lawyers from our former Legal Department, but we need more lawyers because a lot of our work with pre-trial detainees is of a legal nature. For instance, we have a case now going to the Privy Council and we are struggling to get the money to send people there. Even though we have some pro bono lawyers in England, it still costs us money: we need to send them 3 000 pounds that we can ill afford.

    When we get our Legal Department going, we will be able to use it to earn some money. In the past, we stupidly thought that, as a charity, we shouldn’t. But in fact, even as a charity we can earn some money by imposing retainer fees to those who can pay them, while working for free for those who cannot afford them. We are set to do that, but we have made that decision quite recently, so we won’t be earning any money from it for a few months yet.

    • Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) was founded in 1999 and primarily works with victims whose rights have been breached by members of the security forces. In the upcoming period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) in Montevideo, Uruguay, JFJ will take part in a hearing on extrajudicial executions and the excessive use of preventive detention against Afro-descendants in Jamaica.
    • Civic space in Jamaica is rated as “narrowed” by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with Jamaicans for Justice through theirwebsite or Facebook page, or follow@JAForJustice on Twitter.


  • El Salvador es uno de los pocos países que aún no han decidido que la vida de las mujeres importa


    CIVICUS conversa con Sara García Gross, Coordinadora Ejecutiva de la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico de El Salvador e integrante de la Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos. Fundada en 2009, Agrupación Ciudadana es una organización de la sociedad civil multidisciplinaria que busca generar conciencia para cambiar la legislación sobre la interrupción del embarazo en el país; defender legalmente a las mujeres que han sido acusadas o condenadas o por abortos o delitos relacionados; y promover la educación en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva.


  • JAMAICA: ‘After 20 years of advocacy, now there is sustained public conversation around LGBTQI+ rights’

    Karen Lloyd

    CIVICUS speaks with Karen Lloyd, Associate Director of J-FLAG, about the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Jamaica and the significance of a recent report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that held the Jamaican government responsible for violating rights. J-FLAG is a human rights and social justice organisation that advocates for the rights, livelihood and wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica.

    What is the current situation of LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica?

    Gender and sexuality-based discrimination continue to be of concern and impacts on people in many ways, including their right to work, education, health, life and equality before the law. The law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and same-sex intimacy is criminalised.

    In April 2011, the Jamaican government passed the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, but calls to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for non-discrimination went unheard. The 2012 National Survey on Attitudes and Perceptions towards Same-Sex Relations, commissioned by J-FLAG, found that one in five Jamaicans respected LGBTQI+ people and supported the inclusion of sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination. In addition, about one-third of the population believed the government was not doing enough to protect LGBTQI+ people from violence and discrimination.

    Members of the Jamaican LGBTQI+ community are routinely deprived of their human rights and suffer from widespread discrimination, exclusion, violent attacks, police abuse, joblessness and a distinct lack of legal protection, among other issues. Many LGBTQI+ Jamaicans live in fear because of discriminatory policies, laws and attitudes and the lack of political will to protect their human rights. Since 2009, over 600 cases of abuse and violence have been reported to J-FLAG, and the National Survey carried out in 2015 revealed a 12 per cent rate of tolerance toward LGBTQI+ people among the public.

    A 2016 report found that out of 316 LGBTQI+ Jamaicans, 32 per cent had reported being threatened with physical violence over the previous five years and 12 per cent had reported being attacked; 23.7 per cent reported being threatened with sexual violence and 19 per cent being sexually assaulted. However, 41 per cent had not reported these incidents because they did not think the police would do anything, and 30 per cent thought the matter was too minor. One in four feared a homophobic reaction from the police and one out of five felt too embarrassed and did not want anyone to know.

    This reality is compounded by homophobia and transphobia as well as by laws criminalising same-sex intimacy between men, weak and largely inaccessible anti-discrimination legislation, weak protections against sexual and domestic violence and lack of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

    In February 2021, the IACHR issued a report on LGBTQI+ rights in Jamaica. What was the significance of this?

    Several sections of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) of 1864 prohibit sexual activities between men. Section 76 criminalises buggery, section 77 criminalises any attempt to commit buggery and section 79 criminalises acts of gross indecency, which can include kissing, hand holding and other acts of male-to-male intimacy. Men convicted of buggery face a maximum of 10 years of hard labour. This and other laws relating to sexual offences that precede the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms are protected from rights-based challenges.

    In the cases examined by the IACHR, the petitioners – Mr Gareth Henry, who is gay and Ms Simone Edwards, who is a lesbian – alleged that Jamaica was in violation of its obligation under the American Convention on Human Rights by continuing to criminalise private consensual sexual activity between adult males and by protecting these laws from being challenged. They claimed that this perpetuates Jamaica’s culture of violent homophobia and encourages the state and the general population to persecute not only male homosexuals, but also the broader LGBTQI+ community. They said they had both been victims of homophobic attacks. 

    The report by the IACHR concluded that the Jamaican government was responsible for these violations of their rights. The last we heard about it, the Attorney General’s department had acknowledged the decision and was preparing a response. For civil society, it reinforced ongoing calls for amendments to the OAPA and became part of existing engagement with policymakers to have it changed. Advocacy efforts with legislators have continued to be difficult, however, because they are unwilling to be publicly associated with a call for repeal due to potential backlash by religious extremist groups and some members of the public.

    How is J-FLAG working to try to improve the situation?

    J-FLAG is the foremost human rights and social justice organisation in Jamaica advocating for the rights, livelihood and wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica. Our work seeks to build a Jamaican society that respects and protects the rights of everyone. Our board and staff are committed to promoting social change, empowering the LGBTQI+ community and building tolerance for and acceptance of LGBTQI+ people. We promote the values of all-inclusivity, diversity, equality, fairness and love. These values are at the heart of all we do, as we seek to become effective agents of social change.

    To achieve our goals, we work on four main areas. First, we seek to improve the provision of non-discriminatory health services, engage key stakeholders and employees to address employment-related discrimination, and provide LGBTQI+ young people with a dedicated organisation that focuses on issues that directly affect their life outcomes.

    Second, we seek to increase participation in policy development and review processes by empowering young LGBTQI+ people and youth leaders and increasing collaboration among the LGBTQI+ young people involved in mainstream youth organisations.

    Third, we create service packages for LGBTQI+ Jamaicans aimed at increasing their access to information and counselling, reducing homelessness, increasing access to non-discriminatory social services, and increasing access to safe entertainment and networking.

    Fourth, we advocate for the human rights of LGBTQI+ people by legitimising the needs of the community, sensitising the population and parliamentarians around human rights, stigma and discrimination, increasing the capacity of LGBTQI+ leaders, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders and duty-bearers to be better equipped to respond to the needs of LGBTQI+ people, and increasing the visibility of the experiences and the issues affecting them. 

    What have been some of your achievements and lessons learned so far?

    Our achievements over the past decade included the training of over 700 healthcare workers, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, on how to treat LGBTQI+ clients; successful mass media campaigns such as We Are Jamaicans, #iChooseLove and #OutLoudJA, which sought to raise awareness about LGBTQI+ people among the general population; Our public Pride celebrations; four national surveys on attitudes and perceptions of the public on LGBTQI+ people and issues; the provision of capacity building for CSOs and youth leaders; and numerous research and publications on LGBTQI+ issues.

    Since our inaugural Pride event in 2015, Jamaica has held annual celebrations during the ‘Emancipendence’ period – the holidays celebrating both the end of slavery and independence from British colonial rule. The first thing to note is that Jamaica Pride has been conceptualised and implemented through a culturally appropriate lens; for example, it does not include a parade and instead takes the form of a diverse set of events and activities that are important to Jamaicans, including a sports day, church service, trade show, concert, party events and a day of service. At our inaugural Pride in 2015, the keynote speaker at our opening ceremony was the Mayor of Kingston, Dr. Angela Brown-Burke, which meant to signal that the community had allies among policymakers and parliamentarians.

    Another success has been having mainstream dancehall artistes such as Tanya Stephens, D’Angel, Jada Kingdom, Tifa, Ishawna, Yanique Curvy Diva and Stacious perform at Pride events. This focused national attention on our celebrations and signalled a positive shift regarding cultural spaces that had been highly contested.

    For the first time this year, J-FLAG did not host all the Pride events itself; instead, it provided financial and logistical support for members of the community to spearhead their own events. Dubbed #PrideShare, the initiative featured events led by community members, including arts events and a lip-sync battle, whose success indicated that our efforts are a step in the right direction.

    After 20 years of advocacy, now there is sustained public conversation around LGBTQI+ rights, increasing public tolerance and a growing willingness among parliamentarians, policymakers and key decision-makers to engage with the local LGBTQI+ community, including steps in working with LGBTQI+ rights organisations and advocates to improve the lives of members of the community. Notably, J-FLAG has built and sustained a significant partnership with the Ministry of Health that has led to the training and sensitisation of over 500 healthcare workers to fight stigma and discrimination in the health sector.

    Notwithstanding these gains, the movement has been dogged by sluggish law and policy reform, limited availability of spaces for community mobilisation and engagement, limited financial support to address homelessness and displacement, and low engagement of LGBTQI+ people living in rural areas. J-FLAG in particular has outlined the need for greater support in strengthening community systems as a means of scaling up advocacy efforts and ensuring wider reach and greater impact.

    How can international civil society best support the struggle of LGBQTI+ people in Jamaica and more generally in the Caribbean?

    International civil society can support the local and regional movement in many ways, including by giving us a seat at the table during global conversations, and understanding that we are the experts on what is happening in our societies. Where possible, it should also support our resourcing efforts with international donors. It can also help by sharing best practices and relevant research and raising awareness about the issues we face in Jamaica and the Caribbean among wider audiences.

    Civic space inJamaica is rated as ‘narrowedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with J-FLAG through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@EqualityJa on Twitter.



  • JAMAICA: ‘Laws that discriminate against LGBTQI+ people send a signal about our place in society’

    Glenroy MurrayCIVICUS speaks about the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Jamaica and the ongoing impacts of the British colonial legacy with Glenroy Murray, Executive Director of J-FLAG.

    J-FLAG is a human rights and social justice organisation that advocates for the rights, livelihood and well- being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jamaica.

    What is the current situation of LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica?

    We continue to face challenges even as we note that there has been progress in the form of moderately increasing positive attitudes towards the community. Based on the 2019 Awareness, Attitude and Perception Survey commissioned by J-FLAG, there was a small but noticeable increase of five percentage points in tolerant and positive attitudes towards LGBTQI+ Jamaicans, from 20 to 25 per cent. A 10-year analysis of the human rights violations being reported to J-FLAG shows a decline in mob violence, arson and murder.

    However, there continues to be reports of verbal harassment, threats, physical violence and displacement of LGBTQI+ Jamaicans by their family and members of their community. According to the 2019 Community Needs Assessment commissioned by J-FLAG, one in five LGBTQI+ Jamaicans have been displaced at some point in their lives, and 46.8 per cent of LGBTQI+ Jamaicans have experienced discrimination.

    That being said, there has been a noticeable increase in the willingness of LGBTQI+ Jamaicans to be more visible and a decline in openly homophobic rhetoric among politicians and key decision-makers, and in violently homophobic lyrics in popular music genres. These qualitative shifts suggest that we are slowly moving in a positive direction as a society, even though the most vulnerable members of the community often continue to face the most severe manifestations of homophobia.

    Do you think there are enough mechanisms in place to address homophobia in Jamaica?

    Quite the opposite: there are specific legislative provisions that are discriminatory. For example, section 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act criminalises anal sex regardless of consent and section 79 generally criminalises male-to-male intimacy. Although these laws are hardly enforced, they send a signal about our place in society. In addition, same-sex couples are deliberately excluded from laws that recognise unmarried couples and provide benefits and protections, including against domestic violence, to people in those relationships.

    Jamaican law does not prohibit discrimination by private people and groups, including companies, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While some steps have been taken to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in policy, this has not always translated into better protection for LGBTQI+ Jamaicans. In addition, there continues to be a reticence among community members to report crimes and violence against them to the police because of experiences of discrimination that they’ve had or are aware of.

    It is critical for the Jamaican government to do more to ensure the inclusion of LGBTQI+ Jamaicans. A 2020 study done by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute revealed that billions of dollars are lost because of discrimination against the community. Beyond this economic burden, the continued exclusion faced by the community puts Jamaica at odds with its international human rights commitments and obligations. The success of our national development plan, Vision 2030, is endangered by this exclusion.

    What work does J-FLAG do, and what challenges has it faced?

    J-FLAG uses a range of approaches to advocate for greater inclusion of LGBTQI+ Jamaicans within society. We continue to agitate for law and policy reform so that criminalising and discriminatory laws are changed and protective laws and policies are introduced. Recognising the need to engender cultural change, we do online and traditional media campaigns to promote tolerance and inclusion.

    We have also invested heavily in building the capacity of members and allies so they can do their personal advocacy independently from us. This has led to increasing visibility among community members, contributing to our efforts to change hearts and minds.

    We also do research around issues facing the community to ensure our advocacy is evidence-based and we are able to act as a repository of knowledge for those who would like to support our work. Additionally, we do capacity building training and sensitisation sessions for a range of public and private groups to improve their engagement with members of the community. Finally, we have hosted seven incident-free PrideJA celebrations since 2015 and are now planning the eighth.

    The major challenge we have faced is fear among a wide range of stakeholders to openly or quietly engage with our work. There are low levels of political will to effect legal and policy change. Community members are reticent to engage with us openly because of fears of discrimination. Various public and private organisations prefer not to work with an openly LGBTQI+ organisation. There has been consistent, though in recent years not as visible, opposition by extremist religious groups.

    Within Jamaican society there are mixed views about our work, but support for it has grown significantly over the last five to 10 years. Some people are curious, others are willing to engage and learn, but among a significant mass there continues to be distrust or outright opposition. 

    How can Commonwealth countries work together to advance LGBTQI+ rights?

    Given the similarities across many Commonwealth countries, there is an opportunity for dialogue and experience-sharing, particularly with countries such as Bahamas, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, which have taken different routes to decriminalisation.

    As a body, the Commonwealth has a majority of countries from the global south, which while it presents its own challenges, also affords the opportunity to discuss and do work around LGBTQI+ rights with respect for each country’s cultural experiences. Within such a space, there is less potential for global north and western countries to be regarded as pushing ‘a foreign agenda’, and it is more likely for honest and difficult conversations about LGBTQI+ inclusion to happen and for collaboration to emerge. The only challenge will be whether the heads of government of these countries are willing to engage in these conversations.

    International organisations should maintain lines of communication with local organisations such as J-FLAG and TransWave Jamaica, which works on trans health and wellbeing, to develop an informed understanding of LGBTQI+ issues in the Jamaican context and use their various platforms to share that understanding with a wide range of actors. It would also be useful for them to assist in forging partnerships among organisations and movements in places like Jamaica and other parts of the world and offer support to ensure that the Jamaican movement is sustained.

    Civic space in Jamaica is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with J-FLAG through itswebsite orFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@EqualityJa on Twitter.



  • JAMAICA: ‘We must establish a republic – where the people are sovereign and not the Queen’

    Rosalea HamiltonCIVICUS speaks about the movement to make Jamaica a republic with Professor Rosalea Hamilton, founding director of the Institute of Law and Economics and member of the Advocates Network.

    The Advocates Network is a non-partisan alliance of individuals and organisations advocating for human rights and good government in Jamaica.

    What are the goals of the movement for republicanism in Jamaica?

    To understand the goals, let’s break down the concept of republicanism. It means different things to different people. Perhaps the most popular, widespread view of a republic is a state without a monarch. This is the view held by many countries across the region that have removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, Barbados being the most recent case, and declared themselves a republic. But the other concept of a republic, as a state in which the people are sovereign, is typically ignored or downplayed.

    Since Barbados became a republic in November 2021, the republican conversation, which had started in Jamaica around 1995, gained momentum. Having learned from the experience of our Caribbean neighbours, many of us now view the concept of a republic as involving not just the removal of the Queen but also the establishment of a state where the people are sovereign and not the Queen.

    Although we have a representative, democratic form of government, it does not effectively represent the will of the people. Therefore, a core objective in creating a republic would be to strengthen and deepen our representative democracy to ensure we have a government of, by and for the people.

    So for those of us who are part of the Advocates Network, our goal is not just removing the Queen as head of state, which we see as a necessary first step, but also deepening our democracy and ensuring the establishment of a state where the Jamaican people are sovereign.

    What explains the recent momentum of the movement for republicanism in Jamaica?

    Most recently, the movement gathered strength in response to the royal visit to Jamaica in March 2022, which was viewed as inappropriate not only because it was during the throes of the pandemic, but because we were – and still are – grappling with pre-existing issues that have been exacerbated due to the pandemic. These include high murder rates, undereducated children, child abuse, gender-based violence and inadequate housing. Many of us in the Advocates Network are actively involved in tackling these problems, which we view as rooted in our colonial past. We think it’s time not only to move away from the monarchy, but also fix these colonial legacy problems. 

    The royal visit was therefore seen as a distraction. But it also provided an opportunity for Jamaicans to learn more about the royal family and their active role in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. Jamaicans became more aware of the details of past atrocities and have begun questioning the role of the Queen as head of state after 60 years of independence. Social media has played a big role in helping to build awareness and deepen understanding.

    But there are also several other factors at play. The world is changing. For us in the Caribbean and across the Black African world, something shifted with the murder of George Floyd in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement. As the entire world saw the video of a white man kneeling on the neck of a Black man, we found that our Governor-General – the official who represents the Queen in Jamaica – was wearing an insignia with a white angel standing on the head of a devil depicted as Black. It was a shocking reminder of the link between our colonial past and our institutions today.

    That woke people up. The George Floyd murder, and the many racist incidents that followed in the USA, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, reminded us that we still live in a world where people are treated as less than human based on the colour of their skin. The unheard calls for reparations are becoming louder as we try to come to grips with a past that is still with us.

    The movement for republicanism can therefore be seen as a rejection of our colonial past and its modern-day expressions in the form of racism, discrimination, inequity and more.

    In light of the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, what do you think the relationship between Caribbean countries and the UK will look like going forward?

    A lot will depend on how the UK responds to the growing calls of Caribbean people and our governments for a different relationship than we have had in the past. The formal position of Caribbean governments is to engage in a reparatory process. Governments may choose to be patient with this process, but increasingly many Caribbean people are demanding a formal apology and reparations, as was evident during the royal visits to the region. Many are saying it’s time!

    The voices are getting louder, not only in the Caribbean but in the USA and other parts of the world. The rejection by the majority of the Commonwealth heads of government of Kamina Johnson Smith, the candidate for Secretary-General who was openly backed by the UK, is indicative of this changing relationship with the UK.

    If the UK doesn’t respond positively and continues its racist, discriminatory policies, the relationship is likely to become more antagonistic.

    But I am hopeful things will change. An important part of our response to the royal visit was an open letter listing 60 historical reasons for an apology and reparations from the UK and its royal family. It was a way to bring to their attention the horrors of the past, because we are not sure they understand our history.

    It may be working. I noted that at a Commonwealth conference, Prince Charles said he’s still learning about the past. Most of us are still learning, and unlearning, what we were taught about the past.

    The UK has a great opportunity to rebuild this historic relationship on less exploitative and more humane terms. Engaging in a meaningful reparatory justice process can create a framework to build a mutually beneficial relationship that puts the past behind us and enable us to build a better future for generations to come. 

    How is the Advocates Network working towards these goals?

    We are advocates for human rights and good governance, issues that are central to creating a people-centred republic. So we are actively engaged in public education and building public awareness about what it will take to create a republic where the Jamaican people are sovereign. Right now, we are organising online forums. We won’t stop until we are on the right path to creating a meaningful republic. As we say: ‘Wi Naa Ease Up!’

    Public education is key! The 60 reasons appended to the open letter to the royals was to educate not just the royals about our history but also our fellow Jamaicans. We want Jamaicans to understand the many reasons we must remove the Queen as head of state. It’s simply unacceptable to have a head of state who refuses to formally apologise for an atrocity that the United Nations has labelled as constituting crimes against humanity.

    The major obstacle to overcome is to shift the mindset of Jamaicans to see themselves as owners of Jamaica with sovereign responsibility to determine the future of Jamaica. If we make this shift, a meaningful republic that can better address the pressing issues facing Jamaicans will be within our grasp.

    What international help do the movement and its people need?

    The work involved in creating a meaningful republic as well as pursuing reparatory justice is indeed challenging. It’s a heavy burden. It’s a painful burden to confront our past and change our society. Unearthing the past to guide our future is heavy lifting.

    Collaboration, especially in disseminating information, is important for our education campaign, including through interviews by a global south organisation based in South Africa, such as CIVICUS.

    Financial resources are helpful, but in-kind support is as important and will certainly help us to reduce the burden. Access to research materials, educational opportunities, media facilitation, technological assistance and international forums will be helpful. We welcome opportunities to amplify our voices in collaboration with individuals and organisations with similar objectives in other countries.

    Civic space in Jamaica is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow@Advocatesnetja and@rosaleahamilton on Twitter.


  • JAMAICA: “Tras 20 años de incidencia, hoy se habla públicamente de los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+”

    Karen LloydCIVICUS conversa con Karen Lloyd, directora asociada de J-FLAG, sobre la situación de las personas LGBTQI+ en Jamaica y la significación de un reciente informe de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) que responsabiliza al gobierno jamaiquino de la violación de derechos. J-FLAG es una organización de derechos humanos y justicia social que defiende los derechos, la vida y el bienestar de las personas LGBTQI+ en Jamaica.

    ¿Cuál es la situación de las personas LGBTQI+ en Jamaica?

    La discriminación basada en el género y la sexualidad sigue siendo preocupante y afecta a las personas de muchas maneras, ya que dificulta su derecho al trabajo, a la educación y a la salud, e incluso los derechos a la vida y la igualdad ante la ley. La ley no protege a las personas de la discriminación por orientación sexual o identidad de género, y las relaciones íntimas entre personas del mismo sexo está penalizada.

    En abril de 2011, el gobierno jamaiquino aprobó la Carta de Derechos y Libertades Fundamentales, pero los llamamientos para que incluyera garantías de no discriminación por orientación sexual e identidad de género no fueron escuchados. La Encuesta Nacional de 2012 sobre Actitudes y Percepciones hacia las Relaciones entre Personas del Mismo Sexo, encargada por J-FLAG, reveló que una de cada cinco personas en Jamaica respetaba a las personas LGBTQI+ y apoyaba la inclusión de la orientación sexual como motivo de no discriminación. Además, aproximadamente un tercio de la población creía que el gobierno no estaba haciendo lo suficiente para proteger a las personas LGBTQI+ de la violencia y la discriminación.

    Las personas que integran la comunidad LGBTQI+ jamaiquina se ven sistemáticamente privadas de sus derechos humanos y sufren discriminación, exclusión, ataques violentos, abusos policiales, falta de empleo y una clara falta de protección legal, entre otros problemas generalizados. Muchas personas LGBTQI+ viven con miedo debido a las políticas, leyes y actitudes discriminatorias y a la falta de voluntad política para proteger sus derechos humanos. Desde 2009, J-FLAG recibió más de 600 denuncias de casos de abuso y violencia, y la Encuesta Nacional realizada en 2015 reveló que apenas el 12% de la ciudadanía manifestaba tolerancia hacia las personas LGBTQI+.

    Un informe de 2016 reveló que de 316 jamaiquinos LGBTQI+, el 32% informó haber sido amenazado con actos de violencia física en los cinco años precedentes y el 12% dijo haber sido agredido; el 23,7% informó que había sido amenazado con violencia sexual y el 19% haber sido agredido sexualmente. Sin embargo, el 41% no había denunciado estos incidentes porque creía que la policía no haría nada al respecto, y el 30% consideró que lo ocurrido no era lo suficientemente importante. Uno de cada cuatro temió una reacción homofóbica de la policía y uno de cada cinco se sintió demasiado avergonzado y prefirió que nadie se enterara.

    Esta realidad se ve agravada por la homofobia y la transfobia, así como por las leyes que criminalizan la intimidad homosexual entre hombres, una legislación antidiscriminatoria débil y en gran medida inaccesible, una débil protección contra la violencia sexual y doméstica y la falta de reconocimiento legal de las relaciones entre personas del mismo sexo.

    En febrero de 2021, la CIDH publicó un informe sobre los derechos del colectivo LGBTQI+ en Jamaica. ¿Cuál fue su relevancia?

    Varios artículos de la Ley de Delitos contra la Persona (OAPA, por sus siglas en inglés), que data de 1864, prohíben las actividades sexuales entre hombres. Su artículo 76 tipifica como delito la sodomía, su artículo 77 tipifica como delito a todo intento de sodomía y su artículo 79 tipifica como delito los actos de indecencia grave, que pueden incluir besos, cogidas de mano y otros actos de intimidad entre hombres. Los hombres condenados por sodomía se enfrentan a un máximo de 10 años de trabajos forzados. Esta y otras leyes relativas a delitos sexuales que preceden a la Carta de Derechos y Libertades Fundamentales están protegidas de desafíos legales fundados en derechos.

    En los casos examinados por la CIDH, los peticionarios -el Sr. Gareth Henry, que es gay, y la Sra. Simone Edwards, que es lesbiana- alegaron que, al seguir criminalizando la actividad sexual privada consentida entre varones adultos y al proteger a estas leyes de toda impugnación, Jamaica estaba contraviniendo su obligación asumida en virtud de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos. Sostuvieron que esto contribuía a perpetuar la cultura de homofobia violenta de Jamaica y animaba al Estado y a la población en general a perseguir no solamente a los hombres homosexuales, sino también a la comunidad LGBTQI+ en su conjunto. Ambos afirmaron que habían sido víctimas de ataques homofóbicos. 

    El informe de la CIDH concluyó que el gobierno jamaiquino era responsable de estas violaciones de sus derechos. Lo último que supimos fue que el departamento del fiscal general había reconocido la decisión y estaba preparando una respuesta. Para la sociedad civil, el informe reforzó los llamamientos en curso a enmendar la OAPA y pasó a formar parte de la incidencia legislativa para lograr el cambio legal. Sin embargo, los esfuerzos de incidencia con legisladores han seguido siendo difíciles, ya que éstos no quieren que se los asocie públicamente con un llamamiento a derogar la OAPA, en previsión de una posible reacción de grupos extremistas religiosos y de algunos segmentos de la ciudadanía.

    ¿Cómo trabaja el J-FLAG para intentar mejorar la situación?

    J-FLAG es la principal organización de derechos humanos y justicia social jamaiquina que aboga por los derechos, los medios de vida y el bienestar de las personas LGBTQI+ en Jamaica. Nuestro trabajo apunta a construir una sociedad que respete y proteja los derechos de todas las personas. Nuestra dirección y nuestro personal están comprometidos con la promoción del cambio social, el empoderamiento de la comunidad LGBTQI+ y el fomento de la tolerancia y la aceptación hacia las personas LGBTQI+. Promovemos los valores de la inclusión, la diversidad, la igualdad, la equidad y el amor. Estos valores están en el centro de todo lo que hacemos, ya que buscamos convertirnos en agentes eficaces de cambio social.

    Para lograr nuestros objetivos, trabajamos en cuatro áreas principales. En primer lugar, tratamos de mejorar la prestación de servicios sanitarios no discriminatorios, de involucrar a las principales partes interesadas para hacer frente a la discriminación relacionada con el empleo y de ofrecer a los y las jóvenes LGBTQI+ una organización enfocada en las cuestiones que afectan directamente sus perspectivas de vida.

    En segundo lugar, tratamos de aumentar la participación en los procesos de desarrollo y revisión de políticas, empoderando a la juventud LGBTQI+ y a los y las líderes juveniles y aumentando la colaboración entre jóvenes LGBTQI+ que participan en organizaciones juveniles convencionales.

    En tercer lugar, creamos paquetes de servicios para jamaiquinos LGBTQI+ con el objetivo de aumentar su acceso a información y asesoramiento, reducir el número de personas sin hogar, incrementar el acceso a servicios sociales no discriminatorios, habilitar el acceso a un ocio seguro y alentar la creación de redes.

    En cuarto lugar, defendemos los derechos humanos de las personas LGBTQI+ legitimando las necesidades de la comunidad, sensibilizando a la población y a los parlamentarios en materia de derechos humanos, estigma y discriminación, aumentando la capacidad de los y las líderes LGBTQI+, de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) y de otras partes interesadas y titulares de obligaciones para que estén mejor equipados para responder a las necesidades de las personas LGBTQI+, y aumentando la visibilidad de las experiencias y los problemas que les afectan. 

    ¿Cuáles han sido sus principales logros y lecciones aprendidas hasta ahora? 

    Nuestros logros en la última década incluyen la formación de más de 700 trabajadores de la salud, en colaboración con el Ministerio de Salud y Bienestar, sobre cómo tratar a pacientes LGBTQI+; exitosas campañas en los medios de comunicación, tales como We Are Jamaicans (“Somos Jamaiquinos”), #iChooseLove (“Yo elijo el amor”) y #OutLoudJA (“En vos alta”), que buscaban concientizar a la ciudadanía sobre la situación y los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+; nuestras celebraciones públicas del Orgullo; cuatro encuestas nacionales sobre las actitudes y percepciones de la ciudadanía sobre las personas y los temas LGBTQI+; la provisión de apoyo en desarrollo de capacidades para OSC y líderes juveniles; y la producción de numerosas investigaciones y publicaciones sobre temas LGBTQI+.

    Desde nuestro evento inaugural del Orgullo en 2015, todos los años Jamaica ha tenido celebraciones durante el período de la “Emancipendencia”, que incluye celebraciones en conmemoración tanto del fin de la esclavitud como de la independencia del dominio colonial británico. Lo primero que hay que tener en cuenta es que el Orgullo de Jamaica ha sido conceptualizado e implementado en forma adaptada al contexto cultural; por ejemplo, no incluye un desfile y en cambio adopta la forma de un conjunto diverso de eventos y actividades que son relevantes para los jamaiquinos, entre las que se cuentan una jornada de deportes, un servicio religioso, una feria comercial, un concierto, eventos festivos y una jornada de servicio. En nuestro Orgullo inaugural de 2015, la oradora principal de la ceremonia de apertura fue la alcaldesa de Kingston, la Dra. Angela Brown-Burke, que constituyó una señal de que la comunidad tenía aliados en la cúpula política y parlamentaria.

    Otro éxito ha sido contar en los actos del Orgullo con la participación de artistas de renombre, como Tanya Stephens, D'Angel, Jada Kingdom, Tifa, Ishawna, Yanique Curvy Diva y Stacious. Esto enfocó la atención nacional en nuestras celebraciones y supuso un cambio positivo en relación con espacios culturales que habían sido muy disputados.

    Por primera vez este año, J-FLAG no estuvo al frente de la organización de todos los actos del Orgullo, sino que proporcionó apoyo financiero y logístico a integrantes de la comunidad para que lideraran sus propios actos. Bautizada como #PrideShare (“Orgullo compartido”), la iniciativa contó con actos dirigidos por miembros de la comunidad, incluidos eventos artísticos y una batalla de sincronización de labios, cuyo éxito indicó que nuestros esfuerzos constituyen un paso en la dirección correcta.

    Tras 20 años de labor de incidencia, hoy se habla públicamente de los derechos de las personas LGBTQI+ y se observa un aumento de la tolerancia pública y una creciente voluntad entre representantes parlamentarios, líderes políticos y tomadores de decisiones de interactuar con la comunidad LGBTQI+ local, lo cual ha implicado avances en el trabajo con organizaciones y personas defensoras de los derechos LGBTQI+ para mejorar la vida de quienes integran esta comunidad. En particular, J-FLAG ha establecido y sostenido una importante alianza con el Ministerio de Salud que ha permitido formar y sensibilizar a más de 500 trabajadores de la salud para luchar contra el estigma y la discriminación en el sector sanitario.

    A pesar de estos logros, el movimiento se ha visto afectado por la lentitud de las reformas legislativas y políticas, la escasa disponibilidad de espacios para la movilización y la participación de la comunidad, el escaso apoyo financiero para hacer frente a la falta de vivienda y al desplazamiento, y el escaso involucramiento de las personas LGBTQI+ que viven en zonas rurales. J-FLAG, en particular, ha subrayado la necesidad de mayores apoyos para fortalecer los sistemas comunitarios como medio para amplificar los esfuerzos de incidencia y garantizar un mayor alcance y un mayor impacto.

    ¿Cómo puede la sociedad civil internacional apoyar mejor la lucha de las personas LGBQTI+ en Jamaica, y en el Caribe en general?

    La sociedad civil internacional puede apoyar al movimiento local y regional de muchas maneras. Por ejemplo, puede darnos un asiento a la mesa durante las conversaciones globales y partir de la base de que, en lo que atañe a lo que está sucediendo en nuestras sociedades, nosotros somos los expertos. En la medida de lo posible, también debería respaldar nuestros esfuerzos de financiación con los donantes internacionales. También puede ayudarnos compartiendo buenas prácticas e investigaciones pertinentes y concientizando a un público más amplio sobre los problemas que enfrentamos en Jamaica y en el Caribe.

    El espacio cívico en Jamaica es calificado de “reducido” por elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Póngase en contacto con J-FLAG a través de susitio web o su perfil deFacebook, y siga a@EqualityJa en Twitter.