Decriminalize same sex unions!
This was one of the touchy recommendations made to Barbados today during a United Nations (UN) meeting in Geneva at which the island was also strongly urged to abolish the death penalty, review its position on corporal punishment and to do more to protect and promote the rights of women and children, as well as people with disabilities.
During the 29th Session of Universal Periodic Review, addressed by Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, several countries said while they welcomed the progress made by the island on a number of human rights issues, there were still areas of concern, including the need for greater protection of the rights of women and children, as well as ratifications of conventions and protocols that were “seriously overdue”.
However, Ireland’s representative Ruth Cormican zeroed in the controversial issue of same sex unions, saying her country remained concerned about the level of discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) community in Barbados.
“We again strongly encourage Barbados to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults and to take all necessary steps to protect the LGBTI community from all forms of discrimination,” Cormican said, while also recommending abolition of the death penalty, as well as a national debate on capital punishment.
“In line with recommendations made in 2013, we recommend that Barbados enacts legislation ensuring protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and identity in the areas of employment healthcare and education,” added Kirsten Hommes, representative from the Netherlands, who also called for ramped up efforts to combat gender-based violence and to provide adequate redress and protection for victims.
Meanwhile, Guyana’s representative called for greater protection of migrant workers and their children, especially in the areas of health care and education, while the representative from Jamaica called on Barbados to reduce incidents of police abuse, increase the participation of women in more varied fields of employment, and implement measures for pregnant school girls to continue their education.
While assuring that some level of consideration would be given to the recommendations, Blackett pointed out that financial and technical constraints were limiting the timely “tidying up and implementation” in some areas.
On the issue of abolition of the death penalty, he said this would require public support, which he said was “not yet evidently sufficient to allow a democratically elected government to take this step, given the importance of public opinion on the matter”.
His comments also came amid the release of a report from the office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights which gave the island a mixed review, pointing out that while tremendous progress had been made in some instances since the last review in 2013, other areas needed to be significantly improved.
Besides the call for greater protection and promotion of the rights of people with disabilities, as well as women and girls, the report expressed concern about continued police abuse of residents, as well as an apparent hesitation by Barbados to ratify several conventions and protocols.
In the face of this report, Blackett said Government would continue to review and give consideration to those treaties and protocols “within the limits of its capability to live up to the reporting obligations and capacity constraints”.
He also said the island remained committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as evident by several pieces of legislation, policies and institutions.
However, he argued that many of the things on which Barbados relied had either been removed or significantly reduced, including preferential access to markets, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
“At the same time we are confronted by often nebulous and unwarranted challenges that require us to intensify our efforts to defend and even expand our offerings in the international business and financial services sector. Nonetheless, since our last review conducted in 2013 we have made some progress and implemented accepted recommendations,” Blackett insisted.
He said despite the country’s small size, progress had been made in several areas, including the promotion of gender equality, the protection and promotion of the rights of women and children and the elderly, the fight against police abuse, as well as access to health care, education and housing.
“These priorities are reflected in the outlay, which our country makes on education, social services and on social security which continues to consume approximately two-thirds of the national budget,” Blackett said.
However, the Government spokesman acknowledged that “challenges remain” as the island struggles with human, financial and technical constraints.