The western hemisphere’s human rights tribunal has given Barbados three months to answer a petition to have its laws against same-sex intimacy struck down.
The challenge to the laws, filed by a trans woman, Alexa Hoffmann, and two other Barbadians, a lesbian and a gay man, has been reviewed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the last year.
The IACHR sent the Government a copy of the petition challenging sections 9 and 12 of the Sexual Offences Act. These sections effectively criminalize all forms of same-sex intimacy and the Mia Mottley administration now has three months to respond to the petition.
Section 9 outlaws “buggery”, which the courts have defined as anal sex between men but also between a man and a woman. The maximum penalty is life in prison.
Under Section 12, “serious indecency” is sweepingly defined as any act “involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” The maximum penalty is ten years in prison if the act is committed on or towards a person aged 16 or older.
The commission can issue a recommendation to the Government of Barbados to repeal the laws and if the State refuses, it can refer the matter to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which can issue a binding decision mandating that Barbados repeal the laws.
Barbados is the only Anglophone Caribbean country that recognises the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as it is a signatory to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
The matter has caught the attention of Minister of People Empowerment Cynthia Forde at a global decriminalization conference currently underway here.
Forde declared: “We have no fear of legal challenge to any of our legislation.
“That is how new law is made and how jurisprudence is enhanced and kept relevant.”
The petition is being supported by Trans Advocates and Agitation Barbados, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the University of Toronto International Human Rights Programme and other local and international social justice advocates.
Alexa Hoffmann said in a Facebook post about the filing: “Just as I hoped when I first conceptualised the plan of action to challenge the laws at the international level, and as I did on June 6, 2018, it is my most ardent hope that this one action helps to improve and [pave] the way for LGBT advocacy, inclusion and legal protection.”
Maurice Tomlinson, a leading Caribbean gay rights activist – now working for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network- who is also attending the decriminalization conference, said that he hopes that the IACHR will urgently hear this matter in light of the primacy that the commission places on protecting LGBT human rights.