UWI releases landmark study on the impact of criminal laws on sexual minorities in Guyana
The Faculty of Law University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) released the results of a study focusing on the social impact of the laws of Guyana which in effect criminalise lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) identities. The Director of Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), Ms. Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland, provided opening remarks, and Ms. Ulele Burnham, a Guyanese anti-discrimination lawyer and barrister at Doughty Chambers in London UK made a presentation titled, "Anti-Sodomy and Associated Laws: Offences against Equality”.
The study, “Collateral Damage”, was conducted by Dr. Christopher Carrico, a cultural anthropologist, formerly a lecturer at University of Guyana and now based in Maryland, USA. Dr. Carrico argues that “whilst many countries throughout the World have favoured decriminalisation of homosexual acts and sodomy, they remain illegal in Guyana and in ten other countries in the Caribbean, all of which were formerly British colonies”. In the context of Guyanese society, the existence of the laws examined in the study creates conditions conducive to the violation of basic rights for the LGBT community such as the right to equal protection and freedom of movement and expression. Guyana also has laws against ‘gross indecency’ between males, and cross-dressing. These crimes carry punishments of up to two years imprisonment, and fines of not less than 7,000 Guyana Dollars respectively.
Direct feedback was compiled from lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Guyanese, aged 17 to 37, who provided their accounts on the effects of these laws. The respondents spoke openly on a range of issues including a number of injuries that were directly inflicted by the police and the courts, such as police harassment and abuse, arrest, prosecution, and conviction of crimes.
Carrico further maintains as a result of the study that “based on an analysis of the content of a small number of qualitative interviews, we gathered sufficient evidence to say with considerable confidence that the laws against sodomy, same sex sexual activity and cross-dressing are not harmless laws, and that it is likely that the laws against loitering have been invoked arbitrarily to target the LGBT population”.
At the launch of the study in Georgetown on April 20, Burnham stressed the urgent need for reform of the Guyanese law. She referenced successful reform in Commonwealth countries and stated “Most subtle and intellectually rigorous decisions come from none other than the High Court of India and the post-apartheid South African Constitutional Court”.
The research also examined the background effects of these laws in social control, surveillance, and discipline in the wider society according to which their existence affected all aspects of the lives of the respondents, including access to public entitlements like health care or social services. It emphasised that one of the major effects of these laws was the degree to which sexual and gender minorities felt that they needed to regulate their normal behaviour at the workplace in order to have access to employment and a means of livelihood.
Carrico concludes among other things “While there would, no doubt, continue to be many sources of homophobia in society without the existence of these laws, the repeal of these laws would go a long way towards the securing of fundamental rights for LGBT citizens in Guyana”.
The study which was the first of its kind to be conducted in Guyana was funded by the British High Commissions for Guyana and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
About the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP)
U-RAP was established in 2010 and is an outreach and public service activity of the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies and is comprised of teachers in human rights and public law at the Faculty of Law UWI. The main objective of U-RAP is to promote human rights, equality and social justice in the Caribbean by undertaking and participating in human rights litigation in collaboration with human rights lawyers and relevant civil society organizations
U-RAP relies on the provision of pro-bono legal services by human rights lawyers across the Caribbean and works closely with civil society organizations. Another key dimension of its work is undertaking and supporting legal and social science research on the nature of human rights violations and attitudes to controversial human rights issues.
The initial focus of U-RAP’s work is on the human rights of sexual minorities since these rarely reach Caribbean courts because of endemic stigma and discrimination. At the same time, the essential concerns of sexual minorities—respect for human dignity and a right to choose a life of one’s own and shape one’s own identity—continue to be principles that are of great importance to Caribbean people.