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Belize Section 53 judgment is a triumph for equality and HIV service access

Submitted by unaidsadmin on Thu, 2016-08-11 12:09 - 0 Comments

UNAIDS welcomes the ruling by the Honourable Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth Benjamin, that Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code is inconsistent with the Constitution. The law criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, including anal sex between consenting adults. The Chief Justice ruled that this provision violated the rights to human dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and equality before the law. The Court’s decision means that consensual, private sex acts between  adults--regardless of sex or sexual orientation--are no longer illegal in Belize. This development reinforces human rights and supports access to HIV services.

This is an encouraging step forward for a country that has already demonstrated a relatively high level of positive attitudes regarding homosexuals. A 2013 poll commissioned by UNAIDS found that two out of every three Belizeans were either accepting or tolerant of homosexuals (68%). In addition, three of  four respondents agreed that people should not be treated differently on the basis of their sexual orientation (75%).

“The ruling of the Belize High Court echoes the widespread public opinion in Belize that people should be treated with dignity and equality, regardless of who they love,” said UNAIDS Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team, Dr. Cesar Nuñez.  

This development comes at a critical juncture in the HIV response. Through the Sustainable Development Goals the world has committed to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. In order to do so, member states have pledged to ensure that no one is left behind.

For gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in most of the English-speaking Caribbean, discriminatory and punitive laws regarding sex between men hamper access to HIV and STI prevention and treatment and other social services by reinforcing discriminatory attitudes. Many people are reluctant to reveal their same sex behaviour due to fear of discrimination, harassment and violence. This ruling removes a key stumbling block to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men accessing HIV testing and treatment services.

UNAIDS congratulates Mr. Caleb Orozco, the complainant, the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and other supporting civil society organisations, for their courage, leadership and resilience over the last six years.

We also recognise the initiative of the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) to promote human rights, equality and social justice in the Caribbean through judicial review. Together civil society and the legal fraternity have taken on the challenging task of regional law reform in pursuit of increased human dignity and human rights in the region.

“Without the solidarity and persistence of these stakeholders this victory for equality would not have been possible,” Dr. Nuñez said. “We encourage civil society to continue to mobilize on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and to be the voice of the voiceless.”

UNAIDS advocates for the removal of punitive laws which are detrimental to the AIDS response. This must be combined with strategies to increase testing, treatment and treatment retention rates, particularly among young people, sex workers, transgender people, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and other key populations.  

Caption: Belizean human rights attorney, Lisa Shoman (from left), UNIBAM Executive Director, Caleb Orozco and UWI Rights Advocacy Project attorney, Westmin James

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The UNAIDS team offers the Caribbean the broad expertise of cosponsors and other UN organisations in areas such as program development and management, women and child health, education, legal networking, community care initiatives and resource mobilisation. The goal is an expanded response to HIV in the region with the world’s second highest HIV prevalence.