Sunday, September 30, 2007

Information for Refugee Advocates

SASOD has been asked to provide information in various formats to support claims for asylum for Gay and Lesbian Guyanese who have sought refugee status on the grounds of persecution because of their sexual orientation.

Information has been provided to :-
  • Wilson & Co, Solicitors, UK
  • The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
  • Gay Men's Health Crisis, New York, USA
  • Immigration Equality, New York, USA
  • Legal Aid Society, New York, USA
  • Glazer del Mar Solicitors, UK
  • Masliah & Soloway, PC, USA

SASOD does not have the resources to provide data based research evidence. SASOD does not intend to undertake any report writing for payment either. The purpose of this page is to provide information which could be used by advocates of those who are seeking asylum.

This link from Asylum Law provides more current resources.

About Guyana
1. Guyana is an independent country located on the North Coast of South America. The population of 750,000 people lives mostly on the coastland of the country. The population is made of descendants of the indigenous Amerindians, slaves from Africa, indentured immigrants from India, China and Portugal, and other settlers. The country is a former British colony. The cultural influences are from these diverse backgrounds, and the religious influences are Christianity in various denominations, Islam, Hindu, Bahai and others.

2. The legal structures of Guyana are inherited from the British Legal system, Guyana is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other Rights Conventions established by the United Nations.
3. Section 351, 352 and 353 of the Criminal Law Offences Act (8:01) state that
351. "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour's and liable to imprisonment for two years.
352. Everyone who: (a) attempts to commit buggery:; or
(b) assaults any person with intent to commit buggery; or (c) being a male, indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.
353. Everyone who commits buggery, with a human being or with any other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life".
4. These laws have not been used to incriminate consensual acts recently, but only used when there is a form of sexual assault, especially against minors.
“If any laws were broken, the police would charge ...”
“Commissioner of Police, press conference, 2004 responding to reporters' questions after a police officer and a civil servant were 'found' in a hotel room.
In one recent incident, it was reported that the charges might be laid for sexual acts between a 15 year old boy and an adult male. There is no age of consent for boys in Guyana at the moment, though proposals exist in the reform of the sexual offences legislation.

Homophobia in Guyana is grounded on these laws.
Furthermore, the evidence of state sanctioned homophobia exists in :-

a) the President's refusal to assent to a Constitutional Amendment Bill in 2001 which would have removed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This refusal was done under pressure from sections of the Christian and Muslim communities.

b) tolerance of music with homophobic lyrics which call for the killing and maiming of homosexuals despite an appeal by SASOD to the Ethnic Relations Commission and other entities which are responsible for maintaining respect for diversity, and for prevention of hate speech. The music reinforces that killing of homosexuals is seen as a righteous thing, and the comments which are reportedly used by attackers of gay men come from these songs.

c) The reluctance of the Government to amend the legislation to prevent stigma and discrimination of men who have sex with men, even though medical services are provided for those men who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

The first attempt to address the legal basis of homophobia is in 2000 during the Constitutional Reform process. The Constitutional Reform committee used the South African model as the basis for a new inclusive society in which human rights are guaranteed for all persons.

6. In January 2001, the Parliament of Guyana voted for a constitutional amendment that would amongst other things, include 'sexual orientation' as one of the characteristics for non-discrimination. The issue was raised again in May 2003, when the Constitutional Amendment bills were passed to establish the various rights commissions.
The public debate was led largely by the Christian and Muslim community which lobbied at all levels to remove that discrimination. The Amendment Bill floundered in Parliament, with no vote being taken. This was because the Government introduced a bill which it had no intention of supporting, creating unprecedented history in the Parliament.

7. In November of 2004, the Minister of Health acknowledged that the sodomy laws in the Caribbean would have to be repealed to effectively deal with HIV/AIDS . His views were opposed by members of the Evangelical Christian Community, who also protested against the idea that the Ministry of Health would offer condoms to male prisoners. The Cabinet Secretary subsequently indicated that the Government had no intention of changing their position on the Sexual Orientation;
Dr Ramsammy said existing laws that make prostitution and homosexuality offences are not being enforced and if they are enforced, commercial sex workers and gays will go underground because of fear of discrimination.
"We know them, and we have stopped criminalising them. We aren't going to take them to court. But our legal books say it’s wrong," he said.
"It's better that you take the thing (laws) off the books than to have them and be hypocritical about it and do nothing about it (HIV). For me it's not a moral issue, the fact is that these things stigmatise people."
Dr. Luncheon refutes speculations that Government’s position conflicts with that of the Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy..
This may seem to be so, but there is no conflict…there might have been arguments made in the public, maybe even suggestions about courses of interventions from the health perspective; but when it comes to the Government’s positions on sexual orientation, I can assure you that the Government’s position is the Government’s position,” he said.
8. The Ministry of Health has embarked on various interventions to prevent HIV/AIDS and to ensure fair treatment of HIV/AIDS infected men who have sex with men. These efforts are driven underground by fear of backlash from the homophobic sections of the religious community and there has been criticism of sections of the health care sector.

Rights violations
9. SASOD has asserted the following :-
* The right to equal protection of the law without any discrimination (Article 7) is denied by omitting sexual orientation from our constitution and anti-discrimination laws.
* The right to privacy (Article 10) is denied by the existence of ‘sodomy laws’ under s. 352 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap. 8: 01 which seek to criminalize sexual activity between consenting male adults.
* The right to work (Article 23) is the most affected among the economic rights as many lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Guyana are being fired or discriminated against in employment policies and practices because of their perceived sexual orientation and are too scared to raise these issues in the public domain for fear of further victimisation
"A SASOD affiliate was asked by a human resource officer to change his CV to delete affiliation from SASOD. The officer indicated to him that it would be easier for him since the organisation did not want to get into 'sexual orientation' issues.

"A woman believes she was fired from a financial institution when her employers became aware that she was living with a woman and her child. She did not want to bring this charge because she felt that she had no case and did not want to face further discrimination.

* The right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being including medical care and necessary social services (Article 25) is at conflict with discriminatory policies and practices, some physicians’ homophobia, the lack of adequate training for health care personnel regarding sexual orientation issues or the general assumption that patients are heterosexual.

* Some lesbian, gay and bisexual students in Guyana do not enjoy the right to education (Article 26) because of an unsafe climate created by peers and educators in schools.

10. SASOD has engaged in several public activities to promote awareness around the issues on gay and lesbian rights, while participating in different actions. SASOD has been successful in hosting several events such as a film festival, a leaflet distribution campaign, and some other forums. However, persons have been concerned about the publicity of these events since it is felt that people would be targeted for attending them.

Many gay and lesbian Guyanese hide their sexual orientation since the sodomy laws could be invoked. As a result, some people have accused for example SASOD members of making up stories since there is no evidence to back the stories. The environment of secrecy discourages full evidence led actions in some instances.

Combating homophobia in popular Culture.
11. In December, 2005, SASOD members wrote to the Ethnic Relations Commission, a public body mandated to,amongst other things ““encourage and create respect for religious, cultural and other forms of diversity in a plural society” (Article 212d(f), Constitution of Guyana) requesting sanctions against the musicians and their promoters who attacked gay and lesbian people in their lyrics. The Ethnic Relations Commission responded one year later to say that this appeal did not fall in their mandate.

In 2008, the Minister of Home Affairs noted that two singers were banned from Guyana because of their violent lyrics. He did not mention the nature of those lyrics. Other homophobic singers have visited Guyana and have made statements at their concerts without any sanctions.

12. Police protection of openly gay persons
There are different stories depending on where the person lives, how the person chooses to live and the community in which they live.

“Openly gay” in Guyana usually refers to someone who is usually engaged in sex work and might dress in women's clothes. There is always a risk of violence or verbal abuse. Other gay men who do not wish to live this way would find it difficult to assert themselves since the homophobia in the society could result in persecution in different ways. There is always the threat of violence , and many gay persons have to live dual lives to avoid that violence.

While there are communities of support, the communities of support cannot offer protection.

Gay and lesbian people have different experiences and have found ways to survive in Guyana. The experiences of gay men vary with economic background and political affiliations. Young gay men who live in rural areas are at greater risk if they live openly unless they have affiliations and connections with police or other prominent persons in the community. Communities of support can offer some solace, but no protection and gay men have to find their own ways to survive, and this usually means by not living openly – sometimes living dual lives.

There are serious concerns in Guyana about the inability of the Guyana Police Force to offer protection to citizens in all parts of the country. The number of unsolved crimes is higher than solved crimes (leading to court cases), the most high profile being the murder of Government Minister in office in April 2006.

Critics of the police have included political parties (in Government and in opposition) and civil society organisations. The GPF have indicated that they are short staffed and under resourced and that they have a commitment to professional responses to all reports of crime.The response of the police is inconsistent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some police are professional, while others respond to reports of homophobic attacks with ridicule and victim-blaming.

Police have been accused of harassing and even beating openly gay men. “Petronella', an openly gay man openly testified on radio on 17 May, 2006 that some police further participate in the harassment of gay men on the streets, and that there are no recourse to complaints since the laws are structured to encourage homophobia. The police did not respond to those claims. Gay male sex workers note that many police also rape and brutalise them, or ask for sexual favours in return for protection.Other gay men have noted that some police would laugh and mock them when they try to make reports of attacks and do not take the reports seriously.

13. Gender Identity and ExpressionThere are some men who are effeminate in their expressions and some who 'cross-dress'

"Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which makes an offence of being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire…
There was a recent case in which several cross-dressers were arrested and charges were laid. SASOD has issued a statement protesting this action.

Some cross dressers are attacked in different places. Many of them do not report to the police because they do not have the confidence that police will respond to the attacks.


14. SASOD recognises that in Guyana and the English speaking Caribbean, the sodomy laws can be enforced selectively depending on the judicial system. SASOD recognises that other countries, including the United Kingdom have repealed the sodomy laws, and have also enforced stronger legislation to combat sexual assault perpetrated on male victims. The English Speaking Caribbean territories must also overcome the historical injustices which were imposed on people who are not heterosexual.

15. SASOD believes that the homophobic rhetoric emanating from fundamentalist religious bodies in North America and elsewhere will impact on the ability of local activists in the Caribbean to combat discriminatory practices.

16. SASOD notes that different Caribbean Governments, and Government officials have taken different stances on the rights of gay and lesbian peoples. SASOD believes that the Caribbean Governments which are signatory to International Conventions must rise above the pressure exerted in the name of religion to ensure that all citizens can be assured of their right to sexual orientation and gender identity.

April 2009