|[In the photo] Human Rights Coordinator of SASOD Ms. Ernestine Leonard (left), Managing Director of SASOD Joel Simpson (center), & SASOD's Board Secretary Alana Da Silva|
- Says Guyana needs to improve international record, action commitments
Commemorating its 14th anniversary on June 7, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) launched a new report on “Guyana’s Voting Record and Responses on LGBT Human Rights Issues at International Fora” this past Wednesday at their 203 Duncan Street, Lamaha Gardens’ office in Georgetown. According to SASOD’s Human Rights Coordinator Ms. Ernestine Leonard who delivered introductory remarks, the report was commissioned by SASOD and written by two Law graduates, Bryce Celestan and Samy Dorgham, under the tutelage of Professor Andrea Parra at the American University Washington College of Law. The Human Rights Coordinator also read the Foreword of the report was written by Ulele Burnham, British-Guyanese barrister at Doughty Chambers in London, United Kingdom, who specialises in mental health, mental capacity, human rights and equality law. Leonard quoted Burnham who wrote, “whilst we wait to see whether the current administration will act less as neutral arbiter and more as custodian of citizens’ rights, this report is a startling reminder of just how little leadership, and how much inertia, successive governments have demonstrated in relation to this issue.” More importantly, she pointed out, that the graduates collected invaluable data on Guyana’s voting record on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues before international bodies. “Their analysis indicates that many of the international conventions which now require Guyana to take steps to repeal discriminatory laws and confer positive statuary rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons were ratified between 20 to 50 years ago.” Adding that, “it is also difficult to see how it is possible to reduce discrimination against LGBT persons where same-sex sexual acts remain criminal offences,” Burnham’s Foreword states.
Background to the report and Guyana’s voting records at international bodies
SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson while presenting an overview of the report, recalled that Guyana voted to retract and defund the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI in December 2016. Simpson related that this led SASOD to reach out to its international partners to commission this study. “We were put in touch with Professor Andrea Parra who agreed to have two Juris Doctorate candidates at the time, over the last few months, conduct this research and analysis for us. We decided that we would cover 2008 to 2016, and look at both the UN and the Organisation of American States (OAS), wherever LGBT issues are discussed, how Guyana has been voting … or in the case of the UN human rights treaty bodies, how we’ve been responding to specific recommendations and concluding observations of those bodies on LGBT issues,” he said.
Simpson further explained that with respect to the UN, the report looks at the key treaty bodies and which are incorporated into the Guyana Constitution through Article 154.
He noted that Guyana has come up for review at these treaty bodies and over the years, SASOD has participated in several of the review processes by submitting shadow reports, engaging reviewers and presenting at review sessions. According to Simpson, it is hoped that with the publication of this new report, it can provide key stakeholders, particularly the Government and its Foreign Affairs Ministry, an analysis on how Guyana has been voting and responding to LGBT issues at the UN and OAS over the period 2008-2016. “This would provide a baseline for improving our record in these international systems where we action our commitments at home. We made those commitments part of our Constitution in 2003. The Government can’t opt out of some human rights or ignore the human rights of our communities. The state has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, of all people, including LGBT Guyanese,” Simpson stressed.
Meanwhile, Board Secretary Alana Da Silva shared another recent milestone of the rights group. On March 8 this year, SASOD Women’s Arm Guyana (SWAG) was launched to coincide with International Women’s Day. Da Silva explained that it is the women-led, social justice arm of SASOD dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LBT) women and women allies. Da Silva stated that SWAG is committed to promoting gender equality and women’s rights, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s empowerment and leadership in the LGBT movement, socially, economically and politically, and propelling the voices of LBT women and women allies.She further clarified that SWAG creates a safe space for LBT women and women allies as it seeks to further promote and strengthen the advocacy work done by SASOD with a focus on women’s issues, gender equality and increasing women’s participation in the movement