Friday, May 19, 2017

IDAHOT Remarks by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Hon. Basil Williams. S.C, M.P.

Good evening,
I wish to thank you for inviting me to make this presentation.

Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, S.C;  M.P(Neketa Forde Photo)

Kamala Kempadoo in her article Caribbean Sexuality –Mapping the Field has said:
“Caribbean sexuality is both hyper visible and obscured. That is, it is celebrated in popular culture as an important element in Caribbean social life and flaunted to attract tourists to the region, yet it is shrouded in double extender, secrecy and shame.” 

Sexual orientation and by extension lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LGBT) rights are considered a sensitive topic for many people and many governments. The deeply rooted religious and other cultural beliefs as well as accepted norm in the Caribbean have contributed to a climate of intolerance.

These beliefs and views isolate some members of our society and expose them to stigma and discrimination. However despite our differences in views and beliefs there must be a standard that ensures and promotes tolerance. As human International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia let us focus on the similarities we share with each other’s, rather than the differences.

The laws in the Commonwealth Caribbean that criminalize same –sex intimacy are remnants of the regions colonial past. Zoe Mintz in her article ,In the Caribbean:Anti-Sodomy Laws and Persecution, Being Gay is no fun in the islands, explained that “Once slavery was abolished in countries like Guyana and independence eventually gained – the rigorous British infrastructure remained in place to ensure the freedom gained by revolution “wouldn’t fall at the seams”. The remnants that have remained have caused local and international bodies to call for reform of our laws.

In addressing this issue, the Government wrote a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) following the 161st Ordinary Period of Sessions which addressed issues of human rights against young persons in Guyana. The Government noted that the Guyanese people are to decide in a referendum whether homosexuality should remain a criminal offence.

The Government believes that no person should be discriminated on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, since every citizen has equal access to all Guyana has to offer .This belief is enshrined in our constitution which is the supreme law of the land .The constitution provides by Article 145 that all members of society have a right to freedom of conscience while Article 146 provides for the right of freedom of expression. Article 149 protects our right against discrimination which includes on the basis of sex or gender and Article 149D provided for equality of enjoyment of all rights and freedom.

The Government believes that the principle of universality admits no exception and that human rights are the birth right of all human beings .We believes that the outright injustice, violence, discrimination and marginalization are common form of intolerance .we must respect and appreciate diverse cultures, forms of expression and way of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental   freedom of others .The diversity of our cultures and way of life is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure to enriches us all.

Abdur Rafay Usmani, a correspondent from the Commonwealth Youth Programme, stated in his article, ‘What can tolerance of or a nation’ that,‘Tolerance is not simply an attitude but is an essential element for peace, unity and economic well-being of a nation or society. Where everyone is treated equally and given equal opportunity, everyone is able to effectively utilise their talents and resources to improve their living standard.’ 

Adopting this view will help Guyana to continue to develop as a nation. It will inherently result in a bigger middle class and reduced poverty. Abdur Rafay Usmani explained that ‘in society where certain groups are discriminated against, not only are they less able to contribute to the economy, but also this leads to the build-up of ghettos and vulnerable communities.’ Nations that practice discrimination are at a disadvantage, as they risk losing enterprising individuals from victimized groups who tend to move elsewhere. 

Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, cultures, nations, religions. Tolerance allows people of different backgrounds, religions and races to work and live together, and this promotes unity. In a tolerant country, every citizen remains loyal to his country and is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. This is the goal of our administration. We recognize that the people of a nation are the foundation on which it is supported, and if there are fractures and faults in the foundation, the nation becomes more vulnerable to collapse. 

In conclusion as Guyanese we must foster a cultural shift. This must begin with our social behaviour. Our language must change. We must refrain from name calling and hate speech. Let us embrace the value of acceptance and equality for everyone. Let us be our brother’s keeper. We must document and expose allegations or reports of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity promptly. They must be impartially investigated and perpetrators held accountable and brought to justice. Hate speech and condescending attitudes reduce tolerance for homosexuality and encourage the unknown. They must be shunned and penalized. If we want change it must begin with each of us. 

Those who promote human rights have been and remain on the right side of history and history honours them. We must promote inclusiveness: recognize diversity and deepen the protection of fundamental human rights in Guyana. Today I implore you to continue advocating for equality and justice for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Be on the right side of history. 

Thank you.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

IDAHOT Remarks from Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton, M.P.

It is my pleasure to join the European Union delegation and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) at this reception to mark International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Unfortunately, the Honourable Prime Minister could not be here but he sent his regards and best wishes for a successful event. I’m pleased to represent him on this occasion.

 Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton, M.P. (Neketa Forde Photo)

International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is observed on May 17 to raise awareness of violence, discrimination, and repression of LGBT communities worldwide.
The Government of Guyana strongly believes that “no person should be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, since everyone has a right to work, pension and gratuity”.

More specifically, the Ministry of Social Cohesion embraces and advocates tolerance and unity for all Guyanese. Our mission is to support actions that strengthen key partnerships across sectors, facilitate bridging gaps within and across communities and contribute to socio economic, cultural, spiritual well-being and enriched livelihoods for all.

It must be pointed out that not only does the ministry advocate for inclusion, but it practices it as well.

Just last week, I presented to our Honourable Prime Minister, a copy of the completed five year Strategic Plan for Promoting and enhancing Social Cohesion in Guyana. 

This plan was developed as a result of an inclusive and participatory process which in a large way included SASOD - a member of the Ministry of Social Cohesion’s peer group.

The peer group was responsible for designing and guiding the citizens’ consultation process for the formulation of the Ministry’s strategic plan. SASOD remains a stakeholder in fostering Social Cohesion in Guyana.

No Guyanese, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity should be excluded from contributing to the development of our country. Exclusion on any basis will only result in detriment to Guyana.

The Ministry of Social Cohesion has been working in communities across the length and breadth of the country to educate our people about our diversity and inclusion.

We have been educating these persons about the importance of acceptance and respect for their fellow Guyanese regardless of the many forms of diversity which include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Only recently I met with representatives of SASOD when I committed to addressing issues faced by the LGBT community.

The Government of Guyana has zero tolerance for discrimination in any form. We do NOT practice discrimination and as such we will not condone it.

Re-examination of laws which discriminate against persons comprising the LGBT community has been garnering the attention of the Government.

Government will continue to work to ensure that LGBT persons are not marginalized or excluded because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I leave you with a quote from the great Nelson Mandela – “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

IDAHOT Remarks from European Union Ambassador Jernej Videtič

Ambassador Jernej Videtič, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana (Neketa Forde Photo)

The Honourable Basil Williams, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs,

The Honourable Dr George Norton, Minister of Social Cohesion,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Members of the Media,

Other Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good evening,

Together with millions of people around the world, the EU celebrates the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. On IDAHOT day itself, the EU Delegation in Guyana will proudly fly the rainbow flags which you see here [gesture left and right] on our office building, in a very public show of support for Guyanese people who are fighting for human rights for all. IDAHOT is a timely opportunity to remind Governments around the world of their obligation to promote the universality of human rights and ensure that everyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, enjoys these rights without discrimination.

For the European Union, our position is that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, or LGBTI, persons are protected under existing international human rights law, and that LGBTI persons have the same rights as all other individuals — no new human rights are created for them; but neither should any be denied to them.

To be more specific: when speaking about the rights of LGBTI persons, we’ve always made it clear that it is not about introducing new or different rights for one group of people. It is about the same human rights being applied to every person everywhere without discrimination.

The EU, similarly to the United Nations, is committed to the principle of the universality of human rights and reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values do not justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against LGBTI persons

In recent years, remarkable progress has been made around the world to advance the enjoyment of all human rights for LGBTI persons. Several countries have decriminalised homosexuality and others have enacted new statutes to protect individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. None of these changes could have happened without the dedication of courageous activists working to advance equal rights for LGBTI persons – activists such as many of you here this evening.

Great obstacles remain in many places around the globe. Discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons is still widespread, unfortunately including in Guyana. The EU condemns discrimination and violence against LGBTI individuals in the strongest possible terms. 

During Guyana's most recent Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations, it was recommended that Guyana change its laws in order to guarantee better protection LGBT persons; especially the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-gender dressing which, are discriminatory. In response Guyana agreed “to strengthen the protection of LGBT individuals” and “to continue its effort in eliminating discrimination against LGBTI people starting with the review of its related legislation”.

The European Union therefore encourages the Government of Guyana to repeal the laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing. We fully support the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination - SASOD - and other Guyanese human rights activists in their efforts in this area.

The EU is funding projects worldwide aimed at improving LGBTI organisations’ visibility and acceptance, enhancing their dialogue with authorities to change laws, combating homophobia, and protecting LGBTI persons from violence. Support is also given to training, information and legal support to LGBTI persons and civil society organisations. Such projects have been funded here in Guyana, primarily in cooperation with SASOD. We worked together on very successful projects on combating discrimination through advocacy and strategic litigation, through empowering civil society to combat discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and strengthening the public policy advocacy skills of Guyanese civil society organisations.
The EU will continue working with partners in Guyana and around the world to advance the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Thank you.