Guyana called upon to decriminalize same-sex relations

…at UN human rights review

-foreign minister says society remains divided

Faced with a slew of recommendations urging decriminalisation of consensual same-sex relations, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett yesterday told a United Nations (UN) human rights body that while discussion of the issue has increased, the society remains divided.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, and a number of other countries urged Guyana to abolish the death penalty, decriminalise same sex relations and halt corporal punishment as Guyana’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in Geneva.

In response, Rodrigues-Birkett, on the issue of the abolition of the death penalty or establishing a moratorium, referred to Guyana’s submission and her opening remarks during which she mentioned measures taken such as amending the law to commute some of the sentences to life imprisonment and “so while we have not gotten to the point of abolishing the death penalty, those discussions are continuing.”

She said that when the National Assembly was suspended, the work of the special select committee was not completed where this issue along with the decriminalization of same sex relations of adult males and other matters relating to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT) persons as well as corporal punishment were to be considered.

“But let me say on those three issues, in my opinion…compared to 2010, in 2014 and of course this year, there has been an increase in the discussion on these issues and I think that is a very good sign that people are discussing it. Of course the society is very divided on this and sometimes it can be a challenge speaking to citizens about abolishing the death penalty when in the neighbourhood of countries we see because of the high crime rate, some countries seeking to actually activate the death penalty. However, we continue those discussions in our country,” the minister said.

US representative Divya Khosia had welcomed Guyana’s voluntary commitment to hold national consultations on issues from Guyana’s first UPR session, including whether to repeal laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex.

“We note, however, the outcome of these consultations remains pending. In addition, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community continue to face targeted acts of societal violence and harassment. Some members reported that they were ridiculed by public officials when attempting to access medical care or file reports with the police. We also note no one has yet been brought to justice in several high-profile crimes committed against members of the LGBT community, including the murders of transgender individuals,” she said.

The diplomat recommended that in consultation with civil society, Guyana should develop and pass legislation that decriminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct and take measures to ensure that hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are vigorously investigated and appropriately prosecuted.

UK representative Anne Jahren also recommended that Guyana repeals all legal provisions that discriminate against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Oslo’s representative Sigri Stokke Nilsen also recommended that the government of Guyana abolishes discriminatory laws against LGBT persons and also amends its national legislation in order to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination.

The representative of the Netherlands, Paul Peters recalled that in 2012, the government of Guyana announced it would hold consultations on decriminalizing consensual same-sex conduct. “The Netherlands welcomes these steps, and recommends the government of Guyana to bring its legislation in line with international standards by removing the relevant sections that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct from the Criminal Law (Offences) Act,” he said.

Canadian representative Leigh McCumber recommended that Guyana amend Article 149 of the Guyana Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and repeal Sections 351 to 353 of the Criminal Law Offenses Act, which criminalizes sexual activities between consenting adults of the same sex. Ireland’s representative Breda Lee said that her country is gravely concerned that consensual adult same-sex relations are criminalised in Guyana. “Ireland recommends that Guyana repeal all provisions that discriminate against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly those which criminalise consensual adult same-sex relations,” she said.

Italy, Brazil, Slovenia were among several other countries that made similar recommendations.

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