Example 4: Criminality of same-sex sexual activity in Belize

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization

United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM)
Belize
E-mail: unibambusiness@gmail.com
Web:  http://unitedbelizeadvocacymovement.blogspot.com/

United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) is the only organisation in Belize working on issues of sexual orientation. Their work focuses mainly on HIV/AIDS prevention and access to treatment for men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as on advocacy for legal reform and public education to confront discrimination and homophobia in the country.

The Problem

The law of Belize criminalizes both private and public same-sex sexual activity punishable with imprisonment up to 10 years.  Belizean law also prohibits prostitutes and homosexuals from immigrating to the country.  Also, as defined in the criminal law, only women may be considered victims of rape and so men are not protected against it.

These laws, coupled with a society that is ridden with prejudice, discrimination, and police violence towards LGBTI persons, prevent men who have sex with men from accessing proper health care and prevention services in Belize.

Actions Taken

In 2008, UNIBAM commissioned a report called Show No Mercy: Barriers that Exist for Men who Have Sex with Men to Access Sexual and Reproductive Services, which was targeted towards the National AIDS Commission (NAC). The focus of the report was not to lobby against the country’s laws of criminalization of same sex activity in great length. Instead it focused on the negative health effects which derive from criminalisation, specifically the heightening rate of HIV infection and barriers to access of information on health. From this UNIBAM were able to make the argument that international law and public health mandated the repeal of the law against same-sex activity.

In 2010, the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (URAP) initiated the case with local senior counsel Lisa Shoman.  Caleb Orozco and UNIBAM jointly filed suit with the Belize Supreme Court claiming that the criminalization of same sex activity violates the Belize Constitution which recognizes the right to human dignity, to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy, and to equal protection under the law.

Results & Lesson Learned

The 2008 report was written alongside the NAC process of legislative and policy review of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; aimed at highlighting the situation of MSM, and increasing access to treatment and prevention programs.

• The report identifies the Yogyakarta principles as complementary to public health principles, in a human rights framework.

• It highlights the basic claim that discrimination and stigma based on sexual orientation deny MSM the fundamental human right to the highest attainable standard of health.

• In incorporating the Yogyakarta principles in the report, human rights classes at the University of Belize have been able to demonstrate the breadth and provision of the principles within human rights law.

The case brought by Orozco and UNIBAM in 2010 is currently pending before the Court.  While Orozco remains a complainant, UNIBAM has been removed as the second complainant and is now an interested party.  Human Dignity Trust, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, and the International Commission of Jurists are also interested parties.  A ruling on the case is expected anytime in 2013.

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