Urgent Action Needed To Save OAS LGBTQI Human Rights Resolution

By Maurice Tomlinson, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

June 21, 2017

Without urgent action by the Government of Canada and other countries supportive of fundamental human rights, protections for LGBTQI people across the western hemisphere are about to be set back by a decade. This is because a very unfortunate precedent is likely to be established at a current meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has recognized NGO status with the OAS, and I am attending this year’s General Assembly (GA) in Cancun, Mexico (June 19–21, 2017).

Sadly, the reports emerging over the course of the last days of the GA are rather troubling, if not entirely unsurprising.

Since 2008, the OAS General Assembly has almost annually approved a resolution condemning violence against LGBTQI people. The resolution, though non-binding, was nearly defeated in 2008 by a Caribbean block of countries, but that grouping was successfully broken when intense pressure was put on individual Caribbean states. This resolution eventually led to the creation of a Special Rapporteurship on LGBTQI human rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and was then followed by a similar UN resolution that culminated in the appointment of the current UN Independent Expert to protect LGBTQI people.

Each year the OAS resolution has been strengthened to reflect more realities of LGBTQI people, such as with the addition of gender expression and identity; this year, a reference to intersex was included.

But starting in 2013, countries began inserting footnotes to the annual resolution disagreeing with certain provisions. This disgraceful practice was started by the Jamaican government, and has since seen a number of other countries follow suit. Such footnotes weaken the resolution, which is of course the malicious intention of the countries who insert them.

This year Jamaica, no doubt under pressure from powerful domestic religious extremists, is upping the ante, and leading a group of countries, including Paraguay and Suriname, to have the resolution defeated outright. In an unprecedented move at the OAS these states are lobbying other countries to join them in denying human rights. Whatever the outcome of their efforts, the attempt to make LGBTQI people invisible will directly contribute to ongoing violence and discrimination against these communities.  This is vile, to say the least.

What these countries will likely propose — as early as today (June 21) — is a vote to have the resolution not considered at this General Assembly, which would effectively kill the resolution. This would be a significant setback given previous endorsement in other resolutions of the very basic human rights proposition that LGBTQI people should not be targeted for violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

It is therefore critical that Canada and other OAS member states that support fundamental human rights for all, including LGBTQI people, push back against this.

Countering Jamaica’s regressive proposal is important for defending  basic human rights. And if at least some Caribbean countries were to abstain from supporting it, this would demonstrate the reality that there is no uniform “Caribbean” position on the issue of LGBTQI human rights. This is a critical message for and in the region where states such as The Bahamas, Belize, Haiti and Suriname do not have anti-gay laws. Guyana has also been backing away, under local pressure, from some initial  suggestions of putting their anti-sodomy law to a popular referendum – a step that local LGBTI advocates have opposed.

Canada is currently chairing the core group of eight OAS states supportive of LGBTQI human rights concerns, and must respond to this threat. We have written to the Canadian government to urge them and their ally states to strongly condemn this action by Jamaica and her anti-gay allies.

Canada must act now! The situation is urgent as the vote could take place as early as today.  It would be devastating if, during Pride month, Canada and other countries at the OAS allowed states to condone violence against LGBTQI people across the western hemisphere.