UNIBAM gets boost from Obama
Turning to a story that has been persistently in the headlines; that’s the case of Caleb Orosco and UNIBAM versus the Attorney General. UNIBAM is challenging section fifty-three of the criminal code that states that sexual intercourse against the order of nature is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment. Two days before the start of the case an announcement by United States President, Barack Obama, could give UNIBAM a major boost. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the United States will begin using American foreign aid to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender persons abroad. Obama issued a memorandum directing American agencies to look for ways to combat efforts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality. The presidential memorandum said that federal agencies engaged abroad had been directed to “combat the criminalization of L.G.B.T. status or conduct; protect vulnerable L.G.B.T. refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. response to human rights abuses of L.G.B.T. persons abroad; and engage international organizations in the fight against L.G.B.T. discrimination.” The presidential announcement was followed today by a live webinar hosted in Washington, with experts responding to questions from across the Caribbean region on issues relating to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. The event attracted supporters from both sides of the debate at the US Embassy where the webinar took place. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Interested parties from across the region converged on the internet this morning for live webchat on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in the Caribbean.
The discussion was hosted by the US State Department and featured three experts on human rights issues. Belizeans joined the conversation at the US Embassy in Belmopan and one concern raised was if Foreign Aid funds from the US would be withheld from countries that don’t support LGBT rights.
Paula Uribe, Senior Advisor, Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State
“No, the US is not going to withhold funds. We always take very carefully the allegations of human rights abuse and we study the situation, not just on LGBT grounds but in general in each country and then we decide what we do with our foreign aid. But no, it’s not going to happen and that has been actually a conversation that started yesterday after the secretary’s speech and the president’s memorandum.”
“We can support groups, civil society groups in the ground when they are fighting for their human rights but we are not going to get into domestic legal battles. That’s for civil society groups and lawyers in the country. We would just support them from the background.”
Victor Madrigal, Head of Registry, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
“Even if one were to accept, for argument sake, that the majority of citizens of one country doesn’t want LGBTI persons not to be subject to violence or to be able to walk the streets and not be beaten, even if we were to accept that for the sake of argument that’s not a valid argument for actually having it be so because the rights of this person, historically subjected to discrimination, need to be protected also from the will of the majority if the will is that.”
Going a step further, it was also asked whether adapting the UN Human Rights in Belize would open the doors to same sex marriages.
Charles Radcliffe, Chief of Global Issues, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
“Neither the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nor the International Covenant on civil and political rights talks about gay marriage. What we’re talking about is making sure—we’re not talking about creating new rights or LGBT rights either—we’re just trying to ensure that everybody is able to enjoy the same rights and that the laws themselves are not discriminatory. But when it comes to the institution of marriage, there’s no obligation under international human rights law to open marriage to same sex couples.”
And with the churches’ involvement in the case, Charles Radcliffe of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that while the church is a moral authority, it has no say over basic human rights.
“The church, which we know in many societies including the Caribbean is playing a very constructive role and important role in terms of inclusion and teaching values, does not have a veto on universal human rights. And there is such a thing as freedom of belief and freedom of religion and people are completely entitled to do what they want. But they’re not entitled on the basis of those religious beliefs to insist that other people who don’t share them are stripped of their basic human rights and treated in some way as less human. So I think we have to resist the notion that nothing can change unless the church gives its agreement.”
Josh King, Senior Public Policy Advocate, Human Rights Campaign
“I would caution that families come in very different strains and I think any time you kind of use that to justify offering rights to one group or another, I think you kind of miss the point that it’s not really about the family, it’s about the person.”
“There are many ideas that are wrong about the LGBT community; the perception that pedophiles are the same as gay people or that it’s contagious to be gay and that you know they are going to give it to their children. Those ideas need to be debunked I think.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.