Barbados Buggery Law Being Challenged at Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Barbadian trans woman Alexa Hoffmann, one of the petitioners in the case.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday June 6, 2018 – Three Barbadians — a trans woman, a lesbian and a gay man — are filing today a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), challenging two parts of a law that they say criminalize intimacy between consenting same-sex partners.

They are arguing that Sections 9 and 12 of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) violate numerous rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights.

Section 9 criminalizes buggery – anal sex between men or between a man and a woman – and prescribes a maximum penalty of life in prison, which the petitioners say is the harshest buggery law in the hemisphere. Section 12, meantime, criminalizes “serious indecency”, which is defined in the SOA as any act by anyone “involving the use of the genital organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” The maximum penalty for that is 10 years in prison if the act is committed on or towards a person aged 16 or older; the penalty is higher in the case of a person under the age of 16.

The ultimate goal of the petition is to end the criminalization of consensual sexual activity between persons above the age of consent, in particular the criminalization of consensual sex between same-sex partners, “and stop the state-sponsored homophobia they represent”.

“With these laws, we have been stripped of the freedom to enjoy one of the most important aspects of any romantic relationship — intimacy,” says Barbadian trans woman Alexa Hoffmann, one of the petitioners in the case.

“Many LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer] Barbadians face stigma, discrimination and abuse every day, which are deemed permissible and certainly exacerbated by the existence of these hateful laws. I have seen many of my friends simply pack their bags and leave Barbados, even though our constitution was designed to protect everyone as equals. These laws must be relegated to the dustbins of history.”

Maurice Tomlinson, Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, added that the laws, at their core, violate the human rights of all Barbadians, but are overwhelmingly used to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

“Evidence also shows that these provisions, and the stigma and discrimination to which they contribute, undermine the access of transgender people, gay men and other men who have sex with men to critical HIV services, including for testing, treatment, care and support. This undermines an effective response to HIV,” he said.

“We hope that the IACHR will recommend that the Government of Barbados repeal Sections 9 and 12 of the SOA in their entirety, so as to decriminalize private consensual sexual activity between those above the legal age of consent.”

There is no timeline for a decision by the IACHR. However, petitions are usually given priority by the IACHR if they concern fundamental rights and freedoms.

The Legal Network, along with Trans Advocacy & Agitation Barbados (TAAB) and the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program, is supporting the petition and providing technical assistance to the three petitioners.

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