NEW YORK, United States, Friday August 12, 2016 – UNAIDS has welcomed a court ruling in Belize that means consensual, private sex acts between adults – regardless of sex or sexual orientation – are no longer illegal in Belize, saying the decision is a triumph for equality.
Chief Justice of Belize Kenneth Benjamin ruled on Wednesday that Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code is inconsistent with the Constitution. It criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, including anal sex between consenting adults. But the Chief Justice ruled that this provision violated the rights to human dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and equality before the law.
“This development reinforces human rights and supports access to HIV services,” UNAIDS said in a statement. “This is an encouraging step forward for a country that has already demonstrated a relatively high level of positive attitudes regarding homosexuals.”
A 2013 poll commissioned by UNAIDS found that two out of every three Belizeans were either accepting or tolerant of homosexuals (68%). In addition, three of four respondents agreed that people should not be treated differently on the basis of their sexual orientation (75%).
“The ruling of the Belize High Court echoes the widespread public opinion in Belize that people should be treated with dignity and equality, regardless of who they love,” said UNAIDS Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team, Dr. Cesar Nuñez.
UNAIDS said that for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in most of the English-speaking Caribbean, discriminatory and punitive laws regarding sex between men hamper access to HIV and STI prevention and treatment and other social services by reinforcing discriminatory attitudes.
It said many people are reluctant to reveal their sexual preferences due to fear of discrimination, harassment and violence.
“This ruling removes a key stumbling block to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men accessing HIV testing and treatment services,” it said.
UNAIDS also congratulated Caleb Orozco, head of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), who had filed the challenge against Section 53, as well as other supporting civil society organisztions, for their courage, leadership and resilience over the last six years the case was in the system.
— UNAIDS Caribbean (@UNAIDSCaribbean) August 12, 2016
It also recognized the initiative of the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) to promote human rights, equality and social justice in the Caribbean through judicial review, and noted that civil society and the legal fraternity took on the challenging task of regional law reform in pursuit of increased human dignity and human rights in the region.
“Without the solidarity and persistence of these stakeholders this victory for equality would not have been possible,” Dr. Nuñez said. “We encourage civil society to continue to mobilize on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and to be the voice of the voiceless.”