[www.inewsguyana.com] – On Wednesday, October 7, 2015, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) held a media briefing at the Guyana Marriott Hotel Georgetown to discuss Guyana’s recent review under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that was held in Geneva on September 28 – 29, 2015 during the 56th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and to share a synopsis of the Stakeholders Report on the Protection of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons in Guyana which SASOD submitted to CESCR on August 30, 2015,ahead of the country review.
Speaking at the media briefing were SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simspon, and Advocacy and Communication’s Officer, Schemel Patrick, and the UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr. Martin Odiit.
In his opening remarks, Simpson provided a brief background on how the CESCR works. He noted that the Guyana signed ICESCR in 1968 and ratified it in 1977. Simpson lamented that Guyana had failed to meet its treaty obligation to report to CESCR every 5 years and charged the APNU+AFC Government to improve the abysmal treaty-body reporting record of the previous administration.
Patrick provided a summation of the Guyana review process which she attended in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to country reviews, civil society organisations were encouraged to submit shadow reports which served to notify the Committee about issues of human rights violations in their particular countries. There was an informal meeting on the morning of September 28, which saw civil society organisations from four countries being reviewed in the current session – Guyana included – meeting with the Committee. Each civil society representative was allowed to make a short presentation and then the committee had an opportunity to ask questions. Patrick made a short statement summarizing the key recommendations from the submitted Stakeholder Report on the Protection of Rights of LGBTI Persons in Guyana and responded to questions from the Committee regarding Guyana’s anti-LGBTI discriminatory laws and policies.
She noted that the Guyana review took place on the afternoon of Monday, September 28 and the morning of Tuesday, September 29. The State Party presented its opening statement after which committee members asked questions based on the provisions of the ICESCR and also based on the Report that was submitted by the Government in 2012, which combines the second, third and fourth periodic reports, covering an 18-year period from 1995 to 2012.The state delegation comprised of Hon. Rapheal Trotman, M.P, Minister of Governance, Teresa Gaime, Technical Officer, Department of Governance, and Bevon McDonald, First Secretary, Embassy of Guyana in Brussels, Belgium.
Patrick stated that the SASOD’s Stakeholder Report aims to inform the Committee of areas where Guyana is failing to meet its obligations under ICESCR to respect and protect the human rights of all people, especially LGBTI individuals. It concludes with recommendations of matters that SASOD urges the Committee to include in its Concluding Observations to the Government of Guyana.
The report makes particular reference to Guyana’s failure to comply with Articles 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13 of the ICESCR in a number of areas; specifically, failure to enact and implement non-discrimination legislation to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in employment, housing, healthcare and education; ; lack of policies to prevent bullying and harassment of LGBTI students in the education system and effective mechanisms to seek redress; deficiency of sexuality education in schools that is comprehensive and inclusive of different sexualities and gender identities; and failure to repeal laws criminalizing consensual sex between male adults in private and laws criminalizing cross-dressing.
Patrick noted that SASOD has urged the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Government of Guyana in its concluding observations: enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of public life, including employment, housing, health care and education; include sexual orientation and gender identity within the list of prohibited grounds protected in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997; improve the training of healthcare professionals to increase their understanding of and sensitivity to the specific health needs of LGBTI people; improve mental health care for LGBTI Guyanese especially because of the added mental health burdens they suffer due to homophobia and transphobia; develop policies and implement effective mechanisms to address bullying, harassment and discrimination against LGBTI students in schools; develop and implement a training programme for school teachers and counselors to improve their knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity in order to deliver comprehensive sexuality education in schools; develop comprehensive sexuality education curricula inclusive of diverse sexualities and genders and addressing issues affecting LGBTI youth; and repeal the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-gender dressing.
In his remarks, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr. Martin Odiit reiterated that preservation and protection of human rights is a fundamental pillar of the United Nations. Dr. Oudiit spoke to Article 12 of ICESCR which recognizes the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. He stated that laws should not increase stigma to LGBTI people. Discriminatory laws drive LGBTI persons underground, and thereby prevent them from accessing services. Dr. Odiit emphasized that human rights should be at the center of the AIDS response as we strive to meet the UN “Getting to Zero” goals of “zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.” Dr. Odiit highlighted that though a lot has been done there are still major gaps to be addressed. He noted that there needs to be greater involvement of key populations and a legal assessment of the barriers to the HIV response.
After the presentations, participants at the media briefing asked questions and shared comments. Issues raised included the prevalence of workplace discrimination and the need for a comprehensive workplace discrimination policy, the need for constitutional reform to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination, and the importance of delivering comprehensive sexually education in schools to reduce teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools.
To read the entire report click here.