Jamaica: Amnesty says urgent government action needed to protect gay people from homophobic violence

Amnesty International has received many reports of vigilante action against gay people by members of the community, and of ill-treatment or torture by the police. Gay men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality. Once a person’s homosexuality becomes known to family or community, they are frequently at risk.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

“We have talked to people who have been forced to leave their communities after being publicly vilified, threatened or attacked on suspicion of being gay. They face homelessness, isolation or worse.

“We are concerned that these reports are just the tip of the iceberg. Many gay men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Jamaica are too afraid to go to the authorities and seek help.”

One man described to J-FLAG (Jamaica’s only LGBTI organisation) how six men from an infamous “garrison community” (poor, inner-city communities dominated by either of Jamaica’s two main political parties) blocked a road to beat a local gay man:

“The crowd stood around watching, chanting “battyman, battyman, battyman.” They beat, punched and kicked him, and then they dragged him down the road for half a kilometre. They shouted “battyman fi’ dead.” As I stood across the street I realised there was nothing I could do to help him. Some mothers were actually in tears at what they were witnessing but there was nothing that they could do either. The crowd was saying, “Give him to us! Let us kill him! He’s a battyman!”

Lesbians are also targets of homophobic violence in Jamaica. Amnesty International has assisted in several cases of lesbian Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from Jamaica who have sought asylum abroad following persecution at home. Amnesty International has received reports of acts of violence against lesbians, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. There are reports of lesbians being singled out for attack on the grounds of “mannish” physical appearance or other visible manifestations of sexuality.

Amnesty International is concerned that musicians in Jamaica are actively promoting homophobia and share responsibility for violence against gay people. In January 2004 around 30,000 people attended a huge stage show and Rastafarian celebration, Rebel Salute, in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Throughout the night, Capleton, Sizzla and other groups sang almost exclusively about gay men, urging the audience to “kill dem, battybwoys haffi dead, gun shots pon dem… who want to see dem dead put up his hand” (kill them, gay men have got to die, gun shots in their head, whoever wants to see them dead, put up your hand). Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, TOK, and Capleton are among the stars who have written lyrics variously urging the shooting, burning, rape, stoning and drowning of gay people.

Against this backdrop of high levels of violence against gay and lesbian people in Jamaica, tacitly accepted by the police, are the laws that continue to criminalise consensual gay sex between males. Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences against the Person Act punishes the “abominable crime of buggery” by up to ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour. Article 79 of the same act punishes any act of physical intimacy between men in public or private by a term of imprisonment of up to two years and the possibility of hard labour.

Lesley Warner concluded:

“This kind of violence and its incitement must be challenged and ended. Amnesty International wants to see legislation which criminalises homosexuality repealed, and the police providing protection for gay people.”

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