Human rights group condemns Jamaica violence

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A leading US-based rights organisation has said that the latest incident of homophobic mob violence in Jamaica shows that the police in the Caribbean nation are failing in their duties.

Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, said:

“Gays and lesbians in Jamaica face violence at home, in public, even in a house of worship, and official silence encourages the spread of hate.”

The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays, JFLAG, brought the most recent attack to wider attention.

It took place on Tuesday in the town of Mandeville.

Two men were hospitalised, one with serious injuries, while another man is still missing and may be dead.

According to reports, the men were attacked at a private home by an angry mob who had days before threatened them if they did not leave the community.

Despite repeated calls for help, police 90 minutes after they were first called and half an hour after the mob broke into the house and attacked the men.

“One of the victims managed to flee with the mob pursuing,” reports HRC.

“A Jamaican newspaper reported that blood was found at the mouth of a nearby pit, suggesting he had fallen inside or may have been killed nearby.

“The police escorted the three other victims away from the scene; two of them were taken to the hospital.

“One of the men had his left ear severed, his arm broken in two places, and his spine reportedly damaged.”

JFLAG is calling for the leaders of Jamaica, beginning with elected officials, to honour their obligation by protecting citizens from violent attacks, regardless of the circumstances.

“They must extend the full arm of the law to make examples of any proven perpetrators so that mob violence can be seen as a punishable offence under the law,” said a spokesman.

“As the global village becomes smaller in real terms, Jamaicans will have to realise that targeted acts of violence which infringe human rights will only serve to further undermine our reputation in the international community.

“We are cultivating an uncivil society which seems to be itching for a reason to resort to mob violence as a redress for real or perceived grievances.”

HRW said that the most recent attack echoes another incident in the same town on Easter Sunday 2007.

Approximately 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man.

According to mourners, the crowd broke the windows with bottles and shouted, “We want no battyman [gay] funeral here. Leave or else we’re going to kill you. We don’t want no battyman buried here in Mandeville.”

Several mourners inside the church called the police to request protection. After half an hour, three police officers arrived.

But instead of protecting the mourners, police socialised with the mob, laughing along at the situation.

A highway patrol car subsequently arrived, and one of the highway patrol officers reportedly told the churchgoers, “It’s full time this needs to happen. Enough of you guys.”

The highway patrol officers then drove off. The remaining officers at the scene refused to intervene when the mob threatened the mourners with sticks, stones, and batons as they tried to leave the service.

Only when several gay men among the mourners took knives from their cars for self-defence did police reportedly take action by firing their guns into the air.

Officers stopped gay men from leaving and searched their vehicles, but did not restrain or detain members of the mob.

“While Jamaican police have begun to reach out to gay and lesbian communities, this change hasn’t reached many police stations where protection remains a chimera,” said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate on HIV/AIDS and human rights at Human Rights Watch.

“These horrifying attacks should galvanise officials to protect all Jamaicans against violence, regardless of who they are.”

Jamaica is one of the most homophobic places in the world and gay and lesbian relationships are largely conducted in secret.

Sex between men in Jamaica is illegal, and punishable with up to ten years in jail, usually with hard labour.

Political parties have ignored the issue of gay rights. Indeed, homophobia is flourishing amongst politicians and the police.

For example, opposition leader Bruce Golding vowed in 2006 that “homosexuals would find no solace in any cabinet formed by him.”

The homophobic island nation is given money by the British government.

“The Department for International Development (DFID) have an aid programme for Jamaica worth in the region of £2.5 million a year,” according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“In addition, the UK also waives approximately £5-6m of Jamaican debt annually.

“Major projects include assistance to the programme to reform the Jamaican police force; assistance to the private sector to enhance the competitiveness of Jamaican exports; support for the Government’s public sector reform programme and other programmes related to social development and giving disadvantaged groups of Jamaican society a stronger voice in the development of policy by the Government.”