Gays have rights too: The Caribbean dilemma

Published: November 13, 2011

A statement by the prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, that his Government will not provide budgetary aid to governments that violate human rights including by discriminating against homosexuals and lesbians, has angered sections of Caribbean society.

The angry response may have arisen over a misunderstanding of Cameron’s remarks made in a BBC interview at the end of the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia from October 28 to 30. The remarks were not made at the CHOGM itself.

While Cameron did say that his Government would not provide general budget support to governments that do not uphold human rights, including the rights of homosexuals, lesbians and vulnerable communities such as young girls, his remarks were not specifically about homosexuals and he did not say that all aid would be withheld.

In any event, no independent Caribbean country is a recipient of General Budget Aid from Britain, and, therefore, not one of them would be affected. In this regard, the response to Cameron’s remarks could have benefited from more careful study.

Cameron did not state a new position. What he said has been the British Government’s published policy since earlier this year when the Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a study, involving a wide range of organisations and countries, from which it was decided that General Budget Aid to governments should be linked to good governance, accountability and respect for human rights. British budgetary support is only 16 per cent of the UK’s annual aid budget of £7.46 billion (US$12.1 billion).

Nevertheless, the policies, laws and practices applicable to homosexuals and lesbians are real and growing issues in the Caribbean, not only from a human rights standpoint but as a public health one too.

At the CHOGM in Perth, an Eminent Persons Group (EPG), of which I am a member, delivered a report to Heads of Government, who commissioned it at their meeting in Trinidad two years ago, on ways to reform the Commonwealth to make it relevant to its times and its people.

Included in the 106 recommendations in the report was one that governments "should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a repeal of such laws". Amongst these laws are those that criminalise homosexuality.

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