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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jamaica face high levels of violence and can't rely on the police due to homophobia within the force.
In April and June 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted five weeks of field research on violence in Jamaica. The group interviewed 71 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as government officials and other stakeholders.
Of the 56 cases of violence documented, 19 victims had reported these crimes to the police. But police took formal statements in only eight cases, and only four led to arrests or prosecutions.
High levels of violent crime, public mistrust of the police force, low levels of crime reporting, low prosecution rates, and a perception that the criminal justice system is skewed against the poor are factors that affect all Jamaicans.
But LGBT Jamaicans, especially those who are poor and unable to live in safer, more affluent areas, are particularly vulnerable.
The Jamaican police have recently established protocols for addressing hate crimes. But improved protection and non-discrimination mechanisms are still needed, as well as an end to legislation that facilitates abuses, such as the “buggery laws” [Buggery is a specific common-law offence, encompassing both sodomy and bestiality].
Devon O, a pseudonym used for his protection, said in January 2013 police stood by and watched while a crowd of about 30 people – shouting insults regarding his sexual orientation and armed with knives, machetes and sticks – beat him for about 20 minutes. He said police finally removed him from the crowd and placed him in a police van, but then handcuffed and beat him.
The report also documents cases of discrimination by government institutions, including healthcare facilities and in the private sector. In some such cases, the buggery laws are evoked to justify discrimination.
Among the most vulnerable are dozens of gay and transgender Jamaican children and young adults whose families have rejected them and who are living on the streets, where they face violence and harassment from the police and the public.
Bryan T, a homeless young gay man, said that New Kingston police promised to investigate an incident in which construction workers chased him in February 2013, but that he has seen no sign that police followed up. He said that he and a friend were told they could not use the police officer’s pen to sign the complaint: “He said, ‘You are a battyman. We don’t want battyman to use our pen’.”
HRW said the National Security Ministry should closely monitor the implementation of the Jamaican Constabulary Police Force Policy on Diversity; and Parliament should repeal sections 76, 77 and 79 of the archaic Offences Against the Person Act (1864) and introduce a gender-neutral rape law.
LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, Graeme Reid, said: “In the past decade the Jamaican police have taken some steps to address the scourge of homophobic violence, but clearly these steps are not enough. So long as discriminatory laws remain in place, piecemeal measures will never be adequate.”