Press Release

IACHR Hails Unconstitutionality Decision on Criminalization of Consensual Sexual Relations between Same Sex Adults in Belize

August 22, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court of Belize that declared unconstitutional the criminalization of consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex. With this historic decision, Belize becomes the second country in the English-speaking Caribbean to repeal laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex that originate in region’s colonial past.

According to information received by the Commission, on August 10th, 2016 the Supreme Court of Belize ruled the incompatibility of section 53 of the Criminal Code with the Constitution. With this decision, the highest court in the country ruled that section 53 of the Criminal Code, which states that "carnal intercourse against the order of nature", a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, is contrary to the mandates of the Constitution, violating rights to human dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and equality before the law.

The Supreme Court of Belize ruled that the mere existence of said legal provision turns consenting adults who have sex with adults of the same sex into "non-arrested criminals". Consequently, the Court proceeded to reduce the scope of section 53 of the Criminal Code to exclude sexual acts between adults taking place in private and with the consent of those performing. Furthermore, in the same ruling the Court stated that the definition of "sex" referred to in section 16.3 of the Constitution of Belize includes "sexual orientation" in line with the international obligations assumed by the country.

The case was filed by an activist and the Executive Director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement ("UNIBAM"), Caleb Orozco, in July, 2010. The Commission highlights the leadership and work of the civil society, activists and the lawyers involved in the process.

"This is a milestone in the recognition and respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Belize and the Caribbean Anglophone region" affirmed Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, First Vice-president and Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons of the IACHR. "The criminalization of persons simply because they live openly in line with their sexual orientation, is incompatible with international human rights law, so this ruling is an essential step to ensure respect for human rights of all persons in Belize. In addition, criminalization sends a powerful message of intolerance towards diverse sexual orientations, whether they are real or perceived, creating societies that privilege heterosexuality and replicates repressive patterns towards people who defy socially and traditional accepted notions of sex, sexuality and gender," said the Rapporteur.

For his part, the President of the Commission and Rapporteur for Belize, Commissioner James Cavallaro, added: "With this step Belize endorses the flag to ensure respect for and promotion of the rights of LGBT persons, which is an example for their peers in the Caribbean, since truly democratic and inclusive societies cannot be achieved without equality."

The Inter-American Commission is pleased to note the recent declarations of Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who has expressed the government’s decision not to appeal the Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional section 53 of the Criminal Code, and the consequent initiation of a public education campaign to face the widespread misunderstanding, misapprehension and misinformation that has been taking place after the ruling of August 10th, 2016.

In its report "Violence against LGBTI people in America", the Commission highlighted the inconsistency of laws that criminalize consensual sex between same-sex persons with the principles of equality and non-discrimination. It also highlighted the relationship between these regulatory frameworks and high rates of violence and discrimination against LGBT people. In this regard, the Commission welcomes this initiative of Belize to ensure respect for the rights of LGBT people, and urges other States in the region that have existing laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex, to repeal these laws, and, meanwhile, to impose an explicit and formal moratorium on their application.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 119/16