Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Decision to Decriminalize Consensual Sexual Relations between Same Sex Adults in Trinidad and Tobago

April 23, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the decision of the High Court of Justice of Trinidad and Tobago to declare unconstitutional the criminalization of consensual sexual relations between same sex adults. With this historic decision, Trinidad and Tobago becomes the third country in the English-speaking Caribbean, together with Bahamas and Belize, to repeal laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex that originated in regional’s colonial past.

In March 2017, activist Jason Jones filed a lawsuit against the government of Trinidad and Tobago to nullify Section 13 and Section 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act, claiming that they were unconstitutional and a violation of his right to privacy and freedom of expression. In the case Jones v. Trinidad and Tobago, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act, according to which anyone 'who commits buggery is guilty of an offense', are ‘unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalize any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults’. The Court also declared that its decision was not related to any religious beliefs, as Trinidad is a secular country and that ‘the beliefs of some – by definition – are not the belief of all, and in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, all are protected under the Constitution’.

“This is a milestone in the recognition of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Trinidad and Tobago, and we hope to see more countries in the Caribbean Anglophone region following their example”, said Flavia Piovesan, Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons of the IACHR. “The criminalization of persons simply because they are not heterosexual, is incompatible with the Inter-American standards, so this ruling is an essential step to ensure respect for human rights for all people in Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between same sex adults sends the message that human rights are for all, and it strengthens the idea that those who defy socially and traditional accepted notions of sex, sexuality and gender must be protected” complemented the Rapporteur.

Moreover, the Inter-American Commission highlights the significance of this judicial decision and the importance of maintaining the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between same sex adults in order to maintain a democratic and inclusive society based in equality.

The Commission highlights the inconsistency of laws that criminalize consensual sex between same-sex persons with the international human rights law principles of equality and non-discrimination, and notes that this type of legislation contributes to an environment that condones discrimination, stigmatization, and violence against LGBT persons. The IACHR understands that the existence of ‘buggery’ laws is used as a mechanism for social control and domination that enables states to legitimize and contribute to the stigma of LGBT persons as “immoral” individuals. Moreover, such laws have been used to justify the arbitrary arrests, detention and even torture of LGBT people.

The IACHR calls all the countries in the region that still criminalize the consensual sexual relations between same-sex adults to review and eliminate existing regulations, and if it is not possible, to nullify the legal provisions that constitute discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or corporal diversity, as well as to identify gaps that hinder effectiveness of the rights of LGBTI people to equality and non-discrimination.

The IACHR also recognizes the pivotal role historically fulfilled by civil society in the work of protection and promotion of LGBTI rights and human rights in general, and also in inspiring the evolution of legislation and policies in the Americas. In this regard, the Commission reminds the State that it has an obligation to prevent any attempt on the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders, and to guarantee in all circumstances that they can carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and free of any restrictions. States have the duty to guarantee the safety of groups of defenders at particular risk and to adopt specific measures of protection tailored to their needs.

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 and to defend 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. 088/18