Last edited: November 26, 2004

Give Us a Break!

Jamaica Observer, November 22, 2004

By Christopher Burns

Jamaica is a sovereign nation and, as such, the elected government has the sole responsibility to enact laws and determine the legislative agenda. Based on special circumstances, it is expected of citizens to demand changes to existing laws and direct national dialogue as they see fit.

While it is upsetting when foreign groups flex their muscles and attempt to force a government to acquiesce to an omnibus of policies they support or want implemented, it is more shameful and troubling for local lobby groups to attempt to destabilise the very institutions on which an entire country depends, in pursuit of questionable objectives. It is dishonourable to assert that the Jamaican Government is acting in concert with the police to kill the country’s citizens.

This assertion deserves the widest condemnation. Those responsible for its propagation must answer questions regarding the authenticity of their source and provide evidence to substantiate their claim.

The nation cannot afford to have its reputation impugned based on malicious rumours or unmanaged emotions.

It is fundamental for the preservation of an orderly society that those who represent various special interest groups balance their emotions with reason and work hard to resist making snide remarks that could be detrimental.

I am uncomfortable with, sick and tired of, the constant bombardment from all sorts or groups that seek to stamp their standards on us; when it is not Amnesty International, it’s OutRage, or Human Rights Watch; each with different agendas; but one common motive—to “must an bound us”.

I think the constant attacks and insults on the duly elected government, the judiciary, and the police constitute more than an assault on the spirit of the 1962 declaration. It is a systematic effort to modify the letters of that famous declaration.

This is not to suggest that groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are entirely oppressive. In fact, their involvement and advocacy around the world have brought great benefits and improvements to the lives of millions.

Even so, as is the case with Amnesty, these organisations appear to have a fatal attraction to Jamaica, to the point of brutal insanity. Amnesty International and others would do well to begin to recognise Jamaica as an independent state.

The Jamaican government cannot dictate policies in England or the United States. It simply has no jurisdictional authority to do so; and there are no reciprocal agreements in place that provide for such involvement.

The extent to which OutRage is successful in getting its government to act within its best interest depends solely on the milieu in which it operates, but cannot misinterpret its UK mandate to sanction changes in Jamaica.

Our citizens have to conform to the rule of law in other countries, whether they like to or not. Take, for example, recent developments in England concerning some Jamaican DJs. The DJs have come under pressure from the British gay group, OutRage.

This group is staunchly opposed to the use of violent lyrics by some dancehall DJs, who the group claims could incite physical violence towards them. Well, OutRage is within its rights, as a British group, to influence and pressure its government to protect its members.

Consequently, we (here in Jamaica) can quarrel until the cows come home, the British government cannot shirk its commitment or responsibility to protect its homosexual constituents, even if it means the suppression of free speech for some, let alone non-white foreigners.

No one can deny that some of these DJs needed a forceful reminder that the lyrical contents of many of their dancehall songs leave much to be desired. Mark you, it is not just violence against “auntie men” that needs changing; it is violence against, and disrespect for women and children that must change as well.

The Human Rights Watch group believes it has the authority to dictate Jamaica’s legislative agenda and has called for changes to the buggery laws.

To begin with, it was the Act of 1533, which first made buggery an offence under English criminal law. This law survived in various forms in England until 1967. An amendment in 1861 substituted life imprisonment for the penalties of death and forfeiture of property. However, the direct effects of this law were not restricted to England.

Because of England’s colonial power and tendency to impose its entire legal structure on its colonies, legal prohibitions against homosexual activity derived from this law extended well outside of England. In Scotland, for instance, the law remained until 1979, and in many American states, “sodomy” laws are still on the books, as also in former British colonies in the Caribbean.

There is no law in Jamaica that specifically addresses homosexuality. There is the Offences against the Person Act that prohibits “acts of gross indecency” (a person can be charged for exposing himself or for engaging in sexual intercourse in public).

There is the offence called buggery, which falls under Section 76 of that Act; the Act defines buggery as “anal intercourse between a man and a woman, or between two men”.

There is some rationale for supporting an amendment to the law, because if a police officer has probable cause to enter a man’s house, and finds him having anal sex with his wife, the officer could charge them for a criminal offence. With the sexual revolution the way it is today, all sorts of crazy sexual activities take place during intimacy, and I am unsure of the intent of the law as it seeks to punish or protect.

It is always, almost, important first to consider the historical, socio-cultural imperatives and uniqueness of a country before attempting to make far-reaching changes to that country’s social or cultural arrangements. It seems to me that most of the violence-crimes that homosexuals face are from other homosexuals and not from the wider society.

Human sexuality and, indeed, humanity itself, hold great complexities that we will never understand, let alone accept. It is prudent, therefore, while we hold our individual beliefs and preferences to “live and let live”.

If Human Rights Watch wants to help, then it could help to teach tolerance and responsibility, because changing the laws will do very little to improve the way Jamaicans view the issue.

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