What convinced you and your organisation “United and Strong” to participate in the UPR process and prepare a report on the situation of LGBT people in your country?
United and Strong Inc has been working in the shadows of AIDS Action Foundation for a number of years. We commenced looking at other mechanisms which are in place to hold the country accountable. The UPR sessions was just being called for submission when I brought it to the board attention for the go ahead. I felt we needed to participate in such mechanisms to highlight the situation in the country and make it known that there is a Local and National NGO monitoring country standing.
Like most English speaking countries in the Caribbean region, Saint Lucia’s legal system is based on the English Common Law, with most of its statute law originating from the United Kingdom. However, it still includes the reference to gross indecency and the buggery laws which have been removed from the British Constitution. Is the UPR really the right mechanism to claim for a change in constitution?
The role of the UPR process is to bring human rights violations to the attention of governments, in hope that they will do everything in their power to rectify them. Many people and governments in St Lucia and the Caribbean do not yet recognize the importance of removing sodomy laws and ensuring protection from discrimination in order to ensure the human rights of all people - including lesbians, gays and bisexual people. The shadow report that we produced is only one way in which we strive to bring these issues to the attention of the government.
Saint Lucia’s constitution does not explicitly refer to female same sex criminalisation. Would you say that in this case lesbians are more protected than their male counterparts?
Although lesbians face the same stigma and discrimination as their male counterparts, there is nothing in the laws which state anything against sex between two women. In a way it could be said that the focus in the legislation on male-male sexuality contributes to the invisibility of female sexuality and of lesbians. Women generally display more emotional attachment and therefore get off with being themselves most times. Also there is perceived acceptance because most heterosexual men are open to being the third party in intimate sessions. We need to combat the day-to-day stigma and discrimination of the lesbian and bisexual women. Women who don't adhere to gender stereotypes or who simply love other women risk losing their jobs and face harassment. There is now an increase visibility of lesbians especially with the younger generation. The older generation is on the down low and gives advice of personal safety.
What were the challenges for your organisation in compiling the report and being involved in the UPR mechanism?
My initial reaction was that this is easy it is only a shadow report. However reality soon sank in . The shadow report is an international document and both United and Strong and myself would gain visibility. Fear of repurcussions for family ,the community and myself was foremost in my mind. I researched the laws and with the assistance of Akim Ade Larcher (then an alternate board member of ILGA), Miss Veronica Cenac, Legal Advisor of United and Strong and AIDS Action Foundation and Joan Didier board member of United and Strong. Ms. Kimberley Vance of Arc International also provided guidance on the document. The motivation and support of the aforementioned persons was invaluable. The shadow report was then produced, which Akim reviewed and then submitted.
United and Strong was the only St. Lucian NGO to submit a shadow report to the UPR and the organisation gained international recognition for its work. I was invited to participate in seminar organised by the Commonwealth Foundation. This was a great learning and networking opportunity
St. Lucia was the only Caribbean country that voted against the re-inclusion of the mention of sexual orientation in the resolution on extra-judicial executions by the General Assembly of the UN on 21 December 2010. Do you think that this stance will have an impact on the UPR States recommendations to St Lucia’s government and on the implementation of some positive measures to protect LGBTI people?
United and Strong Inc was very disappointed and so were many persons in country for the Government’s stand. The Government’s position was in conflict with the Honorable Prime Minister Stephen King’s Budget speech in April 2010 where he said “We must stand against stigma and discrimination in all its forms. The government will engage in legislative reform to guarantee non discrimination against persons on the basis of health, gender, disability and sexual orientation ” . This clearly highlights the need for continuing education and advocacy at all levels and re-enforces the fact that neither legislators nor the government understand the harsh reality of the LGBTI situation in the country.
It is hard to know if St Lucia's vote against including sexual orientation in the resolution on extra-judicial executions will have any impact on the recommendations received by St Lucia in the UPR process. However, on the back of St Lucia's negative vote in the general assembly, United & Strong managed to bring media attention both to St Lucia's vote but also to the situation for LGBTI people in St. Lucia and the ongoing violations of human rights. This was a clear example of a link between what happens in the UN and what happens nationally. I was on national television as a representative of United and Strong on several occasions, bringing national attention to the issues.
Lately you have been more involved in regional and international activism and lobbying….
My local work is directly related to the regional and international work I am doing. I think we stand a better chance of changing the situation in St Lucia if we can collaborate with other Caribbean movements as well as international. In addition I also feel a great commitment to improving the situation globally as well. Joining forces around the world against those who want to deny us our human rights is the best we can do. And I want to be part of this process and ultimately the change.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new Human Rights peer review monitoring tool established by the United Nations in 2006. Each year 48 States are being reviewed by other States; in a timeframe of four years all the 192 UN member States in the world will have been reviewed. The review consists of four main steps: elaboration of reports; interactive dialogue with among member States; adoption of the outcome of recommendations: implementation and follow-up. The various procedures involve States, international and national NGOs, national human rights institutes and other stakeholders.
In 2011 the 10th UPR session will review St Lucia together with 15 other countries. NGO reports have to be submitted seven months ahead of the Review session.
Read interview in Spanish: http://ilga.org/ilga/es/article/mOTjTRB1IM
Read interview in French: http://ilga.org/ilga/fr/article/mP9U9vY1Yc
Read interview in Portuguese: http://ilga.org/ilga/pt/article/mPfhxNR1Pe