By Marion V. Ali
The United Belize Advocacy Movement, UNIBAM, has described Belize’s attitude towards members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite community at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The group made the presentation at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s first thematic LGBT’s hearing on Friday, March 28th .
UNIBAM’s Executive Director, Caleb Orozco, and Stephen Diaz, the executive director for Belize Youth Empowerment for Change presented petitions as concerned Belizean activists on the matter.
Diaz said that the groups are concerned that Belize has not implemented any public policies or legislation that would “rectify the extreme public stigma against LGBT individuals in Belizean society…and that LGBT persons suffer from high levels of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment including a constant threat of violence from state and non-state actors.”
Orozco agreed with the Diaz’ points, and added that his concerns were informed by empirical evidence found in the results of a 2012 study that showed that 40 percent of LGBT individuals have experienced some level of stigma or discrimination.
He went on to describe the conduct of law enforcement officers when dealing with LGBT individuals.
Belize’s Ambassador to the OAS, Nestor Mendez, referred to a ruling that is still pending on the case of UNIBAM versus the Government in which Orozco is challenging Section 53 of the Criminal Code which criminalizes sodomy.
He alluded to the murder of transvestite, Joseph Sanchez, whose corpse was discovered in late 2013 near the corner of Antelope and Elston Kerr Streets in Belize City, although he conceded that the investigation has not revealed thus far that it was a “hate” crime.
The duo shared a set of recommendations that it has presented to the Government, including to adopt criminal legislation that imposes proportional criminal sentences for violent hate crimes against people from the LGBT community.
Ambassador Mendez said that Belize is serious about protecting the human rights of people and that it is not a matter of the political forces or of the law but a matter of the resources. He added that the state wants to ensure that Belizeans enjoy all their rights that are afforded to them by the law.
Meanwhile, at the 2014 Equality Convention on the same trip, Orozco pinpointed personal and other experiences that underscored instances of discrimination.
He called himself a survivor of discrimination and acts associated with it.
He said that anti-gay campaigners in Belize are using legitimate spaces with which to spread their ideas and that civil society and the human rights infrastructure is weak and or non-existent in addressing LGBT issues.
Thursday evening Belize Action, headed by Pastor Scott Stirm, responded to the comments saying that Orozco and Diaz were unprepared to substantiate the claims of discrimination with proof that the Commission had asked them to provide.
Specially, speaking they were unable to provide evidence of such discrimination in employment and education.
Belize Can claims that UNIBAM is seeking to use international pressure & manipulation to “paint an indicting picture outside of Belize so that they can manipulate their way into our laws and system.”
The two sides are expected to furnish the panel with more material after which another session is expected to take place.
Belize is one of 11 countries in the Caribbean that criminalize same sex unions.