Sunday, January 08, 2006

US Embassy in Jamaica Must End Silence on Gay Murders

January 8, 2006

Honorable Brenda La Grange Johnson
U.S. Embassy
Kingston, Jamaica
[FAXED TO: 1-876-929-3637]

Re: Deaths of Three Gay Men: Brian Willimason, Steve Harvey and Nokia Cowen

Dear Ambassador Johnson:

As you probably know, three gay Jamaicans have recently been murdered in Jamaica. Brian Williamson, murdered in June 2004; Steve Harvey, killed in November 2005, and Nokia Cowen, murdered at the end of December 2005. So far, the law enforcement authorities in Jamaica have failed to identify and apprehend those responsible for the deaths of Harvey and Cowen.

To my dismay, I have been unable to locate any statements on your embassy’s web site or anywhere on the web from you or your staff in Kingston condemning the murders of these three gay men and the rampant hatred and violence perpetrated against gays and lesbians in Jamaica. I sincerely hope that your silence about the murders is not indicative in any way of even a hint of acceptance by you regarding the deaths of gays and widespread homophobia.

I have also not found public comments from you, as the U.S. State Department representative, expressing our country’s expectation that Jamaican police will conduct a full, thorough investigation into the deaths of Harvey and Cowen in a timely manner. Indeed, you and the embassy staff in Kingston apparently have not publicly deplored the murders of Williamson, Harvey or Cowen, nor have you or embassy staffers publicly questioned why no one has been arrested in connection with the death of the last two men.

As a gay American deeply concerned about the human rights abuses and outright murder gay Jamaicans suffer, I ask that you immediately issue a statement of concern on behalf of the U.S. government, deploring the deaths of Williamson, Harvey and Cowen, and call on the Jamaican government to devote more resources to finding the killers. Additionally, I believe you have an unquestioned responsibility to the American public to forcefully speak out when hateful violence and human rights abuses targeting gays, and those perceived to be homosexual, occur.

I wish to remind you of a few things the U.S. State Department said about Jamaica’s treatment of gays in the most recent annual human rights report, for all of 2004, and published in February 2005:

> Violence against individuals suspected or known to be homosexuals occurred, as did discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS.

> The law prohibits homosexual relationships, and a culture of severe discrimination persisted. There were numerous cases of violence against persons based on sexual orientation, including by police and vigilante groups.

> The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report allegations of human rights abuses, including police harassment, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals. Police often did not investigate such incidents.

> Male inmates deemed by prison wardens to be homosexual are held in a separate facility for their protection. The method used for determining their sexual orientation is subjective and not regulated by the prison system. There were numerous reports of violence against homosexual inmates, perpetrated both by the wardens and by other inmates, but few inmates sought recourse through the prison system.

> Homosexual men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well being. Human rights NGOs and government entities agreed that brutality against homosexuals, both by police and private citizens, was widespread in the community.
(Link to State Dept source.)

Furthermore, other recent U.S. State Department yearly reports on human rights abuse for Jamaica note the following problems faced by gays and those suspecting of being gay:

> In July 2003 three men chased a homosexual into a restaurant and began beating him. When the restaurant's security guard discovered that the man was homosexual, he joined the other men in the beating. The homosexual man freed himself and locked himself in the employee bathroom until the police arrived. Although the police took a report, they did not follow up or arrest anyone in relation to the incident. (Link to State Dept source.)

> In May 2002 a neighbor broke into a private home and caught two boys in a homosexual act. He called other neighbors who joined him in the home. The neighbors beat the boys until they fled, leaving their clothing behind.
(Link to State Dept source.)

> In January 2001 fellow students beat four university students with wooden boards because they were suspected homosexuals.
(Link to State Dept source.)

> In April 2000 a mob cornered a 25-year-old man in a Kingston church and killed him because they suspected that he was a homosexual.
(Link to State Dept source.)

Bearing these horrific facts in mind, it’s imperative that you, as the U.S. ambassador, and appropriate embassy staff are never silent about the hostilities, legal discrimination and too-frequent murder of gays in Jamaica.

I respectfully request a prompt reply.

Michael Petrelis

No comments: