Human Rights in Trinidad and Tobago

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SEATTLE — Human rights in Trinidad and Tobago are far from perfect, but improvements are possible. The nation is within the top 50 countries in regards to economic equality. Its press is categorized as mostly free. Activists are challenging the homophobic laws from within and without. Much must be done, but plenty can be achieved.

Gender Equality

The dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago abides by a Constitution. Its fourth section, the Recognition and Declaration of Rights and Freedoms, forbids discrimination on the basis of sex.

In practice, the numbers tell a slightly different story. Last year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gave the nation a rank of 44 out of 144 countries regarding economic equality. On a different scale of zero to one (with one being perfect parity), WEF’s survey results gave the nation a score of 0.636.

In 2013, the latest year available for this data, Amnesty International released a report detailing the state of human rights in Trinidad and Tobago. The nation’s police service declared that 689 cases of sexual offenses were reported between January and September in 2013.

In terms of political empowerment, women fill 11.1 percent of the country’s ministerial positions and 44.9 percent of parliament. One of the most notable examples is the Honorable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

Freedom of the Press

Also included in Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution is the right to freedom of the press. In 2017, Freedom House, an independent U.S. organization, categorizes Trinidad and Tobago’s press as free. The organization goes on to list the nation’s legal, political and economic environments hovering around the same level of mostly free.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a major issue in Trinidad and Tobago. So much so that the republic’s parliament created the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011. Anyone found guilty of committing or is otherwise involved in human trafficking can face fines of no less than $500,000 and imprisonment for no less than 15 years. The Children Act of 2012 (which went into effect May of 2015) includes a clause wherein anyone convicted of involvement with child pornography can face imprisonment for 20 years.

However, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of State, the government “has never convicted an individual under its anti-trafficking law, including officials complicit in trafficking.” Investigations, prosecutions and charges have been brought against suspects, but none have been convicted. A variety of factors could contribute to this: corrupt law enforcement, complicit officials and underfunding of resources for victims among others.

A few of the U.S. Department of State’s recommendations are: following through with investigations and prosecutions to convict human traffickers (even those who are officials), directing adequate funding for strong specialized services for victims with the help of NGOs and more effective training for law enforcement.

LGBT Rights

The nation’s laws have been contested as violations of human rights in Trinidad and Tobago. According to Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act (last amended in 2012), anal intercourse between men (and also between a man and a woman) can result in imprisonment for 25 years.

In addition to those laws, Section 8 of the Immigration Act lists the types of people prohibited from entering the country unless they are already citizens or residents. Included in Subsection 1 are homosexuals, people living on homosexuals’ earnings, people reasonably suspected of traveling to the nation “for these or any other immoral purposes” and those trying to bring homosexuals in or persuade others to make contact with them.

Maurice Tomlinson is a Jamaican national and advocate for LGBT rights in the Caribbean. In 2013, he challenged Trinidad and Tobago’s Immigration Act and a similar law in Belize. Eventually, CARICOM (a Caribbean community consisting of 20 countries all working toward the advancement of Caribbean people) backed Tomlinson and joined the case alongside him as an interested party. He took it all the way up to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Tomlinson argued that not only does he have a right to enter the nations in question, they should remove homosexuals from the list of prohibited individuals. The CCJ determined that, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the ban did not apply to homosexual CARICOM nationals and the country is upholding those citizens’ right to travel freely.

While there are people out there challenging the rules head-on, there are other groups trying to forward the recognition LGBT people’s human rights in Trinidad and Tobago. The Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation and I Am ONE Trinidad and Tobago are two active Facebook pages devoted to spreading awareness, sharing news and empowering the community. The Silver Lining Foundation is an NGO run by young people who want to protect LGBT youth looking for ways to deal with discrimination, bullies and suicidal thoughts. These resources are readily available to anyone who wants them.

Jada Haynes
Photo: Flickr

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