A human rights watchdog for the Americas has slammed how gays and lesbians are treated in Jamaica.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its preliminary observations following a visit to observe the human rights situation in the island nation from 1 to 5 December.

The visit was at the invitation of the government.

The commission said in the scathing report that persons suffering discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation was one of its areas of focus, along with the status of other vulnerable groups.

“… the deep inequalities pervading Jamaican society exacerbate the state’s failure to adequately protect and guarantee the human rights of women, children and other vulnerable groups. In particular, the IACHR found the violent persecution and fear to which gays and lesbians are subject in Jamaica to be deplorable,” the commission said.

It went on to strongly condemn the high level of homophobia that prevails throughout Jamaican society.

“This homophobia has resulted in violent killings of persons thought to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual, as well as stabbings, mob attacks, arbitrary detention and police harassment. The resulting fear in turn makes it difficult for people within this group to access certain basic services, for example, medical services that might reveal their sexual orientation.”

It also said that defenders of the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals have also been murdered, beaten and threatened, and the police have been criticised for failing in many instances to prevent or respond to reports of such violence.

During its visit, the Commission received reports on four murders in circumstances suggesting homophobia over a period of a year and a half. One incident saw a man perceived to be homosexual being chopped to death by machete.

“The IACHR urges Jamaica to take urgent action to prevent and respond to these human rights abuses, including through the adoption of public policy measures and campaigns against discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as legislative reforms designed to bring its laws into conformity with the American Convention on Human Rights,” the commission said.

Sexual acts between men are illegal in Jamaica and are punishable with up to ten years in prison.

The Jamaican authorities have been repeatedly criticised by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for allowing the violent abuse of gays and lesbians to go unpunished.

In 2006, Time magazine asked if Jamaica was “the most homophobic place on earth”.

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