BELIZE CITY–The Belize Association of Evangelical Churches, its nationwide chapters and 250 member churches, are calling on the Government of Belize to organize a national referendum on the question of whether Belize should continue to retain section 53 of its Criminal Code, which outlaws sodomy, in the midst of what appears to be mounting pressure from two of Belize’s main trading partners – the United States and the United Kingdom.
As our newspaper revealed last week, a team of US diplomats have jointly called on Belize to repeal Section 53, which is being challenged in the Supreme Court of Belize by UNIBAM, an LGBT activist group which has received US funding for work in Belize.
The Belize Association of Evangelical Churches issued a statement today, Wednesday, November 26, 2014, in response to the call from past and present US Ambassadors to Belize for Belize to abolish section 53 of its Criminal Code, which states that sodomy can result in 10 years jail time.
Although the law has never been used in Belize to prosecute consenting homosexuals, the LGBT community and also the US officials, take umbrage to it and maintain that it should not even be on the law books.
A year ago, Belize was subject to a periodic review by the United Nations at the 17th Session of the Human Rights Council Working Group’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), held in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives of both the UK and the US publicly called on Belize to abolish its sodomy laws. However, the call by the US Ambassadors for the removal of such laws is the first time that US diplomats are making a public statement on the matter.
When the Belize media discussed the LGBT issue with US Ambassador to Belize, H.E. Carlos Moreno, in August 2014, shortly after the start of his tenure here, Moreno told us that, “there is no LGBT agenda by the US Government.”
Last November, Valerie Ullrich, representative of the US Mission in Geneva, had said that Belize should “Reform existing laws that can be used to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, including the provision of ‘unnatural crime’ laws prohibiting ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’”
She also called on Belize to provide state authorities, including law enforcement and judicial officials, with human rights training for the protection of women and members of minority groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
On the occasion of the 19th International Day for Tolerance observed on Sunday, November 16, 2014, the US Embassy published the statement from “past and present U.S. Ambassadors” on Belize’s LGBT policy.
In that statement, the US Ambassadors, including Moreno, boldly call on Belize to “repeal the anti-sodomy laws, provisions of which are inconsistent with Belize’s obligations with respect to privacy rights protected by Article 17 of the ICCPR,” the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the US Government said Belize became a party in 1996.
The US Ambassadors’ statement also called on Belize to “uphold the Revised National Gender Policy to better respect and protect equal protection under the law,” and they said that Belize should “conduct a legal assessment of the state’s constitutional responsibility to its LGBT citizens to guide the development of a formal policy consideration.”
Furthermore, they called on Belize to “build the capacity within the judicial system to recognize and protect the rights of members of vulnerable populations including LGBT persons, indigenous peoples, and women and girls.”
They also suggest that Belize should punish “hate speech” and “hate crimes” against LGBT persons, whom they include under the umbrella of “historically marginalized groups…”
In response to the statement by the US diplomats, the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches said that they are “outraged at the recent statement from the US Embassy calling for the changing of Section 53 to legalize homosexuality in Belize.”
It said that the US State Department has declared that they do not get involved in domestic issues of nations, but in fact, they do.
“Belize, as a sovereign nation with its own Constitution, has the right and responsibility to determine its own laws and moral standards by which we as a nation shall live. Those processes of determination belong to the people of Belize alone, and no nation, large or small, has the right to manipulate, coerce, or interfere in those processes of another nation,” the association added.
It also said that to attach foreign aid to issues like this is in violation of international laws.
“We appreciate the United States’ tough position of ‘non-bullying’ to be applied to this situation,” they said.
They contend that, “Section 53 is a good law that has only been used to prosecute in sexual abuse cases, over 80% of which were perpetrated on minors and children. Concerning violence against LGBT, we condemn any act of violence against any person or group for any reason; however we note that we already have laws related to this, and we fully support aggressive enforcement of all laws in Belize.”
The church groups call on the Government of Belize “not to bend to the pressures of any other foreign agendas,” which, they said, will affect the quality of life for the majority of the people who are not in agreement.
They call on the Government of Belize to hold a national referendum on the matter.
Pastor Scott Stirm, interim vice president of the association, told Amandala that the matter of a national referendum is very much on the front burner, and they are not ruling out the option of leading one themselves, just as the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage did when the Government rejected the petition for a referendum on offshore drilling.