Gay lesbian bisexual and transgender (GLBT) rights advocate, Colin Robinson, praised the government of Trinidad and Tobago from the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month. But in the same forum last year he made no fewer than a dozen suggestions on things they should do differently. Is the activist going soft?
"Are activists never supposed to congratulate the government?" Robinson quickly retorts.
For the past year Robinson's Coalition for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) collaborated with the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) and the Sexual Rights Initiative to address sexual rights issues in T&T during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a process through which states hold one another accountable on their human rights records. Civil society groups can raise concerns and work with governments on meeting commitments. Nevertheless, this was the only local group to make a submission last March and engage in the ongoing process.
From the UN Headquarters in Geneva on March 15th 2012, Robinson applauded the state's "bold public steps to address marriage of minors" and "embracing issues of sexual rights and sexual orientation". The former has been a matter of public record with promises last year of a review of the Marriage Act and national consultations.
Government's positions on the other issues are less well known. But there's a concrete reason why these partner non-governmental organisations have hope. In the latest leg of the UPR the T&T government made several key commitments.
“Most (countries in the region) went to the review and said that they do not have the political mandate to do anything about those issues. But the government of T&T went to the Human Rights Council twice and said ‘We are committed to protecting the human rights of everybody in our plural nation. We have shortcomings and challenges, and it is hard to move forward because there is religious opposition, but we are engaging in debate and dialogue’. In October they said that they do not enforce (anti-gay) laws. They are talking about ways to make HIV treatment accessible to non-nationals. You can’t listen to all of that and not say congratulations for a vision that is important and a willingness to articulate it publicly,” he outlined.
Check out this Toolkit for Advocates on using the Universal Periodic Review to address sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. On page 42 there are guidelines for advocating with UN member states and you may download an example of an advocacy brief from Trinidad and Tobago. Page 51 includes tips on monitoring and advocating for the implementation of accepted recommendations.
Photo caption: Colin Robinson, Steering Committee member of the Coalition for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) (Credit: John Fisher, ARC International)