Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | Attorney General seduced by populism

Published:Thursday | June 16, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Our suspicion is that Marlene Malahoo Forte was enticed, and ultimately the victim of what, for the modern politician, can be two very seductive lures. One of is the pull of populism. The other is the power of myriad social-media platforms, with their sense of immediacy and no restrictive band for discourse, to, not infrequently; induce even presumably sensible people to spout off on serious matter with an apparent absence of thought.

First, when Mrs Malahoo Forte tweeted this week about the Orlando massacre, no one would doubt her abhorrence and, therefore, genuine condemnation of the action of Omar Mateen. Mateen's attack was a gay club. It is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of his victims, the 49 who are dead and the more than 50 who were injured, where either gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender people. Whatever else were Mateen's motives, what happened on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, was also a vulgar act of hate, perpetrated against a specific group of people, in which at least one person whose parents are Jamaicans, was killed. In many parts of the world, people are showing solidarity with the gay community against this outrage by flying the rainbow flag or lighting buildings in its colours.

 

NOT A PRIVATE MATTER

 

In Jamaica, as at many other American missions around the world, the rainbow flag was hoisted at half staff alongside the stars and stripes, at the US embassy. That Mrs Malahoo Forte said, was "disrespectful of Jamaican laws". Then she added the disclaimer that her statement was a personal view - except that as attorney general, the Government's senior legal officer and a member of the political executive bound by the tenet of collective responsibility, declaration about public law isn't a private matter.

But of what Jamaican laws the Americans were disrespectful is unclear. Indeed, in her current job, and as a former junior foreign affairs minister, Mrs Malahoo Forte would know that under article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations the premises of a diplomatic mission "shall be inviolable" and that Jamaica is under "special duty" to protect that inviolability, including their absolute right to fly that rainbow flag. Neither is there any law in Jamaica that explicitly or implicitly prohibits the rainbow flag or prevents free speech or the expression or preferences, or solidarity with any group of persons.

 

CRIMINAL OFFENCE

 

Mrs Malahoo Forte, however, ignorant of anti-gay sentiment in Jamaica, from which, we believe, she probably felt she could extract political value by ingratiating her way into it. That has been tried in the past, and it is for fear of a potential political backlash against a government that initiated such a move, that buggery, or anal sex, remains a criminal offence in Jamaica.

The fact that this archaic law remains does not preclude people's right to lobby - by whatever legal means, including the flying of flags of their choice - against it, or against other acts or laws that discriminate against gays. These are principles we expect to be upheld and defended by the attorney general, or anyone giving legal counsel to the State, thereby acting on behalf of all its people. A potentially unintended consequence of what Mrs Malahoo Forte did was to suggest that some Jamaicans, because on their sexual orientation, are less equal, without the same right to expression and protection than others.