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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Students petition for Dwayne Jones’ murder

Editor’s note: This article contains discussions of violence against transgender individuals. 

Dwayne Jones was a transgender teenager who was murdered by a mob in Jamaica in 2013. They were beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car when they showed up to a community dance party wearing a dress. 

Now, 10 years later, Notre Dame Student Policy Network (SPN) students are working with Washington Program teaching professor in political science Thomas Kellenberg to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanding that Jamaica investigate and prosecute the murder of Jones. 

Juniors Kiera Votzmeyer and Jensen Enterman are leading the project. Votzmeyer started working on the project after attending the Washington Program in D.C. last spring.

“We're really passionate about ensuring that [LGBTQ+] people are treated with the same respect, regardless of identity,” Votzmeyer said. “That’s something that’s been stated multiple times by different international bodies, but it’s not something that’s been followed through with, as evident by this murder.”

Kellenberg filed a petition for Jones’ case with the IACHR in 2016. The IACHR is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States that engages in fact-finding missions and rules on cases alleging human rights violations. 

“It’s an international commission,” Votzmeyer said. “[Petitioning to the IACHR] not only makes the statement to Jamaica but to every [IACHR] member, that this behavior is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.”

The SPN students are working to pursue the petition that Kellenberg initially filed. Votzmeyer said they are working to gather amicus briefs to submit to the Commission to show they have support for the case from prominent human rights organizations around the world. They are also soliciting these briefs from human rights clinics at top law schools. 

In addition to drafting briefs they are also “building a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, international law firms and human rights clinics to hold Jamaica responsible,” Kellenberg said. 

After the briefs are submitted to the court by May 1, Jamaica will have the opportunity to respond, and then the commission will issue a decision on the case. 

Kellenberg said the remedies they are seeking from the commission are to hold a hearing in Jones’ case, to declare Jamaica in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, to establish an international group of independent experts to oversee an investigation of Jones’ murder and to repeal all laws that criminalize same-sex intimacy in Jamaica. 

Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws dating back to 1864 criminalize homosexual conduct. These colonial-era laws were introduced to support British control and attempt to set standards of behavior. However, Votzmeyer said these laws create inequality and stigmatize people in the LGBTQ+ community.

“The basis for our legal argument is that this law is the root of [LGBTQ+] hate in Jamaica and the law needs to go,” she said. 

Kellenberg explained that these laws precipitate homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ violence in Jamaica. 

“The commission has found that there's a link between sodomy laws and human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ persons, insofar as those laws condone discrimination, stigmatization and violence by providing a social sanction for abuse,” Kellenberg said.

Most universities in the country have a human rights clinic in the law school that would tackle these types of cases. However, Notre Dame Law School doesn’t have a human rights clinic, so this work that is typical of law students is being done by undergraduates.  

This is really a tribute to our students that they're able to do this high-level work as undergraduates,” Kellenberg said. 

Votzmeyer said working on the project has been a rewarding experience for real-world applications of policy work and also the opportunity to advocate for change and justice for Jones. 

“To know that we're supported by such well [known] and educated people has been really validating, and it's uplifting to see that so many people are so passionate about this issue too.”