As fears grow that two women were murdered because of their alleged lesbian relationship, Jamaican authorities must immediately investigate the crime, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to the Jamaican government this week. It should also act to combat the continuing climate of violent homophobia.

On June 29, the bodies of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie were found dumped in a septic pit behind a home they shared in Bull Bay, St. Andrew. Police quickly named an estranged male partner of Williams as the prime suspect, and said the apparent relationship between the women was the likely motive for the crime.

“Lesbians and gay men are still targets in Jamaica, where intolerance feeds violence,” said Jessica Stern, researcher for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities must properly investigate this horrific murder and send a message that hatred has no place in society.”

The women were last seen alive by Williams’ mother on June 18. An autopsy showed that they died from multiple stab wounds. Their bodies were found with a pillow, a sheet and a teddy bear, and with a burnt mattress nearby. One press report quoted an investigating officer as saying that a “lesbian DVD” was also found at the scene.

The sub-officer in charge of Bull Bay Police Station was quoted in the Jamaica Star on July 7 saying that, “We have leads on the only person wanted for questioning in the matter and should apprehend him before next week.” The officer is reported to have said that the police knew the suspect’s movements and urged him to come to the station for questioning.

However, the alleged suspect has not yet been questioned, nor do police appear to have taken the investigation any further. Local advocates have expressed concerns to Human Rights Watch about the level of police commitment to identifying and prosecuting the murderer.

“Human Rights Watch has documented a long pattern of official indifference to allegations of homophobic abuse,” said Stern. “Recently police have begun reaching out to lesbian and gay groups, but this crime underscores the need to work with an endangered community.”

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