How are Parliamentarians handling their Roles as Advocates for Human Rights, Equality and Justice. The Caribbean Experience.Read Now
Research supports the view that “if people living with HIV feel empowered to be open about their status, they can access the right medical treatment and social support and protect their partners’’. So how do Caribbean Parliamentarians intend to deal with these issues of human rights, equality and justice?
The response will focus on three (3) major issues that have attracted the attention of Caribbean parliamentarians: (a) Implementing the PANCAP Model Anti-discrimination legislation and amending the Sexual Offenses against the Persons Act; (b) Advocating against criminalizing HIV and (c) Resolving the stalemate on Comprehensive Sexual Education (a fourth issue, violence against women, girls and adolescents will be the focus of a subsequent blog).
Adopt the CARICOM Model Anti-discrimination Legislation and amending the Sexual Offenses against the Persons Act
This model Legislation initiated by PANCAP and adopted by the CARICOM Legal Advisory Committee, including the Attorneys Generals of the Region (May 2012) was drafted by some of the best legal minds in the Caribbean. https://caricom.org/.../pancap-model-anti-discrimination-legislation-interface-between-...
It addresses issues impacting people living with HIV and AIDS which are also issues of human rights. Because of the implications of denial of these rights, the Model Legislation promotes an inclusive approach to ending discrimination, not just on the basis of HIV status but on wider grounds, including gender, disability and sexual orientation. A snapshot of the HIV related legal environment in the Caribbean in 2012 remains almost the same today:
Resulting from the current round of Parliamentarian Sensitization Forums coordinated by PANCAP, all countries have agreed to advance the process for implementing the Model as an aspirational goal for eliminating stigma and discrimination, while translating its clauses into legislation to reflect national consensus. The adoption of the model will also respond to many of the outstanding legal gaps that fall under the Offences Against the Persons Act, sections of the Criminal Code, The Immigration Act and laws that support child marriage. These currently engage parliamentarians throughout the Caribbean.
Reconsider Attempts at Criminalizing HIV
The issue of criminalizing HIV has long been under consideration throughout the world. Recently in Jamaica, The Joint Select Committee of Parliament made a recommendation to introduce a law to criminalize willfully knowingly and recklessly transmitting HIV and other STIs. This issue was an item on the agenda of the Jamaica Parliamentarian Sensitization Forum in February 2019. The arguments presented by Jamaica Network of Seropositives supported by findings of behavioral research of LANCET, UNAIDS and others, led to a recommendation for Jamaica to reconsider its position. The reasons include the following negative effects of the proposed law:
In addition, the Sexual Offenses Act (Section 22) in Jamaica and elsewhere, already deals with clear cases of knowingly and willfully transmitting harmful infections. Hence no new specific HIV law is necessary.
It is important to note that on June 20, 2019, four (4) months after the advocacy of the Jamaica Network of Seropositives to the PANCAP/Jamaica Parliamentarian Sensitization Forum, The Canadian Federal Justice Commission supported its arguments in a comprehensive report on Criminalization of HIV Non-Disclosure https://www.halco.org › news › crim...Response to Federal Justice Committee Report on Criminalization of People Living With HIV | HALCO - HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
Resolve the stalemate on Comprehensive Sexual Education
For some time and since 2000 in particular, the CARICOM Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) Program has been used as a regional tool for public awareness for in and out of school youth on matters relating to sex and healthy lifestyles. There has always been cynicism about the appropriateness of its content for various ages and the widespread reticence or lack of competence of teachers and most community leaders in delivering HFLE curriculum. More recently, UNESCO in collaboration with other UN agencies and widespread engagement of stakeholders in countries around the world has produced a Model for Comprehensive Sexual Education. It is intended as an evidenced informed approach and a curriculum based process of teaching and learning about cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It is aimed at young people before they become sexually active and those most vulnerable to misinformation. CSE is also intended to be delivered by well trained teachers complemented by parents and guardians and youth friendly services. Its evidence based benefits include:
However, there is disquiet and in some instance strong objections from certain segments of the religious community on the content and intent of CSE. This is notwithstanding that CSE like the PANCAP Model Anti-discrimination Legislation offers a template that makes provision for modifications by countries based on their cultural norms, religious belifs and adherence to findings of biomedical and behavioral research.
Here is where the representational and oversight roles of parliamentarians become important. There is consensus that public education is an essential function of prevention. Therefore, among the actions that the parliamentary system can pioneer is convening national multi sectoral commissions to review the CSE curriculum to ensure that it is age appropriate. Such a Commission based on diversity can carve out principles that place emphasis on equipping young people with the knowledge, skills attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; inculcate greater appreciation for family relations, a better understanding of friendship, love and romantic relations, the value of tolerance, inclusion and respect and long term commitment to parenting.
The “How “ requires Parliamentarians Taking Bold steps
Parliamentarians in the Caribbean have formidable illustrations of the value of pursuing their collective legislative, representative and oversight roles. It was the CARICOM Heads of Governments that issued the Nassau Declaration: The health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region In its salutation, CARICOM Heads stated “cognizant of the critical role of health in the economic development of our people and overawed by the prospect that our current health problems, especially HIV/AIDS, may impede such development through the devastation of our human capital” https://caricom.org/.../nassau-declaration-on-health-2001-the-health-of-the-region-is-t.
In the 2007 Port of Spain Declaration, Uniting to Fight the Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), CARICOM Heads of Government stated that they were ‘conscious of the collective actions which have in the past fueled regional integration, the goal of which is to enhance the well-being of the citizens of our countries’ http://caricom.org/media-center/communications/statements-from-caricom-meetings/declaration-of-port-of-spain-uniting-to-stop-the-epidemic-of-chronic-ncds
While the Nassau Declaration offered a template for action based on two pillars - the Caribbean Cooperation in Health and the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS, the Port of Spain Declaration triggered the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs that escalated into an international movement for health and wellness. At the heart of both Declarations, are implementable recommendations that depend on public education and national, regional and international solidarity. In both, the quintessential examples of functional cooperation are prominent features. And in both, there is a clear understanding that the health and well-being of societies are intricately linked to human capital development
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.