Dr. Eddie Greene, has been recently appointed the United Nations Secretary-General’s special envoy for the Caribbean. By engaging political leaders and members of civil society from Basseterre to Kingston, Greene has urged countries to address their prejudices and change discriminatory laws.
From his office in Washington D.C. the envoy noted that in order to improve the Caribbean’s HIV response, human rights and gender equality must be on the agenda. More than that, he thinks the region is ready to take them on.
Q: The term “human rights” has become taboo for some Caribbean people because they associate it with the imposition of foreign values, particularly on issues like capital punishment. How has the region received your message that this is a key concern?
A: Our various stakeholders—from politicians to the faith-based community, media to youth groups—understand that the Caribbean has had challenges with securing the fundamental rights of its people for centuries. Our societies have wrangled with all types of inequity surrounding issues like race, class, colour and sex. There is a growing acceptance that that challenge is about many more issues that touch our lives. It is about far more than the death penalty. We still have work to do.
Q: Perhaps the most controversial human rights issues for the Caribbean surround the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and the pervasive “buggery” law. What is your position on this?
A: This law violates human rights. The United Nations urges the repeal of laws that criminalise homosexuality or same sex relations and permit discrimination, and often violence, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. All people have the right to access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. The law and law enforcement should support them to do so.
Q: There are several deeply ingrained but flawed ideas about GLBT people in the Caribbean. For example the notion that homosexuality is linked with child sexual abuse is frequently invoked as a reason to retain these very laws. How should that be addressed?
A: By having frank, open discussions so that we can educate one another and confront those fears and concerns. More and more people are getting accurate information. They are learning that there is no connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse.The abuse of children is a crime no matter who does it, and abusers regardless of their sexual orientation should be stopped, prosecuted and punished. This is also part of our responsibility to ensuring the rights and wellbeing of Caribbean children.
Q: Why are you confident about the region’s ability to address these issues at this point in its history?
A: It is already happening. The Guyana government is hosting nationwide consultations on laws that discriminate against GLBT people. At the Universal Periodic Review in March Trinidad and Tobago agreed to more measures to protect these groups from violence and discrimination. And of course we all know of Portia Simpson Miller’s brave declaration during the last general election in Jamaica that the buggery laws should be reviewed. The fact that she did not pay a political price for that stand is a lesson to the region’s governments.
Q: You bring up Jamaica. What feedback did you get from stakeholders there about these issues during your recent visit to the country?
A: I was pleased that during my mission to Jamaica there was a consensus on the part of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Health, Education, and Youth and Culture to work with faith-based and youth organisations, NGOs, the private sector and the media on these issues. They are coming together for the coordination of a National Consultation on World AIDS Day 2012 under the theme “Accelerating the human rights agenda to eliminate stigma and discrimination”. The UNAIDS office in Jamaica is actively engaged in the organisation of this consultation. It will provide Jamaica with an opportunity to be a true champion for change. I am pleased with the fervour of the HIV response in Jamaica and am eager to continue working with all key stakeholders to realise the vision of zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.