BY INGRID BROWN Observer senior reporter email@example.com
THE Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) will in October present proposed legislation to the Caribbean Parliamentary Council, recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality and commercial sex work in the region.
PANCAP, the grouping mandated to co-ordinate the regional response and mobilise resources to address the AIDS pandemic, said it was crucial for Caricom countries to adopt the proposed legislation if the region is to effectively offer intervention programmes to tackle the spread of the disease in the Caribbean, which has the second highest prevalence rate next to Sub-Saharan Africa.
PANCAP director Carl Browne said a number of the region's laws were either implicitly or explicitly discriminating against certain vulnerable groups, such as sex workers and gay men. He said they have since had to assess what the law says and how the people feel.
Browne said PANCAP met last month in Barbados where it agreed on a set of policies which need to be revised and amended in order to have the proposed law passed. The proposals will be taken to the next meeting of the region's attorneys general in October, when approval is expected to be sought. The Caribbean Parliamentary Council is made of the region's attorneys general.
Brown, however, told the Observer that the wording of the policy does not say "decriminalise", instead it is phrased as allowing people the right to be of the sexual orientation they choose.
"It might be easier to get sex work to be decriminalised," he said. "However, it will be harder for homosexuality as no attorney general may want to take the responsibility to return to their country and say I approved it."
He said if the attorneys general agree to the proposals, they would then take them back to their countries to seek parliamentary approval and then implementation.
He made it clear that what is done at the regional level cannot be dictated in individual countries.
PANCAP member countries are Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Islands, and the US Virgin Islands.
At the International AIDS Society (IAS) XVII AIDS conference in Mexico last week, one of the main calls made by political and global health leaders was for homosexuality and sex work to be decriminalised. Thousands of gay men and transgenders, from around the world, participated and facilitated daily discussions on the correlation between HIV and homosexuality.
In the meantime, Dr Kevin Harvey, head of Jamaica's National HIV/STI programme, agreed that if homosexuality was decriminalised more opportunities would be provided to reduce the infection rate among gays.
"In order to have effective programmes we need to reach these groups, but if they are underground how do you do it?" he asked.
Harvey said it is not just about renouncing laws, but there was a lot of work to be done in sensitising the population.