Overview of the Caribbean Regional Dialogue
The Caribbean Regional Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law took place on 12 – 13 April in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. UNDP Associate Administrator, Rebecca Grynspan welcomed Commissioners Michael Kirby, Stephen Lewis and JVR Prasada Rao and other meeting participants. In her video message, the Associate Administrator challenged meeting participants to “to identify constructive, practical solutions for countries which will help to marshal the power of the law to be a positive force for scaling up effective HIV responses.” The active participation of parliamentarians, senators, judiciary, police, lawyers, legal aid providers, NAC representatives, academics, NGOs, CBOs, people living with HIV, sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, women’s groups and young people throughout the dialogue was ably moderated by Martine Dennis.
The dialogue also benefited from the participation of the Caribbean’s regional mechanism on HIV, PANCAP, and the intergovernmental institution, CARICOM. Over the course of the two days, the sixty seven participants effectively traversed the broad spectrum of legal issues critical to addressing HIV, health and development in the Caribbean – a region which has an adult HIV prevalence rate of 1%, a rate which is higher than in all other regions outside sub-Saharan Africa. What was unique to this dialogue was the critical space it created for direct civil society engagement with parliamentarians and the judiciary and the practical discussions about strategies and new partnerships needed to reform laws, challenge stigma and discrimination and improve access to justice at the country level in the region. In his remarks, Commissioner Michael Kirby echoed the words of many of the dialogue participants, reminding everyone that “law reform alone is not enough to change inhibitory cultures and attitudes. Law also cannot erase discrimination, disempowerment and stigma that afford a breeding ground for HIV and AIDS. But law reform is necessary to stop arbitrary action; to reinforce rational policies and action and to spread life-saving kindness to fellow human beings.”
By the end of the day, several concrete next steps had been identified including strategic actions in a number of countries where there is an opportunity to influence law reform, plans for judicial sensitization with Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers and the establishment of the Caribbean Coalition for Social Justice, which had its founding meeting right after the dialogue. As in the Asia Pacific region, several Caribbean stakeholders have already followed up with UNDP on addressing issues of law and law reform in their countries. In his closing address, Nicky Fabiancic, Deputy Director of UNDP’s Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Bureau assured participants of UNDP’s commitment in following up the outcomes of the dialogue.