A Victory at the Caribbean's Highest Court

Published: May 9, 2014

May 9, 2014—AIDS-Free World is thrilled to announce an important milestone on the road to ending discriminatory laws and practices that perpetuate the spread of HIV in the Caribbean. In a judgment released yesterday, the Caribbean’s highest court has allowed our case—Maurice Tomlinson v. The State of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago—to proceed to trial. The decision is a beacon of real progress on the road to ending stigma and discrimination in the region.

 AIDS-Free World initiated the case against Belize and Trinidad because the laws of both countries make it impossible for us to work with vulnerable groups or attend regional meetings without knowingly breaking the law. The outdated immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad bar the entry of homosexuals and other “prohibited classes,” including persons with disabilities. The laws are in direct contravention of the recently enacted Revised Treaty of the Chaguaramas, which grants all Caribbean citizens the right to move freely between member nations.

 The claimant, Tomlinson, is an openly gay Jamaican attorney who regularly works with marginalized populations across the Caribbean in his capacity as AIDS-Free World’s Legal Advisor. The claim was first initiated with the Jamaican government, which refused to act on its own citizen’s behalf. It was next taken to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction over all the members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In an encouraging judgment, the Court acknowledged that there was a strong case to be made that the mere existence of these laws are evidence of prejudice. They also argued that the case raises important questions around the relationship between the domestic laws of individual countries and the treaty obligations they hold as members of the Caribbean Community. Decisions of Caribbean Court of Justice are binding across CARICOM countries.

 AIDS-Free World has been working since 2007 to address HIV in the Caribbean, the region with the world’s second highest HIV prevalence rates. Given the disproportionately high rates of HIV among men who have sex with men and other key populations, our main focus has been to address the rampant culture of homophobia, which drives those who are most vulnerable to infection away from HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

UNAIDS has its regional headquarters in Trinidad. This case originally came to light because AIDS-Free World and other HIV and LGBTI activists would be unable to attend UNAIDS meetings without breaking the law. We’ve opted to have Maurice act as the claimant in this challenge because he, like so many others who would find themselves among the “prohibited classes” barred entry from Trinidad and Belize, are vitally important partners in the HIV response throughout the Caribbean. It is evident that the laws must change, and at the very least, that UNAIDS should relocate its offices until the groups it claims to defend are no longer treated as second-class citizens.

Full text of article available at link below – 

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