OUR CARIBBEAN: HIV/AIDS issue and ganja use
As Caribbean Community Heads of Government were preparing for their 35th annual summit which got under way yesterday in Antigua, a range of new issues kept surfacing that would also require consideration during their four-day meeting.
Among them would most likely be the recent statement by Assistant Secretary at the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, that there has been “no consultation” between his government and CARICOM member states that were moving to change their laws to decriminalise possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use.
Subsequently, the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) complained against the declared intention of CARICOM governments to repeal laws that discriminate against and criminalise people in consensual sex acts between adults that bear the dreaded HIV/AIDS stigma.
The troubling dimension for the JCHS was its statement that, as signalled by the Community Secretariat, the Heads of Government would be considering various recommendations for action on the elimination of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. The recommendations originated with the Community’s Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS Justice For All project.
In the reasoning of the Healthy Society Coalition, this decision by CARICOM to take action on the PANCAP recommendations would be “an imposition that fundamentally reorders society”. Further, that implementation of the recommendations would be “contrary to the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society”.
As independent observers would note, whatever the merits of the Health Coalition’s case against CARICOM leaders taking action on the PANCAP recommendations in relation to eliminating HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, the Charter of Civil Society, though warmly welcomed 17 years ago, currently has, most regrettably, no legal status.
The charter remains, at best, an inspiring, encouraging “declaration”. However, as of this week’s heads of government conference – hosted by Antigua and Barbuda’s first-time Prime Minister Gaston Browne – not a single government had tabled legislation to give the Charter of Civil Society legal status.
Perhaps Jamaica’s Health Coalition, as well as groups and organisations across this region committed to the promotion and defence of human rights and human development, could stir action to give it legal status while negotiating their particular concerns over the implementation of PANCAP’s recommendations in dealing with the HIV/AIDS problem.
In relation to the claimed “lack of consultation” on CARICOM’s intent to decriminalise possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use, a simple truth needs to be appreciated, and not only by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, but all regional and extra-regional partners of CARICOM.
That truth is the proposed initiative by the region’s governments is a work in progress and they are simply not yet ready to present a collective plan for discussion/consultation with any foreign partner state or regional agency, institution or organisation.
Just recently, Prime Minister of St Lucia, Dr Kenny Anthony, former head of legal affairs at the Community Secretariat in Georgetown, made the very relevant observation that “the movement of [CARICOM] citizens within the region makes it difficult to deal with the decriminalisation of marijuana on an individual [country] basis. Therefore, I believe that the issue must be dealt with on the regional level”.
Outgoing chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and Grenadines, fully embraces the necessity for a “regional approach” on what he recognises as a sensitive issue that cannot be ignored.
In this context, Gonsalves, who hands over chairmanship of CARICOM to Antigua’s Browne, stressed that “no proper consultation” could have taken place with any representative of the US government, or else, since CARICOM Heads had not yet determined the approaches to be collectively pursued on decriminalising possession and use of marijuana.
Well, for now, with the public ceremonies and activities over, we await the decisions to flow from the summit that concludes on Friday.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.