St Kitts & Nevis: Justice for All Consultations - Address by the Right Honorable Dr. Denzil L. Douglas

It is my pleasure to address you this morning, as we gather for this PANCAP Justice for All Consultation.


I wish to begin by thanking the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, Professor Edward Greene, for his special efforts with PANCAP and UNAIDS in response to my request that the programme , with its human rights agenda, be expedited. And I wish to thank Professor Greene, also, for taking the lead to implement the series of national consultations which will culminate with our regional conference in 2014.


I extend warm congratulations to the Director of the PANCAP Coordinating Unit, Mr Dereck Springer, and his staff, for conceptualizing and bringing into fruition the elements of the Justice for All Programme that will be the focus of today’s discussions. Finally, I also extend commendations to UNAIDS for its unstinting leadership and support, as well as those members of office, and the Ministry of Health, for their special efforts in coordinating this event.


First, I must say that the timing of this consultation is most appropriate because it allows us to soberly assess, as a region, the progress that we have made toward the achievement of the millennium development goals, the end date of which, as we know, is almost exactly two years from now.


With two years to go, we can look back at the past twelve years and know that we have, indeed, accomplished much: We have reduced the death rates from the disease by some 80 percent; we have, through the use of antiretroviral drugs, greatly increased the number of people who are now living with HIV and leading meaningful lives; and, as has been publicized in recent times, we have brought about a dramatic reduction in the incidence of mother-to- child transmission of HIV. As a result, the Caribbean can now realistically aspire to being the first region in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission. And this we can all hope to accomplish by 2015.


PANCAP, as we know, has been at the forefront of every regional plan and model in this regard, and has contributed in no small measure to our region’s outstanding performance. PANCAP is, indeed a compelling illustration of the impact of functional cooperation within the regional integration process.


At the same time, life is an ongoing process of re-evaluation and refinement, Ladies and Gentlemen. And so, even as we note our past accomplishments, we must forever strive to continue building and moving forward – despite the gradual withdrawal of support for treatment by various international agencies, and the demands that this will continue to place on OECS wider CARICOM countries in terms of our own budgetary allocations.


And this issue of financing for development, as we move closer to the MDG’s period and as we plan for the post 2015 Agenda is of crtical concern, a concern recently expressed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Sri Lanka.

We, as a region, therefore, will have to devise investment strategies that are capable of providing affordable medicines and support, not only for HIV/AIDS for other health issues, as well. in order to ensure long and healthy lives for all our citizens, regardless of color, class, or creed. Indeed, it is this broad and inclusive vision that the Justice for All Programme has special appeal.


In the months and years ahead, Ladies and Gentlemen, regional Governments will have to continue managing our relationships with the private sector so as to ensure that there is compliance with the workplace policies against discrimination against people living with HIV (PLHIV). And we will also have to be vigilant in our commitment to ensure that health workers - and members of the protective services - remain faithful to the principles of nondiscriminatory actions…….that they demonstrate strict compliance to confidentiality requirements………and that our every action brings us ever closer to erasing all vestiges of stigma and discrimination.


And then there is the issue of sex education. It is vital that our countries’ stakeholders in the fields of health and education, community development, social work and social security, remain mindful of the need for this - not only in the classrooms, but throughout all our communities - urban and rural alike - as well. People simply may neither know nor understand as we think they do, and we can no longer afford to be uncomfortable with this topic when studies show that exposure and initiation are occurring at troublingly early ages. That is why compulsory, age-appropriate Health and Family Life Education, from primary school onward, is so important. Our society must be informed, our society must be aware, and our society must know how – on this crucial matter - to properly strengthen and defend itself.


And in all of this, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is the need for severe moral and legal sanctions, in our societies, in response to the alarming rates of sexual harassments and violence against women, girls and children. Our societies are now exposed to influences, attitudes, and behaviors that were unknown in this region just one generation ago. Modern telecommunications now reach into every nook and cranny of the globe, however, and these influences reach throughout this region as well. These matters demand our attention. And they will not go away.


We now know, for example, that there is a direct link between sexual abuse and aggression – including rape – and the spread of HIV. Our legislators and our judicial officers now have a responsibility, therefore, to reexamine the legislation on our books, and to take the necessary steps to bring on stream measures that will prevent discriminatory practices that contribute to stigma and discrimination.


There are so many questions being raised in the context of sex education, Ladies and Gentlemen - not only AIDS, but about homosexuality, so-called sex workers, and others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. I invite the church….civil society - Parliamentarians - those in Government and in Opposition, Attorneys General and other leading voices in our communities to become involved in these important discussions, and to ensure that their voices are heard. These are the types of issues that trigger, and deserve, in-depth discussion and analysis. And whenever our nations arrive at our eventual positions on these matters, it will be essential that they reflect the collective wisdom and belief-system of the societies in which we live. And in the course of engaging in this national conversation, Ladies and Gentlemen, we will find that we will deal not only with these specific issues themselves, but also with the stigma and discrimination that often surrounds these issues.


It is important, then, for us to elevate the discussion to the principles of the human rights to which we are all already committed, and as are reflected in both the UN Declaration on Human Rights, as well as the various protocols pertaining to the rights of the child, the rights of women, the rights of the disabled, the rights of migrants, and so on. These not only exist to protect the individual - regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation, but they are also generally enshrined both in our constitutions as well as in our spiritual upbringing with regard to compassion and inclusion.


It has therefore been gratifying to learn of the active role that Faith leaders and organizations throughout the region have been taking in the national conversations on Justice For All. And I must make a point, here, of commending the religious institutions here in St Kitts and Nevis, in particular, for the role that they have been playing in offering care and support for those in need, in general, and those living with HIV, in particular. The churches in St. Kitts and Nevis have helped to keep the spirit of family cohesion strong, and have been key to promoting the national and regional solidarity that is so key to the Justice For All agenda. They houses of worship bring to the table the spirit of compassion and tolerance that is encouraged in the scriptures, and that has, from time immemorial, guided the Christian faith that is so deeply engrained in Caribbean culture and traditions.


Ladies and Gentlemen: As we commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1 - a Sunday this year, it is my hope that all religions and denominations here in St Kitts and Nevis will join their counterparts throughout the region, who see the Justice For All spirit as an appropriate focus for worship………and as a possible theme for sermons……. as we strive to keep the society on the path toward true compassion and inclusion. We have been on this path for several years now: Our efforts clearly did not just begin, and this conversation is in no way new. And as a result, each year finds us stronger and more effective than we were the year before.


PANCAP and other organizations throughout this region have been on this important and much-needed course for years now. Indeed, many of us can remember the vibrant “Champions for Change Conference” right here in St. Kitts and Nevis almost a decade ago. And we can remember the recommendations for a Caribbean Stigma and Discrimination Unit. Indeed, this event was then followed by consultations with stakeholders such as faith based leaders in Guyana, the media in Barbados, and so on. Since that time, we have all come to a better understanding of the ways in which discrimination retards our battle against this disease. And as a result we are now fighting on two fronts: on the one had against the disease, and on the other against the associated discrimination.


In closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all concerned about human rights and equality as a general principle. The challenge before us as a region is to find ever new and innovative ways of helping the society, at large, to understand that the important values of human enlightenment and compassion must apply to those who are living with HIV as well.


This national consultation will build, with substance and insight, on all that was achieved in Guyana, Ladies and Gentlemen. And it will set an important bar for the consultations that will follow.

 

At the same time, this is an issue which, as everyone knows, has long been especially important to me. I therefore very much look forward to learning of the outcome of today’s deliberations. My commitment and leadership on this issue have been unshakeable in the past. And on this, the region can continue to depend. Our region’s progress over the past 12 years has been gratifying indeed, and this is the type of momentum which, greatly aided by consultations like today’s, we can and must, together, continue to maintain and build.

 

Thank you.

 

The Right Honorable Dr. Denzil L. Douglas
Prime Minister, St. Kitts and Nevis

November 27, 2013