The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean Dr Edward Greene says he is saddened by the events which led to The University of the West Indies firing Prof Brendan Bain.
“I am saddened by the turn of events leading to the decision of The University of the West Indies (UWI) to terminate the post-retirement contract of Prof Brendan Bain as director of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network,” Greene said yesterday.
UWI fired Bain last week.
In a statement, UWI said it had become increasingly evident that though he had a right to provide expert testimony in the manner in which he did, Bain had “lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART programme is expected to reach”.
The UWI statement indicated the issue surrounding Bain’s termination had arisen after he provided a statement in a high-profile case in Belize, in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man, has challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalises men having sex with men.
In a statement yesterday, Greene said: “I am fully aware of the role and functions of CHART and, moreover, of the importance of Prof Bain’s leadership and his impact on a wide array of Caribbean public-health practitioners and people infected and affected by HIV.
“I am also very aware that over the past eight months the Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies wrestled with the issues surrounding Prof Bain’s testimony in the Belize constitutional case, including the question of academic freedom.
“Prof Bain’s submission to the court was aimed at upholding a law that, in the opinion of public health experts and members of civil society, reinforces stigma and discrimination against men who have sex with men. In March 2014, Prof Bain tendered his resignation from the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) executive board, presumably due to the recognition that his position was incompatible with that of the leadership and membership of PANCAP.”
He added: “When, therefore, The University of the West Indies took its decision last week to end his contract on the basis of ‘a conflict of interest’, this was a culmination of events based on Prof Bain’s loss of support and goodwill among major national, regional and international organisations working in HIV/AIDS.”
Green said the protests against the university’s decision unfortunately mischaracterise it as a threat to freedom of speech and to academic freedom.
“On the contrary—it is simply a lack of credibility to lead CHART given the organisation’s goals surrounding the elimination of stigma and discrimination toward men who have sex with men and other communities that are vulnerable to HIV.”
“PANCAP, in collaboration with UNAIDS, has initiated a series of national and regional consultations under the theme ‘Justice for All and Human Rights’. The process will give rise to actionable recommendations to be ratified by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Government in July 2014. “These recommendations relate to a range of targets—eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, strengthening laws and responses to address domestic violence and other forms of abuse, and creating a framework for faith groups to help address stigma and discrimination... the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has consistently said that human rights are universal and must be universally respected. We in the Caribbean have started a social movement through constructive engagement.
“I believe that this is the appropriate time to make the effort across society to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that surround HIV. Our governments and community leaders increasingly recognise that laws and policies that criminalise key populations, force them underground, away from information, testing, treatment, care and support services, these laws are discriminatory and counterproductive,” Greene said.