For Release Upon Receipt - May 20, 2014
STATEMENT REGARDING TERMINATION OF CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENT WITH PROFESSOR BRENDAN BAIN AS DIRECTOR OF CHART
The University of the West Indies sees its role as providing higher education and increasing capacity of the human resources of the region it serves, conducting and publishing research and helping to guide public policy on issues relevant to social and economic development. The academic community plays a pivotal role in carrying out the University’s mandate and is encouraged to engage in public dialogue on matters of national and regional import. The UWI therefore affirms the right of academics to communicate their views based on their work and expertise and in so doing to render public service.
For the last year, there has been considerable controversy surrounding the appropriateness of Professor Brendan Bain serving as Director of CHART. Professor Bain is a retired member of staff of The University of the West Indies who has had a distinguished career primarily in the field of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean. In June 2001, the CARICOM Secretariat proposed the creation of a Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Centre and two years later the CHART Network was established “for the purpose of contributing to systematic capacity development among institutional and community-based healthcare workers involved in prevention of HIV/AIDS and in care, treatment and support of persons living with HIV and AIDS”.
Professor Brendan Bain has been the Director of CHART since its inception and after his retirement from The UWI in 2013 he was given a two-year post-retirement contract to continue in his role as Director. CHART is not a department of the UWI but a regional project managed by the University under a contract funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund and a group of US agencies, to train health workers dealing with patients and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.
The issue in question arose about two years ago in a high-profile case in Belize in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man in Belize, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalises men having sex with men (MSM). Professor Brendan Bain provided a Statement on behalf of a group of churches seeking to retain the 1861 Law. Many authorities familiar with the Brief presented believe that Professor Bain’s testimony supported arguments for retention of the law, thereby contributing to the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation of MSM. This opinion is shared by the lesbian, gay and other groups who are served by CHART.
The majority of HIV and public health experts believe that criminalising men having sex with men and discriminating against them violates their human rights, puts them at even higher risk, reduces their access to services, forces the HIV epidemic underground thereby increasing the HIV risk. These are the positions advocated by the UN, UNAIDS, WHO, PAHO, the international human rights communities and PANCAP (The Pan Caribbean Partnership against AIDS) which is the organisation leading the regional response to the HIV epidemic.
While the University recognises the right of Professor Bain to provide expert testimony in the manner he did, it has become increasingly evident that Professor Bain has lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART programme is expected to reach, including the loss of his leadership status in PANCAP, thereby undermining the ability of this programme to effectively deliver on its mandate. It is for this reason that the University of the West Indies has decided to terminate the contract of Professor Bain as Director of the Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU) of the Caribbean HIV/Training (CHART) Network.
EXCERPT FROM AN ADDRESS GIVEN BY CHANCELLOR, SIR GEORGE ALLEYNE TO THE 2013 UWI GRADUATING CLASS AT THE CAVE HILL CAMPUS
I have heard activists complain that scholarship and practice need to come together more closely, that the teaching and the discourse around moral, philosophical and constitutional niceties do not relate to the daily infringements suffered by minorities in our societies.
It is in this context that I wish to refer to the negation of human rights of a specific minority in our Caribbean societies. Professor Rose-Marie Antoine and I have just published a book “HIV and Human Rights” which resulted from a Symposium held at Cave Hill 3 years ago. This brought out clearly the degree of stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and minorities such as homosexuals and many were appalled to know that eleven of our CARICOM countries are the only ones in the Western Hemisphere which still have laws on their books that criminalise consensual homosexual sex in private. Their presence is a clear indication of the disjuncture between the criminal codes and the principles of respect for human dignity and essential freedoms enshrined in the Caribbean constitutions.
They are a reflection of the savings law clause which, as written and understood, insulates laws which were in existence at the time of independence from constitutional challenge. We should note that they are relics of British laws of 1876, and Britain has long repealed such law. Of course, Parliaments if so inclined could amend or repeal these laws by an ordinary majority. However, given the difficulty of parliamentary action, the only recourse for change is through litigation.
It is sometimes suggested that these laws are not enforced and therefore pose no problem, but the evidence is clear that they contribute to the stigma and discrimination suffered by lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Not only is such stigma and discrimination inimical to the public health efforts to prevent and control HIV, but they affront the basic rights which are enshrined in the constitutions of our countries.
Given Sir Philip’s injunction that as an institution we should be concerned with the elimination of prejudice, I ask what our University does in this field. I am aware of the programs in human rights which are well supported. But is the culture of our institution such that there is intolerance of intolerance and the infringement of the rights of minorities? Should our institution simply be a reflection of the prejudices of the rest of the community or should it by precept and word speak to the injustice that attends the negation of human rights of a minority? Should it be a leaven of change in the bodies politic?
I am pleased that the Faculty of Law has been proactive in this regard, mixing scholarship with practice and has formed a Rights Advocacy Project whose main objective is “to promote human rights and social justice in the Caribbean through pivotal public interest litigation and related activities of legal and social science research on the situation relating to human rights in the Caribbean and public education”. As I understand it, two of their major efforts now are in relation to the denial of human rights to a specific minority, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. I wish them well and trust that their work gets widely known throughout the University. I think that if Sir Philip were here now fifty years later, he would be proud of this work.
The Office of Administration, The University of the West Indies, Regional Headquarters