This week, a great deal of controversy has erupted over the termination of Professor Brendan Bain from the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART) at the University of the West Indies, after a coalition of regional civil society groups expressed their discomfort over expert testimony he gave in a Belizean court recently. Much of the discussion in Jamaican media has been inflammatory and ill-informed. It is hoped that the following releases from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition and its partners will help to clarify many of the issues that are under discussion.
I have also added the Statement from the University of the West Indies dated May 20, 2014 from its Marketing and Communications Office.
On a personal note, I hope that in the future issues such as child abuse, incest, rape, human trafficking and other serious social problems in Jamaica will generate as much heat as this has done. But somehow I doubt it.
Please read carefully. Thank you. (I highlighted a few phrases in bold, myself).
May 21, 2014
Letter to the Editor from Dr Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
On behalf of over 30 diverse civil society groups across the region, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition salutes the administration of the University of the West Indies (UWI) for preserving the University’s ability to continue to be a leader in the regional response to HIV, by insisting that those who lead its HIV initiatives are accountable to its principles and are advocates of sound public health.
In a release yesterday, UWI makes clear the reason it terminated its contractual arrangement with our colleague retired Prof. Brendan Bain’s to direct its Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Centre Network (CHART): “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”. The University’s communiqué noted:
- “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).”
- “in a high-profile case in Belize in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man in Belize, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalizes men having sex with men…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 criminalization and stigmatization of MSM.”
We are deeply troubled that public perception and reporting by responsible media houses continues to indicate that Prof. Bain was fired as a professor, and that this was for factual statements about the epidemiology of HIV. We also note that our colleague Prof. Bain provided his expert testimony not at the request of the state but a group of churches who intervened in the case in a way that has painfully polarized rational discourse about sexuality and citizenship across the Caribbean region.
We thank retired professor Brendan Bain, with whom many of us once worked productively and collegially for his acknowledged contributions to fighting HIV in the region, and we reaffirm our respect for his freedom to express his personal views in academic and other settings. It is not his right to have deeply held views that has been at issue, but the evident conflict of his action in the Belize court case with his capacity to represent UWI’s values in leading an HIV movement working for health and justice for all.
The University has been careful to note the hurt Prof. Bain’s advocacy has done to gay and lesbian persons in the Caribbean and to others in the region who are affected by discrimination and stigma. But that should not be misconstrued. His dismissal is no victory of anyone over anyone else. There is one Caribbean in which we all find ourselves— those who supported Prof. Bain, and the diverse groups who engaged CARICOM, UWI and others to point out that his continued leadership had become untenable and was damaging the University — a Caribbean we are committed to building. We share with the University a commitment to inclusion of everyone, in law, in health, in dignity. We are pleased that these principles have won over the notion of a region where some people’s humanity is inconvenient to others.
Professor Bain spoke no inconvenient truth in his testimony. The fact that men who have sex with men have significantly higher rates of HIV is widely known and acknowledged, and one reason for an urgent and more unified regional response. Where our colleague Prof. Bain erred was by linking without evidence those high HIV rates to the removal of laws that criminalize homosexuality in France, the Netherlands and United States, while ignoring that neither laws nor Jamaica’s notorious hostility to homosexuality have protected us from having one of the highest rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in the world.
As another colleague and epidemiologist Chris Beyrer wrote in the Jamaica Gleaner last year, “People who are afraid and feel threatened avoid health care, do not seek or get HIV testing or other services which can help reduce risks, and are less likely to be treated for HIV if they are living with the virus. Punitive and hostile policies do not reduce HIV risks – they increase them.” There is broad public health consensus that, rather than retaining laws that punish some and increase HIV risks, we make the region safer for all by “making condoms and lubricants widely available and cheap, by treating STI in settings of dignity, safety, and quality of care, so that people at risk will seek and use the services they need. We also do so by listening to patients, being non-judgmental, and helping them reduce their real risks -which they will not disclose if they are afraid.”
Prof. Bain not only undermined this position in his testimony. He did so in ways that damaged the University’s reputation, lacked professional forethought, and betrayed the mission of the UWI unit he was asked to lead — “to strengthen the capacity of national health-care personnel and systems to provide access to quality HIV & AIDS prevention, care, treatment, and support services for all Caribbean people”. We need strong, credible UWI leadership in the regional epidemic. Keeping our colleague Prof. Bain in that leadership role would cost us all.
Dr Carolyn Gomes
Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
Q&A regarding the termination of Professor Bain
Following the statement put out by the University of the West Indies announcing Professor Brendan Bain’s termination from the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART), we as civil society groups wish to recognize the principled leadership of professors within the university who have demonstrated their opposition to any form of discrimination and their commitment to ensuring human rights for all citizens.
We would like to take this opportunity to clarify some important questions being raised about human rights and public health, especially regarding the health of men who have sex with men and the leadership in the Caribbean HIV response.
What does the public health science say about homosexuality, buggery laws and HIV?
There is an authoritative global body of science supporting the removal of punitive laws which criminalize sex between consenting men, accepted by the UN, UNAIDS, WHO, the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS, and the Johns Hopkins School of Human Rights and Public Health, among many other important academic institutions and global agencies. Criminalizing laws can intimidate MSM, leading them to avoid healthcare out of fear of arrest or threats of violence.
The research that Professor Bain cites in his witness statement was produced by various scientists and then published in the respected scientific journal The Lancet in 2012. It is not his own work; Professor Bain has no published research on the issue. The studies all show that legal barriers complicate the delivery of HIV prevention and that policies which criminalize homosexuality, notably in the Caribbean, are associated with increased prevalence of HIV infection in black MSM.
The same research culminates by making a series of recommendations, including the decriminalization of same-sex sexual relations and targeted programs to reduce homophobia. It shows that even the best biomedical and behavior change interventions fail without spaces in which men can safely seek care and services and communicate openly about their sexual lives. To suggest the science supports retention of colonial buggery laws is misrepresentation and misuse of the information.
It is for this reason that Caribbean civil society groups working in HIV, including networks of people living with HIV, gender advocates, and public health agencies, are encouraged by the Orozco & UNIBAM litigation. Criminalizing laws are a significant contributor to increased HIV risk for MSM and the research tells us to remove them.
Are gay men more at risk of becoming infected with HIV or not?
Yes. A combination of biological and structural factors put men who have sex with men (MSM) at higher risk for HIV. The two regions in the world with the highest rates of HIV infection are Sub-Sahara Africa and the Caribbean. For example, 33% of Jamaican and 20% of Trinidadian MSM live with HIV. Our region also has the most unsupportive legal framework for addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic compared with any other region in the world, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Criminalization of MSM and high HIV prevalence are intrinsically related.
What about freedom of expression?
If the HIV and AIDS epidemic has taught us anything, it is that respect for all people’s human rights is critical. Everyone has the right to the freedom of expression and different points of view. In open societies, people may and do disapprove of homosexuality. Yet people who choose to take leadership positions in the response to HIV should not expect to express views in direct opposition to accepted science and best practice and continue to retain the confidence of the communities they are meant to benefit and of regional actors in the response to HIV. This is a conflict of interest.
On Professor Bain
Professor Bain is a good man who has worked in the field of HIV for many years. He was not fired as a Professor, he is retired. His contract with CHART was terminated. UWI’s statement said, “Professor Bain has lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART program is expected to reach, including the loss of his leadership status in PANCAP, thereby undermining the ability of this program to effectively deliver on its mandate.”
The role of UWI in the regional response to HIV
The CHART Program has a mandate to strengthen healthcare professionals and systems to provide quality HIV prevention, care and treatment and support for all Caribbean people. It has a critical role in ensuring that MSM can access services without stigma and discrimination from healthcare professionals. We believe this program can be maximized in the hands of strong leadership. The University of the West Indies Faculty Group of Public Law Teachers also makes a critical contribution to the regional response and to promoting human rights. We will continue to work closely with UWI to develop stronger responses to HIV in the Caribbean, especially for those most vulnerable to HIV infection.
Who are we?
Civil society’s role in the HIV epidemic is critical in developing strong community systems for front-line responses to HIV. This is recognized globally. We are a diverse civil society group formed of groups of people living with HIV, women, civil liberties groups, as well as LGBT people. We came together to protect strong, credible UWI leadership in the regional epidemic.
Statement regarding Termination of Contractual Arrangement with Professor Brendan Bain as Director of CHART
Posted: May 20, 2014
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.
See attached excerpt from the Chancellor’s 2013 Graduation Address
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.