ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Rather than just an emotive issue about the public’s views on homosexuality, the attorney general’s recent comments about maintaining buggery laws should be viewed as the starting point for an important discussion Director of the Caribbean Regional Support Team, UNAIDS Ernest Massiah said.
“It’s not just about a buggery law. This is about looking at equality, equality of all citizens in all Caribbean countries, and when you start that discussion from that point as opposed to a buggery law, I think then you see a discussion as well as points of convergence that would be different than if you start looking just at a buggery law,” Massiah told OBSERVER from his office on Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Attorney General Justin Simon told the delegates at the 12th Session of The Universal Periodic Review, which comprises the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council, that any change in the Sexual Offences Act would have to come as a result as a mandate from the people.
Among other things, the Act criminalises buggery.
The AG is in Geneva, Switzerland, at the meeting, but his comments sparked lively discussion here, with the topic being narrowed down by most people to a conversation on the immorality of homosexuality. The minority has attempted to broaden the scope to a discussion about human rights.
Massiah said Simon’s comments should be viewed as an opportunity to move forward the dialogue on matters like public health.
“There are fundamental issues of public health where the legal framework works against the public health, and that is where one needs to be very clear … because the objective of the law should be to protect the public health,” said Massiah, who holds a doctorate in public health.
The three areas he highlighted where the law has negative impact are in the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS; the perpetuation of stigma; and the overall climate of discrimination.
“For example, you cannot provide condoms in prisons because prisons are state-run, and … you know that sex (is) likely to be anal sex. In some countries in the region we have seen ministers of national security saying they’d like to engage in good public health but the law prevents them,” Massiah said.
He also noted that while a case might be made that the buggery law is rarely enforced, a climate exists for those affected by the legislation where they could be subject to what he called “arbitrary discrimination” at any time.
Speaking to Caribarena.com, the attorney general opined that he did not see the law changing anytime soon, since “Antigua is still very much led by male and church influences.”
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)