Cenac: Separate morality from public duty

Published: March 28, 2011

A human rights lawyer has said the imperceptible blend of morality and legality has created “a lethal mix of punitive and discriminatory laws and practices” which enabled and sustained high rates of HIV infection in the Caribbean region among key populations. It also contributed to stigma and discrimination and impeded access to prevention, treatment, care by persons with the virus.

“We really cannot move forward on the issue of human rights if we really do not look at the impact of religion and this whole question of morality and law making and we need to have a separation of that,” said Veronica Cenac, a human rights lawyer in St Lucia and member of the AIDS Action Foundation as she addressed the topic “The Social and Cultural environment: Human Rights and HIV.”

Cenac was among a panel discussion at the UNAIDS sponsored Regional Consultation for Caribbean Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support at the Hyatt Regency last Wednesday.

She said “the reality” was HIV/AIDS was prevalent among sex workers, Men who have Sex with Men, women, young people. She said prison populations and drug users were also affected.

Cenac said studies done in St Lucia showed a prevalence rate of 10.5 percent among crack cocaine users while the national prevalence rate was estimated at 0.5-1.8 percent.

She said the “preservation of public morality” and preventing society from “sinking into moral decay” was at the basis of the argument for legislation which criminalised consenting sex between males, HIV transmission, imposing travel restrictions, and disclosing HIV status for work permits, police abuse of the gay, transgender community, sex workers, substance abusers.

She questioned whether society had the right to pass judgment on all matters of morals and if this was the truth, if it had the right to use the weapon of law.

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