Aids-Free World, an advocacy NGO, is challenging T&T's immigration law. Maurice Tomlinson, its legal adviser for marginalised groups, is carrying the challenge forward. He is a Jamaican lawyer who is gay. Tomlinson received an invitation from the UNFPA to participate in an HIV workshop to be held in T&T on December 3 and 4.
However, section 8 of this country's Immigration Act bars entry to homosexuals, who are, according to that law, a prohibited class. Unless he knowingly withholds the truth, Tomlinson cannot enter T&T. He said he has no intention of lying, so he cannot accept the invitation from UNFPA. Instead, he wants to have the ban removed, so he and Aids-Free World have decided to challenge the legality of the act.
Tomlinson has also received an invitation from Caricom to attend a conference, again in T&T, on International Human Rights Day, December 10. With two examples from which to challenge the immigration statute, he has set things in motion. The procedure involves a three-stage process.
To begin, as a national of Jamaica, Tomlinson must inform his own government that his rights have been violated and ask the government to bring the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). That has been done-Tomlinson has written to the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
If the Jamaican government decides not to proceed, Tomlinson can petition the CCJ directly, seeking permission to take the case forward. Alternately, the government of Jamaica can decide not to proceed, but give him specific permission to pursue the case on his own behalf.
Tomlinson has expressed concern that two UN agencies, UNFPA and UNDP, both of which are co-sponsors of UNAIDS, are organising or supporting meetings to which gay men have been invited, in a country that bans entry to gay men. He said despite the fact that the current immigration law has been in place since 1974, UNAIDS chose to locate its regional support team offices in T&T.
"We are dealing here with explicit violations of the UN's human rights covenants. Given the strong words and intense feelings of the secretary general on discrimination issues, one wonders what his reaction will be when he's made aware of the behaviour of UN agencies," Aids-Free World said in a statement.
"Moreover, that behaviour also stands in direct contradiction to the recent report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law that recommended that laws criminalising homosexuality be expunged from the statute books." Such laws, the group argues, lead to the spread of HIV by forcing gay men underground, denying them testing, prevention, treatment, and care.
"We're not about to accept the usual defensive nonsense about working behind the scenes. This is a case where Trinidadian law conflicts with everything the UN ostensibly stands for, and the UN has capitulated. The UN should be on the front line, holding press conferences, demanding that the law be erased.
Like the UN Secretary-General, the executive director of UNAIDS has made the human rights of LGBT groups a personal crusade, but alas, the actions of UN agencies in the region serve to contradict the crusade."
The group said the Immigration Act ran even deeper than the ban on homosexuals. Other prohibited groups are described in the law as "mentally-challenged," more explicitly defined as "idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, persons suffering from dementia and insane persons..." Also denied entry are the physically disabled, defined as "dumb, blind, or otherwise physically defective or physically handicapped."
Tomlinson said he planned to seek the support of all those who recognise that the human rights of LGBT and people with disabilities transcend borders, and that discrimination against one person offends all humankind.