A leading Caribbean human rights and HIV/AIDS activist and the regional coalition he helped established to provide services to those vulnerable to the epidemic were honoured at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network third annual symposium in Toronto last month.
Trinidad & Tobago-born Dr. Robert Carr, who died suddenly at his Toronto home in May and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) coalition were presented with the International Awards for Action on HIV and Human Rights.
Carr, who was 48 at the time of his death, was the CVC’s first executive director. An academic who studied literary theory and worked at American universities for several years, Carr returned to T & T in 1988 to pursue Social Work studies at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus. He later transferred to the Mona Campus in Jamaica to complete his Masters in 2001.
A year later, he joined Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, serving as a director and then executive director and worked tirelessly to advance the cause of those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. With the help of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the joint United Nations Program on AIDS, he established the CVC and served as its executive director before relocating to Toronto in January 2010.
CVC program manager Ivan Cruickshank came from Jamaica to accept the awards.
“These awards really demonstrate the passion that Robert portrayed in the work he did,” said Cruickshank, a Jamaica AIDS Support for Life founding member and trained facilitator. “When he came back to the Caribbean 23 years ago, he just delved into what he saw was a problem and that was that there was a big gap between how people understood the epidemic and the realities of it.
“Robert recognized that marginalized populations were at the centre of the epidemic in the region and he moved aggressively to respond to that. What is significant about his work is that he attempted not only to deal with populations in silo form, but he recognized the inter-connectedness between all of the populations and the vulnerabilities that each face and he brought that to his own work. As a result, he was able to build leadership capacity among various groups and create several global networks.”
Carr played a key role in the creation of the Pan Commonwealth Civil Society Network and the Commonwealth HIV and AIDS Action Group.
“He brought together activists from across the globe to say let’s sit down and examine the issues and see where the commonalities are and how we can together lobby in the global village to get appropriate responses for policymakers,” said Cruickshank who was a researcher at Warwick Business School.
He said that at the core of CVC’s work is an understanding of the central role of human rights in response to HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.
“In the region, we have a terrible understanding of what rights are,” Cruickshank said. “For most of us, we understand rights as not something that is an inherent part of the human existence but rather something that is granted.”
He encouraged the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, of which Carr was a board member, and other human rights advocacy groups in Canada and the rest of the world to continue to support Carr’s work and build support among the Diaspora.
“Those of us who are not in the Caribbean region can support the work of activists on the ground by making sure that the Diaspora takes the message of human rights to the policymakers to help them understand what it means,” he said.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network executive director Richard Elliott and Human Rights Watch advocacy director Rebecca Schleifer made the presentations to Cruickshank.
“This is a very moving movement,” said Elliott. “Robert was one of the world’s most dedicated human rights activists. He was a force in the Caribbean and many other fora, but he left some of his greatest marks in the Caribbean. I will miss him as a friend.”
Cruickshank said the CVC will memorialize Carr through the establishment of the Dr. Robert Carr Advisory Project that will feature his work, a newsletter that will highlight the issues he was passionate about and a fund to support the advocacy work required to be done in the Caribbean.