UN launches global commission on HIV and the law

UN launches global commission on HIV and the law

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[JURIST] The UN Development Programme (UNDP), in coordination with the UNAIDS Secretariat [official websites], on Thursday launched the Global Commission on HIV and the Law [press release] in order to better understand the role played by the law in facilitating universal access to AIDS prevention and treatment. The commission is charged with developing “actionable and evidence-informed recommendations” to create national legal environments with effective and efficient HIV/AIDS responses. The commission will address some of the most challenging HIV legal issues, including the criminalization of HIV/AIDS transmission and behavioral practices such as drug use and sexual activity. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark highlighted the need for such an investigation [transcript] in order create legal frameworks to support AIDS prevention and treatment:

It has … become increasingly clear that successes in responding to HIV can only reach the required scale if they are underpinned by legal, regulatory and social environments which advance human rights, gender equality, and social justice goals. … Sadly, however, in many places social and legal challenges to human rights are undermining efforts to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support. … While the number of countries with specific laws to protect people living with HIV from discrimination has increased since 2003, one third of countries still lack them. Where they do exist, such laws often are not enforced. … There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence, and an ever increasing body of documentation, on human rights abuses stemming from punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma, and discrimination. We need now to move from anecdote to evidence on the impact of these abuses on HIV, public health, and development outcomes. That evidence will help advance effective HIV/AIDS responses and generate political will to bring about the needed changes.

The commission will be composed of an international panel of experts and will hold regional hearings in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe to ensure that it hears from all affected communities and policy-makers. The commission is expected to complete the inquiry by December 2011.

UNAIDS has repeatedly urged policy changes in the 51 countries and areas that still bar entry to individuals with HIV/AIDS. In April, the Chinese government lifted a ban on entry [JURIST report] for individuals with HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases. The ban had temporarily been lifted [JURIST report] for international events, such as the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, but the inconvenience that resulted, as well as the increased knowledge of how HIV/AIDS is spread, were reasons cited by the government as factors for changing the law. The US lifted its 22 year-old entry ban [JURIST report] in January when the Centers for Disease Control [official website] removed HIV/AIDS from its list of communicable diseases of public significance. UNAIDS strongly opposes any laws that restrict movement based on HIV-positive status, holding that such restrictions are discriminatory and do not prevent HIV transmission or protect public health.