Discriminatory laws contribute to spread of HIV/AIDS: report

Discriminatory laws contribute to spread of HIV/AIDS: report

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[JURIST] Laws criminalizing homosexual activity are contributing to the spread of HIV and AIDS [press release, PDF] in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the findings of a study [text, PDF] announced Wednesday by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) [official website]. The study, “Legal environments, human rights and HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific,” commissioned by the UNDP and the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) [advocacy website], was presented at the International AIDS Conference [official website] held this week in Vienna. Among its findings were that laws against public disorder and vagrancy were often used exclusively against homosexual men and transgender people. Additionally, other legal provisions are used in an arbitrary manner to infringe on the rights of homosexuals, creating an environment where HIV treatment efforts are obstructed. Jeff O’Malley, Director of UNDP’s HIV Practice elaborated:

[R]epressive legal environments institutionalize discrimination, limit funding and in effect obstruct the participation of men who have sex with men and transgender people in protecting themselves and their families, friends and communities from HIV. In the context of HIV and in the context of human rights, we must continue to vigorously defend and promote rights based HIV, health and development policies and programme responses – this necessitates working to remove punitive laws and discriminatory practices.

The report noted, however, that there is a rising awareness of the need to address this segment of the population among policymakers, leading to national strategies to deal with the growing problem.

The report comes one month after the launch of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, created by the UNDP and the UNAIDS Secretariat [official websites] in order to better understand the role played by the law [JURIST report] 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 is composed of an international panel of experts that is expected to complete its 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 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.