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10 July 2012
Bad laws crippling global AIDS response, says UN
by George Atkinson

An independent body of global leaders, health and legal experts convened by the United Nations Development Programme says that punitive laws and human rights abuses are costing lives, wasting money and stifling the global AIDS response. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law based its new report on extensive research and first-hand accounts from people in 140 countries.

"Bad laws should not be allowed to stand in the way of effective HIV responses," said Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme Administrator, citing laws that criminalise and dehumanise populations at the highest risk of HIV.

Specifically, the report identifies the following areas of concern:

  • In over 60 countries, it is a crime to expose another person to HIV. To date, more than 600 HIV-positive people across 24 countries have been convicted of such crimes. These laws and practices discourage people from seeking an HIV test and disclosing their status.
  • More than 70 countries criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Iran and Yemen impose the death penalty for sexual acts between men; Jamaica and Malaysia punishes homosexual acts with lengthy imprisonment. These laws make it difficult to prevent HIV amongst those most vulnerable to infection.
  • The criminalization of proven harm reduction services (e.g. injecting rooms, needle exchanges) for injecting drug users.
  • The legal environment in many countries exposes sex workers to violence and results in their economic and social exclusion. It also prevents them from accessing essential HIV prevention and care services.
  • Laws and customs that disempower women and girls, from genital mutilation to lack of legislation against marital rape.
  • Laws and policies that deny young people access to sex education.

"Too many countries waste vital resources by enforcing archaic laws that ignore science and perpetuate stigma," said former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the Commission. "Now, more than ever, we have a chance to free future generations from the threat of HIV. We cannot allow injustice and intolerance to undercut this progress, especially in these tough economic times."

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Source: Global Commission on HIV and the Law

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