New UN-backed body seeks to improve legal environment for tackling AIDS

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director and Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator launch HIV and the Law commission

24 June 2010 – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today launched the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, which will highlight the role played by the legal environment in facilitating or hindering universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

Over an 18-month period, the Commission – launched with the support of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) – will mobilize communities across the globe to promote public dialogue on how to make the law work for an effective response to HIV.

It will also support the holding of regional hearings, a key innovation in promoting the direct interaction between policymakers and those most directly affected by HIV-related laws, which is seen as crucial to progress.

With the support of experts on law, public health, human rights and HIV, the Commission will bring together world-renowned public leaders from many walks of life and regions to gather and share evidence about the impact of law and law enforcement on the lives of people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to the virus.

Its findings and recommendations on how the law can better support universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support will be announced in December 2011, according to a news release issued by UNAIDS.

The need for the Commission arises from that fact that, nearly 30 years into the epidemic, there are many countries in which negative legal environments undermine HIV responses. “Where the law does not advance justice, it stalls progress,” noted UNAIDS.

Laws that inappropriately criminalize HIV transmission or exposure can discourage people from getting tested for HIV or revealing their HIV positive status. Laws which criminalize men who have sex with men, transgender people, drug-users and sex workers can make it difficult to provide essential HIV prevention or treatment services to people at high risk of infection.

In some countries, laws and law enforcement fail to protect women from rape inside and outside marriage – thus increasing women’s vulnerability to HIV.

“Some 106 countries still report having laws and policies [which] present significant obstacles to effective HIV responses,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “We need environments which protect and promote the human rights of those who are most vulnerable to HIV infection and to the impact of HIV, and of those living with HIV/AIDS.”

At the same time, there are also many examples of the law having had a positive impact on the lives of people living with or vulnerable to HIV. The law has protected the right to treatment; the right to be free from HIV-related discrimination in the workplace, in schools and in military services; and the rights of prisoners to have access to HIV prevention services.

And where the law has guaranteed women equal inheritance and property rights, it has reduced the impact of HIV on women, children, families and communities.

With more than four million people on life-saving treatment and a 17 per cent decrease in new infections between 2001 and 2008, there is hope that the HIV epidemic is at a turning point. In support of that progress, Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, has made removing punitive laws a priority area for his agency.

“The time has come for the HIV response to respond to the voice of the voiceless,” he said. “We must stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are living with HIV and who are most at risk. By transforming negative legal environments, we can help tomorrow’s leaders achieve an AIDS-free generation.”

The Global Commission is being supported by a broad range of partners, including such donors as the Ford Foundation and AusAID, the Australian Government’s overseas aid programme.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Discrimination hurts fight against HIV in homosexual men in Asia-Pacific – UN

Related Stories