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The global fight for HIV equality

Fri 25 Jun 2010 In: HIV View at Wayback View at NDHA

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is spearheading a new UN department which seeks to challenge the legal hurdles to HIV justice and equality. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law has been launched in Geneva. It will bring together world-renowned public leaders, and will be supported by experts on law, public health, human rights and HIV. Helen Clark Clark, who is now the head of the UN Development Programme, says the next generation of HIV responses must focus on improving legal, regulatory, and social environments to advance human rights and gender equality goals. "Every day, stigma and discrimination in all their forms bear down on women and men living with HIV/AIDS, including sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people," she said at launch. "Many individuals most at risk of HIV infection have been left in the shadows and marginalised, rather than being openly and usefully engaged." Clark says 106 countries still report having laws and policies presenting significant obstacles to effective HIV responses. "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." Labour MP Charles Chauvel, a former New Zealand Aids Foundation Chair, has been appointed a Commissioner, a role he will undertake alongside his Parliamentary duties. NZAF Patron and former Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby has also been made a Commissioner. Executive Director of the NZAF Rachael Le Mesurier says the foundation is delighted the new UN organisation has been established to tackle legal and policy challenges surrounding HIV. "The political clout and international prominence of the UN will push these issues to the forefront of the global agenda and we're incredibly proud that people from, and close to, the NZAF have been selected to take part." NZAF Trust Board Chair Alastair Cameron, himself a lawyer, says it's fantastic that New Zealanders and NZAF supporters are now leading the global fight for HIV social justice. "We've congratulated all those participating and we are both delighted and proud." About the Global Commission on HIV and the Law The commission's aim is to increase understanding of the impact of the legal environment on national HIV responses. It will focus on how laws and law enforcement can support, rather than block, effective HIV responses. Commissioners will gather and share evidence about the extent of the impact of law and law enforcement on the lives of people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV.They will make recommendations on how the law can better support universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Regional hearings, a key innovation, will provide a space in which those most directly affected by HIV-related laws can share their experiences with policy makers. The UN Development Programme believes this direct interaction is critical. It says nearly 30 years into the epidemic, there are many countries in which negative legal environments undermine HIV responses and punish, rather than protect, people in need. "Where the law does not advance justice, it stalls progress. Laws that inappropriately criminalise 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/or sex workers can make it difficult to provide essential HIV prevention or treatment services to people at high risk of HIV infection." UNDP says in some countries, laws and law enforcement fail to protect women from rape inside and outside marriage – thus increasing women's vulnerability to HIV. "At the same time, there are also many examples where the law has 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 has protected the rights of prisoners to have access to HIV prevention services.Where the law has guaranteed women equal inheritance and property rights, it has reduced the impact of HIV on women, children, families and communities." UNDP says with more than four million people on life-saving treatment and a seventeen percent decrease in new infections between 2001 and 2008, there is hope that the HIV epidemic is at a turning point, but persistent barriers like punitive laws and human rights violations will need to be overcome. The Commission's work will take place over an 18 month period; mobilising communities across the globe and promoting public dialogue on how to make the law work for an effective response to HIV. Its findings and recommendations will be announced in December 2011. Jacqui Stanford - 25th June 2010

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Friday, 25th June 2010 - 10:16am

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