The Global Commission on HIV and the Law announced in a news release that it has compiled a publication entitled “HIV and the Law: Rights, Risk and Health.” The report, which was the brainchild of 15 worldwide heads of state, HIV/AIDS activists and legal experts, claims that laws penalizing prostitution (both heterosexual and homosexual) and drug use create a hindrance to providing solutions for the AIDS epidemic.
The commission states that it based its report on studies across 140 countries around the world with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
“Laws that criminalize and dehumanize populations at highest risk of HIV—including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and injecting drug users—drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten their risk of HIV,” the Global Commission wrote in the release. “For example, African and Caribbean countries that do not criminalize same-sex sexual activity have lower HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men. Countries that treat injecting drug users as patients instead of criminals—including New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Switzerland and Portugal — have increased access to HIV services and reduced HIV transmission rates among people who use drugs.”
The commission’s website dubs the report as being a “landmark” release against an “epidemic of bad laws.”
“78 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 group outlined.
“Governments across the world have a responsibility to take bold action and repeal laws that stem from ignorance and intolerance,” said Jamaican lawyer Maurice Tomlinson. “In Jamaica, where HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is among the highest in the world, anti-sodomy law breeds fear and violence and drives these men away from the care and treatment they need.”
The commission states in its report that it wants to “work with the guardians of customary and religious law to promote traditions and religious practice that promote rights and acceptance of diversity and that protect privacy.”
It also outlines its belief that prostitution should be regarded as an “occupation,” so that it can be regulated “in a way that protects workers and customers.”
“Some governments deploy anti-human trafficking laws so broadly that they conflate voluntary and consensual exchanges of sex for money with the exploitative, coerced, often violent trafficking of people (primarily women and girls) for the purposes of sex,” it states. “More than 100 countries criminalize some aspect of sex work. 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.”
Their website highlights a quote from Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in which he declared in 2009 regarding prostitution, “I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response…Successful AIDS responses do not punish people: they protect them. We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected.”
The Global Commission also opined that drug use should not be criminalized, and that addicts should simply receive treatment without any legal ramifications.
“Rather than punishing people who use drugs but do no harm to others, governments must offer them access to elective HIV and health services, including harm reduction programmes and voluntary, evidence-based treatment for drug dependence,” it writes.
Earlier this month, the group held a telephone press briefing, which included Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former President of Botswana, United States Congressman Barbara Lee and Stephen Lewis, the co-founder of AIDS-Free world, who are all members of the commission.
However, some state that the Global Commission’s recommendations are deplorable.
“It’s fascinating to me the way they dance around to avoid addressing the issue of behavior and to avoid the issue of consequences of promiscuity,” Janice Crouse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute commented. “[T]hey don’t want anything that would suggest to anybody that they ought to curb their sexual behavior. They don’t want anything to curb anybody’s enjoyment of sexual activity without consequences, and all of this is an attempt to mainstream behaviors and then deal with the consequences — and that plan does not work.”