Advocates Hail New UN-Commissioned Report as Crucial Step Forward in Fight against AIDS

Landmark report from Global Commission on HIV and the Law illuminates legal barriers to HIV response; Advocates vow to carry recommendations forward, work to repeal harmful laws

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Civil society advocates applauded the release earlier today of a landmark report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, an independent body of leaders and experts convened by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report, based on extensive research and first-hand testimony from more than 1,000 people from over 140 countries, details the role of legal barriers and human rights violations in undermining the HIV response around the world.

"This report represents the most thorough exploration of links between the law, human rights and HIV to date," said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF). "Since the beginning of the epidemic, ill-conceived laws have vilified people living with HIV and sabotaged efforts to address HIV among the world's most-at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender people. This report confirms, with unparalleled authority, what community advocates have been saying for the last thirty years."

Currently, nearly 80 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, and many more outlaw sex work and drug use. In such punitive environments, members of these groups cannot disclose their HIV risk factors to health service providers without risking incarceration. Such laws not only block access to services, but also prevent members of these groups from openly participating in the development of public health programs and high-level policy concerning their populations.

"The criminalization of sex work has legitimized violence against sex workers," said Ruth Morgan Thomas, Global Coordinator of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). "It opens the door to all kinds of abuses, carried out with impunity by police, other people in authority and the public. Organizations that provide services for sex workers are raided and closed, and their staff attacked or arrested – how can one conduct HIV programming under these circumstances?"

"The law is meant to protect all citizens equally, not make certain groups more vulnerable," said JoAnne Keatley, Director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California, San Francisco. "In many cases, people mistake bad laws for good ones, and even well-intended legislators end up causing more harm than good. This report makes important progress toward clarifying which laws should be promoted, and which should be repealed."

"This report is a powerful tool for HIV and human rights advocacy," added Dr. Ayala. "Legislators can no longer feign ignorance of the consequences of their actions. The document presents a clear roadmap that cuts through taboo issues – homosexuality, sex work, drug use, gender variance – and outlines a legal environment that both promotes public health and upholds human rights."

"Making the leap from principle to practice is never easy. Our job now, as advocates, is to hold our leaders accountable to these findings. We must urge them to be courageous and unflinching enough to do what is right."

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, member of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, will be speaking on the Commission's report in Washington, D.C. on July 21st. The speech will take place at the MSMGF's AIDS 2012 Pre-Conference event, "From Stigma to Strength: Strategies for MSM, Transgender People and Allies in a Shifting AIDS Landscape". Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a member of the Commission, will deliver opening remarks. Media registration is available for this event – to register, please contact Jack Beck at jbeck@msmgf.org or 510 332 0786.

The MSMGF's Specialist Submission to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, focused on men who have sex with men globally, can be found online at http://www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//HIV_and_Law_Web_Page/MSMGF_Specialist_submission.pdf. More resources on the law and HIV among MSM can be found at http://www.msmgf.org/index.cfm/id/282/.

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is an expanding network of AIDS organizations, MSM networks, and advocates committed to ensuring robust coverage of and equitable access to effective HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services tailored to the needs of gay men and other MSM

Media Contact:
Jack Beck
510.332.0786 (m)
510.271.1956 (o)
jbeck@msmgf.org

SOURCE The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF)



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