The Global Commission on HIV and the Law has published a report today that announced that punitive laws and human rights abuses are to blame for limiting the global AIDS response. What’s more, countries in every region of the world were culpable for some of these laws and abuses.
According to the executive summary, “In just three decades, over 30 million people have died of AIDS, and 34 million more have been infected with HIV. 34 million people are living with HIV, 7,400 are newly infected daily and 1.8 million died in 2010 alone.” It continues: “[Nations] have squandered the potential of the legal system. Worse, punitive laws, discriminatory and brutal policing and denial of access to justice for people with and at risk of acquiring HIV are fueling the epidemic. […] They promote risky [behavior], hinder people from accessing prevention tools and treatment, and exacerbate the stigma and social inequalities that make people more vulnerable to HIV infection and illness.”
So what laws are causing these problems? The report singles out quite a few.
More than 60 countries have criminalized either the act of HIV transmission, or transmitting HIV without alerting your sexual partner. In the United States, 37 of the 50 states have passed such a law, Canada, 27 countries in Africa, 13 in Asia and the Pacific, 11 in Latin America, and nine in Europe fall under this category. High-income countries lead the charge under this law, having prosecuted 600 people in 24 countries for such a crime.
While this law may seem positive at first, it may have unexpected consequences. The commission says that laws such as these prevent people from coming forward with a diagnosis, and discourage people from even getting tested due to the stigma.
More than 100 countries have criminalized sex work, with makes it close to impossible for sex workers to seek treatment. In Russia, for example, 60 percent of new cases of HIV come from injecting drug users, but drug treatment programs do not provide HIV treatment. In total, 78 countries have passed laws criminalizing homosexuality. According to the commission, these laws are also responsible for increasing the number of HIV cases. In countries in the Caribbean where homosexuality is outlawed, 25 percent of gay men are HIV positive. In Caribbean countries where such laws do not exist, the number is 6 percent.
The report also indicts practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage as contributors to HIV and AIDS. In countries that deny youth and women access to reproductive and HIV services – such as those that require parental consent laws for teens to receive HIV testing, or those that do not recognize marital rape – policies contribute to the AIDS epidemic, the commission reports.
But the commission is hopeful as many countries have made new laws such as treat drug users as patients or repealing laws that criminalize same-sex practices. The commission believes that the repeal of many, if not all, of these laws would be great steps forward in combating AIDS and HIV.
The Commission is a high-ranking organization comprised of former heads of state and experts on the law, human rights, and HIV. They listened to testimonies and accounts from 700 people of over 140 countries. The Commission was chaired by the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.