Friday, December 28, 2012

Global Commission on HIV and the law

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law consisted of fourteen distinguished individuals who advocate on issues of HIV, public health, law and development. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, chaired the Commission.

The Commission’s unique convening power allowed it to focus on high-impact issues of HIV and the law, which have important ramifications for global health and development. The Commission advocated for evidence and human rights based legal environments for effective and efficient HIV responses.

HIV is one of the world’s most important public health issues. The Commission writes:

In just three decades, over 30 million people have died of AIDS, and 34 million more have been infected with HIV. The HIV epidemic has become one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. It is also a crisis of law, human rights and social justice. The good news is that we now have all the evidence and tools we need to radically slow new HIV infections and stop HIV related deaths. Paradoxically, this comes at a time when bad laws and other political obstacles are standing in the way of success.

34 million people are living with HIV, 7,400 are newly infected daily and 1.8 million died in 2010 alone. The legal environment—laws, enforcement and justice systems—has immense potential to better the lives of HIV-positive people and to help turn the crisis around. International law and treaties that protect equality of access to health care and prohibit discrimination—including that based on health or legal status—underpin the salutary power of national laws.

But 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 fuelling the epidemic. These legal practices create and punish vulnerability. They promote risky behaviour, 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. HIV-positive people—be they parents or spouses, sex workers or health workers, lovers or assailants—interact intimately with others, who in turn interact with others in ever-larger circles, from the community to the globe. From public health to national wealth, social solidarity to equality and justice, HIV affects everyone. The prevention, treatment and care of HIV—and the protection and promotion of the human rights of those who live with it—are everyone’s responsibility.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law undertook 18 months of extensive research, consultation, analysis and deliberation. Its sources included the testimony of more than 700 people most affected by HIV-related legal environments from 140 countries, in addition to expert submissions and the large body of scholarship on HIV, health and the law.

The Commission’s findings offer cause for both distress and hope for people living with or at risk for HIV. In June 2011, 192 countries committed to reviewing legislation and creating enabling legal and social environments that support effective and efficient HIV responses. The Commission’s recommendations offer guidance to governments and international bodies in shaping laws and legal practices that are science based, pragmatic, humane and just. The findings and recommendations also offer advocacy tools for people living with HIV, civil society, and communities affected by HIV. The recommendations take into account the fact that many laws exist for purposes beyond public health, such as the maintenance of order, public safety and the regulation of trade. But they place the highest priority on creating legal environments that defend and promote internationally recognised human rights and legal norms.

The Commission’s Report (PDF) may be downloaded from here.

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