UN-backed forum to address legal barriers in Asia-Pacific’s battle against AIDS

16 February 2011

Some 150 participants are gathering in Bangkok on Thursday to examine barriers to progress in the AIDS response in Asia and the Pacific, where most countries still maintain laws and practices that curtail the rights of people living with the disease and those at a higher risk of HIV infection, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said today.

Across the region, legislation and law enforcement often lag behind national HIV policies, a situation that undermines the reach and effectiveness of HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes, according to UNAIDS.

For example, 19 countries still criminalize same-sex relations and 29 countries criminalize some aspects of sex work. Many countries in the region enforce compulsory detention for people who use drugs and in some cases mete out the death penalty for narcotics-related offences.

“In the Asia-Pacific region, and across the world, there are too many examples of countries with laws, policies and practices that punish, rather than protect, people in need of HIV services,” said Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS.

“Where the law does not advance justice, it stalls progress. Advancing human rights and gender equity would not only be a triumph for the AIDS response, but for human development as a whole,” said Mr. Sidibé.

The Executive Director will be among the participants in the Commission’s dialogue in Bangkok, where policymakers and community advocates will join experts from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law for the first in a series of regional dialogue meetings to be held across the world.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body comprising some of the world’s most respected leaders in the areas of law, human rights and HIV/AIDS issues.

Participants will discuss and debate examples of restrictive and enabling legal and social environments faced by key populations in the Asia-Pacific region, including people living with HIV.

“The law and its application can have a profound impact on the lives of people, especially those who are marginalized and disempowered,” said Helen Clark, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“The law is a powerful instrument to challenge stigma, promote public health, and protect human rights. We have much to learn from the positive and negative experiences in this region on the interactions between the law, legislative reform, law enforcement practices, and public health responses,” she added.

Speaking for the Commission, Michael Kirby, commissioner and co-chair of its technical advisory group said: “The effectiveness of the HIV response will depend not just on the scale up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programmes for those who are most vulnerable.”

The regional dialogue, hosted by the Global Commission, is jointly organized by UNDP and UNAIDS in partnership with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

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