Faith groups seeks action on laws that impede struggle against HIV

By Stephen Brown
June 20, 2009

Civil society and faith groups campaigning on HIV and AIDS have urged the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to step up efforts to combat the discrimination and criminalisation which prevent access to information and services.

The call, supported by more than 20 faith-based organizations, was presented to Ban at a meeting in New York with members of the global steering committee of the World AIDS Campaign on 16 June 2009 .

"The Secretary-General spoke passionately of his encounters with people living with HIV, the unacceptable laws and practices of some governments that violate the rights of people living with or affected by HIV," said Linda Hartke, coordinator of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The meeting with Ban took place as "Universal Access and Human Rights" was announced as the 2009 and 2010 theme for World AIDS Day, which falls on 1 December. The theme is set by the World AIDS Campaign, which brings together civil society groups, including EAA.

The Geneva-based alliance is an international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food issues, HIV and AIDS.

Hartke said she welcomed a statement by the UN Secretary-General saying that "The fight against AIDS also requires us to attack diseases of the human spirit: prejudice, discrimination, stigma."

On 18 June, EAA said that its new campaign framework on HIV and AIDS, "places a priority on upholding the value, life and dignity of all persons and calls for actions that recognise and protect internationally accepted human rights".

In a statement announcing the World AIDS Day theme, the World AIDS Campaign and the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS, noted that many countries still have laws and policies which impede access to HIV services and criminalise those most vulnerable to HIV. Included are laws criminalising men who have sex with men, transgendered people, lesbians, sex workers and drugs users.

The statement says that more than 80 countries have reported having laws and policies which act as obstacles to effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for vulnerable populations. Around 59 countries have laws, based on positive HIV status only, which restrict the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV .

At the same time, laws and regulations protecting people with HIV from discrimination and women from gender inequality and sexual violence, are not fully implemented or enforced.

"Respecting, upholding and protecting human rights and I mean human rights, especially those of children and women, will no doubt contribute to fewer infections, fewer deaths, and even less demand for treatment," said Chabu Kangale, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV or AIDS. "We must work for a more human and just society for all. That is the right direction for all of us."

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