We’re asking Commonwealth leaders to change laws which stop people who are at greater risk from HIV from accessing prevention programs services and life-saving treatment services.
You can take action here.
HIV remains a serious public health crisis for the Commonwealth, which comprises 30% of the world’s population but over 60% of all people living with HIV. In many Commonwealth countries an effective public health response is hindered by laws which criminalise groups that are particularly vulnerable to HIV.
In 41 of 54 Commonwealth countries homosexuality is a criminal offence . Drug users face the death penalty for some offences in some Commonwealth countries. Some Commonwealth countries apply criminal laws that can result in severe penalties for sex work, including corporal punishment.
In many Commonwealth countries, populations of sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men have much higher HIV prevalence than the general population. Many women and girls in Commonwealth countries are also vulnerable to HIV because of gender inequalities. These communities face significant legal barriers in accessing effective HIV prevention programs and treatment services.
These laws must be reformed if the populations who are most at risk are to be reached and HIV prevalence in Commonwealth countries reduced. Read our full report ‘Enabling legal environments for effective HIV responses’.
The next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) takes place in Perth on 28-30 October 2011 and represents a significant opportunity for the Commonwealth to show its leadership in supporting legal reform in member states that will enable a more effective response to HIV.
At the core of the CHOGM agenda there will be the report of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which states in its current draft: “Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of laws that may impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a process of repeal of such laws.” Read the Eminent Persons Group draft report
Update: Ahead the CHOGM, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby explained his work as Australia’s representative on the Commonwealth’s Eminent Persons Group at a lecture at the Lowry institute. Watch a video of the lecture here.
In 2009 India abolished the laws which criminalised homosexuality. The impact was immediate. Watch this video and learn more:
The Commonwealth of Nations has huge potential as a voluntary association of states sharing common values of democracy and human rights and should play a leadership role in mutually supporting urgently needed legal reform processes.
“Vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation are at odds with the values of the Commonwealth ” – Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary General
The 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Intensifying our efforts to eliminate HIV/AIDS, adopted by the UN General Assembly at a High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York on 10 June, commits to the creation of enabling legal, social and policy frameworks to promote access to essential services, as well as the review of laws and policies that adversely impact the equitable delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
All Commonwealth Member States have signed the Political Declaration.
Civil society representatives drawn from across the 54 member association have also called on Commonwealth to: “commit to programmes that mitigate the HIV and AIDS pandemic, including decriminalising same-sex sexual conduct, repealing all laws that impede an effective response and ensuring that all citizens have equal rights and protection, regardless of sexual orientation, marital status, gender, age, race, religion and disability, so as to ensure the health and wellbeing of its citizens. Read the Commonwealth’s People’s Forum’s statement.
Please take action and email Commonwealth leaders to make sure that the Commonwealth takes the lead in promoting legal reform among member States enable an effective response to HIV.
This action is supported by the Commonwealth HIV/AIDS Action Group (CHAAG), the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations (AFAO). We welcome and urge other organisations and individuals to join us. Please send this link to your friends.