Why laws in Commonwealth countries need to change

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.

Community campaigning for maternal health in South Sudan

A UK Parliamentary event is to take place on the role of civil society in South Sudan.

A mother and child in South Sudan © International HIV/AIDS AllianceOn 7 September, Florence Bayoa, Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in South Sudan will join Dr. Esterina, Chairperson of the National Aids Commission in a UK Parliamentary event titled “Building a New Nation: the role of civil society in the Republic of South Sudan”.

The event is part of the ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign and will be followed by meetings with decision makers in the UK and Brussels.

Florence will describe the experience of the Alliance in South Sudan in partnering with the government to delivering HIV programmes and services. But she will also talk about the role of the Alliance in mobilising communities to campaign for their rights and their place in the delivery of quality maternal health in the new Republic.

The South Sudan Campaign for Maternal Health

South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with one in every 50 live births resulting in the mother’s death. HIV is a major contributing factor to maternal mortality in countries with high HIV prevalence, such as South Sudan, as our latest campaign briefing explains.

Earlier in 2011, the Alliance South Sudan created the South Sudan National Partnership Platform (NPP). Made up of 28 organisations (over 20 of which are community based organisations), the NPP is the largest advocacy coalition of civil society organisations in the Republic of South Sudan. The platform is developing a campaign for maternal health at national and community levels and trying to influence the next national HIV strategy.

Buay Yhat Yiol, NPP Chairperson commented that “In less than four months since it was created, the South Sudan NPP drafted most of the declaration that the government of the Republic of South Sudan made at the New York High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in June 2011. We will campaign for the government of the Republic to fulfil its commitments in this area. NPP campaigning has also led for example to a commitment of the state government of Upper Nile to dedicate 5% of its budget to maternal health and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.”

The campaign calls for government and donors to provide integrated services for HIV and maternal, newborn and child health and to support community-based responses to maternal health.

Fighting for transgender rights in Latin America

On 7 June the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity that reaffirms the commitments of member states made in the previous three resolutions on the issue.

It also instructs the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to undertake studies on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and on the legal implications of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, together with the Inter-American Judicial Committee.

‘War on drugs’ is failing

What does that mean for HIV prevention?

The Alliance has welcomed the new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy that launched this week, which clearly outlines a series of recommendations on how to deal effectively and humanely with illicit drug use and people who use drugs.

The report (which can be downloaded here) condemns the current ‘war on drugs’ strategy as failing. The approach has resulted in thousands of people jailed for the act of using drugs, and is described as ‘inefficient and ineffective’ in the report. The report highlights the need to start treating drug dependency as a health issue.

EU failing to commit to HIV response

As the negotiations on the Outcome Document for the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS progress, it appears that the European Union does not wish to commit to any time-bound and measurable targets, including treatment targets.

The EU is also failing to commit to a fully funded Global Fund against HIV, TB and Malaria, and refuses to address trade barriers and legal obstacles to the provision of affordable treatment in low and middle income countries. If the EU maintains these positions, the HIV response will certainly be severely weakened.
Please take action and ask governments to renew their commitments

If you can, please send a personalised email with these concerns to the EU delegation negotiator ([email protected]) and the European Commission Focal point for HIV ([email protected]).

Fore more updates on the High Level Meeting see this page.

Violence against transgender people in Latin America

A young transgender woman named Cheo was found stabbed to death in Colonia de Tegucigalpa in Honduras on 2 January this year. Shockingly, this is only the latest in a worrying trend of hate crimes against transgender people in Latin America.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance supports transgender groups through linking organizations in El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean. In each of these countries, we have witnessed an increase in cases of intimidation and violence, in some cases leading to murder. The Alliance previously called attention to the murder of 13 transgender people in Guatemala last year.

According to Transgender Europe, between January and June 2010 the world’s media reported 93 cases of the murder of transgender people. Eight out of ten of these murders (74 cases) occurred in Latin America.

The vulnerable position in which transgender populations find themselves in their daily lives often hinders the efforts of the leaders of transgender groups to reach their communities in order to implement measures for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ urges governments, legislators, international agencies and civil society organizations working in human rights, sexual diversity, health and HIV/AIDS to coordinate their efforts urgently to support the transgender community in these countries and to demand that the governments concerned guarantee the protection of this community and ensure that all these cases are investigated.

You can join the ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ discussion on Twitter by following @theaidsalliance and using the hashtag #prevHIV.

You can also stay up to date with the campaign via the Alliance’s Facebook page.