ICAAP 2009: Breaking down legal barriers and criminalization

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ICAAP 2009: Breaking down legal barriers and criminalization

12 August 2009

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UNAIDS organized a satellite session at ICAAP 09 entitled "Addressing the legal barriers and criminalization of at-risk populations". Credit: UNAIDS/O.O'Hanlon

Legal barriers and criminalization are blocking the empowerment of groups at high risk of HIV infection such as injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men by denying or obstructing the rights to live healthy and safe lives. To explore and address this global social issue, UNAIDS organized a satellite session at ICAAP on Wednesday 12 August.

Legislation can be a powerful tool in the response to AIDS. When based on human rights standards, and appropriately implemented and enforced, the law can support positive public health outcomes and enable individuals and communities to realize their rights. Many areas of law are critical to an effective AIDS response: public health law, anti-discrimination and equality of women, domestic relations and prevention of sexual violence, intellectual property, social security, laws governing drug use, sex work, prisons.

The ICAAP session brought together representatives from executive, legislative, judicial and law enforcement sectors to find out ways to break down law barriers and criminalization of most-at-risk populations in multiple contexts in Asia and the Pacific. This satellite symposium was an opportunity for legislators, law enforcers and people who have been affected to discuss possible and effective solutions.

“The regional situation regarding criminalization of most-at-risk populations and risky behaviours is not optimistic,” said Anand Grover, UN special rapporteur on the right to health, who is also the chair of the symposium. “The importance of human rights and their protection has become a core principle of the United Nations and in the world today.”

Besides exploring the implications of legal barriers and criminalization on HIV prevention efforts, participants also discussed the critical role played by law enforcers in determining the legal environment and in influencing access to HIV services. The enforcement of legal provisions, or perceived legal directives, by law enforcers is often done in ways that infringe on the human rights of affected populations and serve as additional barriers to access HIV prevention and treatment.

All the participants agreed that there is hesitation in changing existing legal provisions, and a degree of discomfort with possible outcomes. Also, the time required for changes is long, and time is a major factor in effective action against HIV. Thus, while working on change as a long-term solution, it is important to find space and opportunity for constructive action within existing structures.