Press statement

Laws that criminalize groups and behaviours threaten to jeopardize universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support

Geneva, 1 December 2009 – On World AIDS Day, as we reflect on universal access and human rights, UNAIDS calls on governments to refrain from passing criminal laws that fuel discrimination, prevent effective national responses to HIV and violate human rights.
2009 has seen some important advances in creating a legal environment conducive for HIV prevention, especially among one of the most affected groups, men who have sex with men, most notably in the Delhi High Court decision to strike down the anti-sodomy law in India.

UNAIDS calls for governments to refrain from laws that criminalize men who have sex with men, lesbians, and transgender people, as well as those that apply criminal penalties for “promotion or recognition” of such behaviour or failing to report such behaviour to the police. These laws, which are in place or are now being considered in some countries, pose a serious threat to human rights and risk to undermine effective responses to the HIV epidemic.

“The gay community has historically been at the forefront of the global AIDS response. As a social movement, the gay community changed AIDS from simply another disease to an issue of justice, dignity, security, and human rights,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “In my view, any attack on homosexuality is an attack on the all aspects of the AIDS response and a set-back to reaching universal access goals.”
In the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (2001), adopted by all United Nations Member States, Governments committed to address the needs of those at risk of infection based on sexual practices. In the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS (2006), Governments reiterated their commitment to support the full and active participation of vulnerable groups and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against them while respecting their privacy and confidentiality. All UN Member States also committed to promote a social and legal environment that is supportive of safe and voluntary disclosure of HIV status.

UNAIDS supports countries and communities to achieve these commitments as essential to reach universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and to achieve Millennium Development Goal 6—to halt and begin to reverse the HIV epidemic by 2015.  Achieving these goals will not be possible where discrimination and criminalization continues against people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, lesbians, and transgender people. 

The human rights of people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, lesbians and transgender people must be fully respected. Where they have been able to access HIV information, prevention and treatment and avoid discrimination, these populations have become a force for health and community empowerment. Countries which protect men who have sex with men from discrimination tend to have significantly greater access to HIV prevention services than in countries where no such protection exists.

Presently 80 countries penalize homosexuality. UNAIDS calls for all governments to protect their citizens from discrimination, denial of health care, harassment, or violence based on health status or sexual orientation and gender identity.

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