Press statement

UNAIDS urges Rwandan leadership in rejecting punitive laws which setback the AIDS response

Geneva, 18 December 2009 – The Parliament of Rwanda is currently meeting to consider the Draft Penal Code of Rwanda, which contains two proposed provisions of concern to UNAIDS. One is a provision which criminalises ‘engaging in, and inciting, homosexual acts’, and the other provides for criminal penalties for sex work. UNAIDS urges Rwanda to show leadership in Africa and beyond by rejecting these punitive laws that will negatively impact the AIDS response, as well as the human rights of those affected.

UNAIDS notes the progress attained by the Republic of Rwanda as well as the commitment of national stakeholders at all levels in its response to AIDS, and salutes its regional and global leadership on AIDS. UNAIDS is concerned, however, that the above-mentioned provisions of the draft Penal Code may jeopardise the efforts of Rwanda to realise the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Laws that provide criminal penalties for populations at high risk of HIV infection, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, drive these populations underground and out of reach of HIV services that protect their health and the public’s health. For this reason, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, has called for the removal of punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and discrimination that act as obstacles to national AIDS responses.

“In light of commitments to attain universal access and uphold human rights in national AIDS responses, I ask countries to avoid imposing criminal sanctions on populations at risk of HIV infection. Instead I urge compassion, solidarity and pragmatism in the response to HIV - not punishment and marginalization”, Mr. Sidibe said.

UNAIDS therefore urges Rwandan Parliamentarians and all national stakeholders to sustain their positive commitment and exceptional leadership in the HIV response by rejecting the criminalisation of same sex relations and sex work and adopting a legislative framework that enables an effective response to AIDS. Such a position is consistent with the evidence-informed and rights-based Rwandan National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS 2009-2012 which ensures access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services for all, including sex workers and men who have sex with men.

UNAIDS reiterates its full support to the Republic of Rwanda in the pursuit of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

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