The United Nations, HIV, and the Law

By Rob Banaszak on September 28, 2011 in Southern Initiatives, Syringe Access Fund

by Robert BB Childs, MPH, Executive Director
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

Childs-Presenting-at-UNDPRecently I and my colleague Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women with a Vision (WWAV) were invited to present at the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, which is one of the cosponsors of UNAIDS, on September 16th and 17th, 2011.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law interrogated the relationship between legal responses, human rights and HIV. The Commission also focused on some of the most challenging legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV, including criminalization of HIV transmission, behaviors and practices such as drug use, sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and issues of prisoners, migrants, children’s rights, violence against women and access to treatment. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is developing actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for effective HIV responses that protect and promote the human rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV.

According to UNDP HIV Practice Director Jeffrey O’Malley, “The law and its application can have an impact on the lives of people, especially those who are marginalized and disempowered. The law is a powerful instrument to challenge stigma, promote public health, and protect human rights. We know that the laws and policies of High Income countries also affect developing countries. We have much to learn from the positive and negative experiences in high income countries on the interactions between the law, legislative reform, law enforcement practices, and public health responses.”

My presentation focused on how drug paraphernalia laws in North Carolina lead to the spread of HIV, hepatitis, sex work, incarceration and poverty.  Deon presented on the negative effects of the Louisiana Prison Industrial Complex, as well as how negative laws against sex workers lead to the spread of HIV.  Both NCHRC and WWV were mentioned in the final testimony by UNDP HIV Practice Director & UNAIDS Representative Jeffrey O’Malley for their fine work in the face of adversity.  The members of the group were deeply touched by NCHRC’s & WWV’s testimonies and were saddened on hear about the lack of services and legal barriers against the people most vulnerable to HIV infection in the South.  Also attending the meeting was Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Congressman Jim McDermott, members of the UN, members of the Danish, Austrian, German & Canadian Parliament and many other HIV experts.

Responding on behalf of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D) of Oakland, a Commissioner stated “the effectiveness of the global HIV response will depend not just on the scale up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programs for those who are most vulnerable. This requires bold and effective legal and policy measures to reach out to vulnerable communities and individuals at risk. The Bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, which I co-chair will deal with these very issues.”

For more info on the commission go to:
http://www.hivlawcommission.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64&Itemid=70&lang=en

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