This year human rights and law will be in the spotlight at the 5th Francophone Conference on AIDS held in Casablanca, Morocco from 28 to 31 March 2010. The conference is taking place against a backdrop of continuing discrimination and human rights infringement of people living with HIV across the world. There are reports of harassment, prosecution of and violence against people living with HIV in several francophone countries.
However, leaders and policy makers are increasingly recognising the importance of addressing the legal and policy environment as a fundamental component of national AIDS responses. This is particularly true for populations such as men who have sex with men, prisoners, sex workers and people who use drugs whose marginalisation hinder their access to HIV-related services.
Countries are taking action. Guinea, for example, recently amended its HIV law of 2005 to remove any restriction to access HIV-related services for children and to ensure access to HIV-related prevention, treatment, care and support for populations including men who have sex with men. Similar processes are ongoing in Togo, Benin and Sierra Leone.
In East Africa, UNAIDS is currently supporting the development of a regional Bill on HIV which would protect people against HIV-related stigma and discrimination and other human rights abuses in the context of the HIV epidemic.
In order to help support the current initiatives aimed at ensuring access to HIV-related services as well as access to justice in the context of the HIV epidemic in francophone countries, UNAIDS, UNDP, the African Council of AIDS Service Orgnizations (AfriCASO), the Association Marocaine de Solidarité et Développment (AMSED), International Development Law Organization (IDLO), and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance are organising a preconference meeting on 28 of March which will focus on strengthening and expanding HIV-related legal services in the region.
The meeting will bring together lawyers, advocates, representatives of people living with HIV and representatives of key populations at higher risk to share their experiences and discuss ways to increasing HIV-related support for those who need it most.
“Analyses in many countries reveal the existence of punitive laws and law enforcement that drive people away from HIV-related services,” said Susan Timberlake, UNAIDS Senior Human Rights and Law Adviser. “It is critical to support law reform as well as access to justice through legal services to create a legal environment that will support people to access HIV-related services. To respond effectively to HIV, we need to protect, not punish, with the law.”
UNAIDS believes that a protective legal environment is critical for an effective response to HIV. In 2009 UNAIDS strengthened its focus on the removal of punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and discrimination that block effective responses to AIDS by making it one of ten key priority areas outlined in the UNAIDS Outcome Framework 2009-2011 (Joint action for results: UNAIDS outcome framework, 2009 - 2011).
On Tuesday 30 March UNAIDS together with UNDP will be holding a symposium event on the legal environment to the AIDS response in Francophone countries during the Conference themed “HIV and the Law: addressing the barriers and realising Universal Access.”