Laws that criminalize homosexuality obstruct HIV prevention, said a report published yesterday by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.
The report, HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health, is based on first-hand accounts from over 1,000 people in 140 countries. It specifically criticizes countries which penalize homosexual acts with either the death penalty (Iran and Yemen) or long prison sentences (Jamaica and Malaysia).
‘In Jamaica, where HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is among the highest in the world, anti-sodomy law breeds fear and violence and drives these men away from the care and treatment they need,’ said Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer and legal advisor for AIDS-Free World. ‘Governments across the world have a responsibility to take bold action and repeal laws that stem from ignorance and intolerance.’
The report points out that African and Caribbean countries that do not criminalize same-sex activity have lower HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men.
The commission also criticized other laws that impede prevention of the infection. These include laws in the US and other countries that make it a crime to expose another person to HIV, laws in China and Cambodia that criminalize intravenous drug-use intervention (giving out free clean needles) and laws in more than 100 countries that criminalize an aspect of sex work.
‘Laws that criminalise and dehumanise populations at highest risk of HIV - including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and injecting drug users - drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten their risk of HIV,’ the report says.
The commission is funded by the UN Development Program and the panel is made-up of former heads of state and international experts in HIV. The Chair, former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, said:
‘Too many countries waste vital resources by enforcing archaic laws that ignore science and perpetuate stigma. We have a chance to free future generations from the threat of HIV. We cannot allow injustice and intolerance to undercut this progress.’