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Global Commission on HIV and the Law


The Global Commission on HIV and the Law was formed to interrogate the relationship between human rights, HIV, and legal responses.  Officially launched in July 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme, the Commission was tasked with forming evidence-informed recommendations that will spur national, regional, and global action to protect the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV.

On July 9, 2012, the Commission released its final report, "HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health."

Who serves on the Commission?

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body with three complementary components:

(1) High-level Commissioners: 15 eminent persons from all over the world were selected to serve as Commissioners, including AIDS-Free World Co-Director Stephen Lewis.

(2) Technical Advisory Group: 23 experts in law, public health, human rights, and HIV support the Commissioners by formulating and analyzing the evidence base on these issues.

(3) Regional Dialogues: Over 1000 submissions were sent to the Commission from groups of people living with HIV, from lawyers and activists and grassroots organizations, from those negatively affected by laws and seeking to make change through the legal system.  First-hand testimony from these individuals was given over the course of seven regional dialogues held in Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and North America.  Activists presented their concerns to both the Commissioners and to the government representatives from their region invited to attend the dialogues.

Why law?

Law intersects with HIV in critical ways.  Law can be used to protect and advance the human rights of people living with HIV.   Anti-discrimination laws can protect employment and housing rights, keep children free from HIV-discrimination in schools or ensure the rights of prisoners to HIV prevention services.  Confidentiality laws encourage HIV testing and treatment.  Laws protecting women’s property and inheritance rights reduce their economic dependence and their vulnerability to HIV.  The criminalization and prosecution of all forms of sexual violence can keep women safe and prevent them from being infected with HIV by a rapist.

Laws can also be harmful, and worsen the reach and the impact of the epidemic.  Laws criminalizing sex workers, men who have sex with men, or injecting drug users fuel stigma and discrimination against these populations, which then drives the spread of HIV.  Laws passed in reactive fear of HIV, such as those criminalizing the transmission of HIV, are dangerous and need to be better understood and addressed.  Intellectual property laws and patent laws can drastically impede access to HIV treatment around the world.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law recognized from the outset the important fact that law alone is not sufficient.  They have thus devoted their attention and analysis to both law and to law enforcement – to law on the books, but also the ways in which law is practiced on the streets by police, in hospitals, by judges, or in the workplace by employers.

The Commission’s Four Areas of Focus

(1) Laws and practices that effectively criminalize people living with HIV and vulnerable to HIV

(2) Laws and practices that mitigate or sustain violence and discrimination as lived by women

(3) Laws and practices that facilitate or impede HIV-related treatment access

(4) Issues of law and HIV pertaining to children

Why another Commission? What impact will this Commission have?

The 15 Global Commissioners have promised the hundreds of activists who participated that this will not be another UN report to sit on office shelves, or another set of recommendations that are released and then ignored. The initial outcomes of the Commission will have three formats:

The final report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, to be released in the first half of 2012, promises to include urgent, pressing recommendations for individual governments, law and policy-makers, civil society, lawyers and judges, United Nations bodies, and regional and international communities.  The analysis and recommendations will be informed by scientific evidence, testimony from the regional dialogues and submissions, and the expertise of the Technical Advisory Group and the Commissioners themselves.

The Commission will provide specific road maps for ten countries to immediately begin improving their legal environments and better protecting the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV.

Individual members have and will continue to use their status as global leaders and their role on this Commission to advocate at a high level for much stronger human rights protections and improvements to the legal response to HIV.  For example:

• Commissioner Stephen Lewis gave a speech in Moscow at the International Forum on MDG 6 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, addressing the severe violations against injecting drug users in the region.

• Commissioner Lewis wrote the foreword to the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network’s report on HIV and the Law in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

• Commissioner and former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, publicly called for Botswana to decriminalize homosexuality and prostitution in order to prevent the spread of HIV.

• Michael Kirby, Commissioner and former Judge of the High Court of Australia, published an Op-Ed on ending the sexual apartheid in Commonwealth countries that is driving the spread of HIV.