Progress so far: The Global Commission on HIV and the Law

The Commision on HIV and the Law have released a summary of an E-Discussion held in June 2013 organised by UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development Group in collaboration with the Democratic Governance Group and the Gender Team. The discussion aimed to analyse experiences in implementing the Commission’s recommendations a year after the launch of the Commission’s Report, while identifying challenges, good practices and lessons learned in addressing human rights and legal frameworks in the context of HIV.

The Commission’s key findings are:

• Punitive and discriminatory laws, policies, and practices exacerbate stigma, thereby fuelling the spread of HIV, while undermining the effectiveness of HIV investments and;

• Effective laws grounded in human rights and based on evidence do exist and should be replicated in other to strengthen the AIDS response.

The summary discussion looks at highlights and activities that have advanced The Commission’s recommendations. The report has been widely disseminated at the national level to key policy makers with a view to persuade decision makers to promote a favourable legal framework to respond to HIV. Concrete changes in legal framework changes (in relation to sex workers and other key populations) as recommended by The Commission are however, not reported.

The summary also details innovative approaches to supporting sex workers and notes that a number of these approaches are underway in many countries. These approaches are providing a number of ways in which to pursue legal reform, combat stigma and discrimination and expanding access to HIV and related services for sex workers. Approaches ranged from sex worker collectivisation in India by SANGRAM among female sex workers, male and transgender sex workers and HIV positive sex workers; to the formation of rapid response teams providingdirect legal and health services to arrested or detained sex workers in Cambodia; to ongoing research on the linksbetween sex work and violence in Myanmar conducted with UNDP support and in partnership with the Myanmar Police Force and Sex Workers Network in Myanmar; to conducting a needs assessment among male sex workers in Kenya; or working witha Parliamentarians network in Rwanda to distribute the results of a qualitative needs assessment of female sex workers; and to providing technical support to civil society organisations in developing advocacy materials lobbying for decriminalisation of sex work in Rwanda.  Where national legal and policy reforms were difficult to achieve, working directly to educate and build capacity and knowledge among police at a local level was seen as an effective alternative approach.

The summary also notes two instances of seemingly positive developments relating to the Law Enforcement and HIV Network. It was noted that direct outreach to law enforcement in Malaysia led police to ignore their own standard operating procedure of charging street sex workers who possessed two condoms with prostitution and in Ghana police stopped harassing women carrying condoms for being sex workers and instead began carrying condoms themselves for distribution to sex workers. While these are positive developments, they are by no means massive leaps forward in changing the punitive legal frameworks that most sex workers find themselves in.

You can download the summary here.