Wednesday, January 21, 2009

HIV Prevention Hypocrisy Watch: Fight the Virus, Punish the Victim?

via RH Reality Check

Two weeks ago, nine HIV activists were sentenced to eight years in prison in Dakar, Senegal for "indecent and unnatural acts" and "forming associations of criminals." They were arrested in December, just after the 15th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), on suspicion of having engaged in homosexual acts. Such arrests are all too common around the world. And under the Bush Administration, U.S. foreign policy leaders were far too reluctant to name such abuses for what they are - serious human rights violations.

Finding similar laws in the United States unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that they demean the existence of homosexuals. In so doing, such laws limit the effectiveness of our global commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is time for the new Obama Administration to take a principled stand for human rights.

In Senegal, the ICASA discussions highlighted the hypocrisy of countries, like Senegal, that support crucial HIV-prevention efforts for men who have sex with men, while simultaneously enforcing laws that criminalize consensual homosexual conduct and drive homosexuals into the shadows - often to a precarious and fearful legal existence that is well beyond the reach of any effective health intervention. There are far too many countries like Senegal, where the rights of LGBT communities are denied with impunity, and where the efforts of public health officials are continually thwarted.

Our existing legal commitments to human rights, together with our massive global investments in combating HIV/AIDS, should compel those who represent our country - in Congress, in the White House, in U.S. embassies and in U.S. corporations - to use the diplomatic, political and economic leverage available to them to oppose human rights abuses that are too often directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Public opposition to international human rights abuses impacting LGBT individuals was unusual under the Bush Administration. It will be sorely needed under the Obama Administration.

For example, at the United Nations General Assembly this past December, more than 60 countries submitted a ground-breaking statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity that called on all governments around the world to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are not subjected to criminal penalty, and that individuals are not executed, arrested or otherwise detained because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite thousands of individual calls to the State Department from US citizens, letters from Members of Congress, and requests from close U.S. allies, the United States refused to join the Statement. The United States was one of the only countries in the "Western Group" at the United Nations that did not sign the Statement.

Read the rest on RH Reality Check.

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