UNAIDS urges action to change discriminatory laws

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) yesterday urged Caribbean countries to examine discriminatory provisions in their laws and policies and make positive changes to ensure equality, inclusion and protection.

In a statement to mark Zero Discrimination Day, UNAIDS said it recalls the equal dignity and worth of every person, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is calling for action to change discriminatory laws and practices, which are a significant barrier for access to health and other services.

“Human rights violations are happening all over the world because of discriminatory laws and practices,” said Michel Sidib, executive director of UNAIDS.

“Laws must protect, not cause harm. All countries must carefully examine their laws and policies in order to ensure equality and protection for all people, without exception.”

UNAIDS said that raising awareness, mobilising and taking action are essential, and on Zero Discrimination Day, it is proposing specific actions that individuals, civil society organisations, parliamentarians, and donor organisations can take to change discriminatory laws.

It said these range from being an ally to someone affected by a discriminatory law to joining a non-governmental organisation, tabling amendments to laws and calling for reviews of legislation, noting that making a positive change is possible, and there are many ways a law can be amended or abolished.

UNAIDS said these include reforming or removing laws through parliamentary processes and the votes of parliamentarians; raising awareness among parliamentarians is therefore essential, as was done in the revision of the HIV laws in the Philippines and bills in Malawi.

UNAIDS said that in many countries, courts have the power to strike down laws that are discriminatory, adding “this can be done if an individual or organisation affected by the law takes legal action and wins the case for change”.

“In some countries, people or politicians can propose law reform through a petition and request a national vote or referendum,” UNAIDS said, adding that it has identified a range of laws that are discriminatory, impede access to health and social services, restrict freedom of movement and violate human rights.

It said last year at least 20 countries imposed travel restrictions of some form against people living with HIV and nearly 29 countries reported that they require the consent of a woman’s husband or partner to access sexual and reproductive health services.

“Fifty-nine countries reported mandatory HIV testing for marriage, work or residence permits or for certain groups of people in the law, regulations or policies, (while) 17 countries criminalised transgender people.”

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