The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, convened by the United Nations recently concluded the last of 7 regional dialogues, the high income countries' dialogue held in Oakland, California.
The objectives of the Commission are to:
- Analyse existing evidence and generate new evidence on rights and law in the context of HIV, and develop rights-based and evidence-informed recommendations
- Increase awareness amongst key constituencies on issues of rights and law in the context of HIV, and engage with civil society and strengthen their ability to campaign, advocate and lobby
“I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response… Successful AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them… We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected.”
Transform's senior policy analyst Steve Rolles was invited to join the expert advisory group for the High Income country dialogue, reviewing the background papers on the drugs issue and abstracts from civil society groups for the high income countries region in the run up to the Oakland dialogue.
Perhaps suprisingly, given the key role of policy and law in shaping risk taking behaviours amongst people who inject drugs (most obviously needle sharing), there were disappointingly few submissions from drug policy or harm reduction organisations. Steve was invited subsequently to attend the dialogue, joining - in the drug section of the dialogue - a drug policy activist from Portugal, representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance, a harm reduction service provider from North Carolina, and a fomer special adviser from the White House ONDCP. The session video will be available online at some point (we will update this post and tweet when that happens).
Civil society groups were joined by Government representatives for the two day dialogue. Two US members of congress were present as were two of the 15 commissioners.
Transform had the strong sense that the Commission report - expected early next year - will be based soundly on the voluminous evidence it has gathered from around the world on effective responses to HIV - making clear and unambiguous recommendations free from ideology and historic political taboos that have dogged many of these issues. It should be a strong advocacy tool for drug policy in the future - and a yardstick against which governments' drug policy responses in the context of people who inject drugs and HIV can be measured.
Whilst it will not be venturing into issues of regulated drug markets, it is likely to make a clear call for decriminlisation of drug users - and be very supportive of proven harm reduction interventions including needle and syringe programs, opiate substitution therapy (and hopefully heroin prescribing as an option), harm reduction provision in prisons and supervised injecting facilities.
From the Commission website:
Global Commission on HIV and the Law
Many of the successes in mitigating the causes and consequences of HIV have taken root where laws have been used to protect the human rights of the marginalized and disempowered. For example, in some countries anti-discrimination laws have helped people living with HIV keep their jobs and their homes and look after their families. Laws to protect confidentiality have contributed to increasing confidence in heath systems, encouraging people to learn their HIV status and to access HIV prevention and treatment. Legal guarantees of property and inheritance rights for women and girls have helped to mitigate the social and economic burdens of AIDS. Still in many places across the globe, the legal environment is presenting significant challenges for sustaining and scaling up effective HIV responses. In many countries, laws and policies continue to prevent access to life-saving HIV treatment. Every day people living with HIV and people most at risk, including sex workers, drug users, prisoners, men who have sex with men, and transgender people, suffer stigma, discrimination and violence. Laws and practices that discriminate against women or fail to protect their rights, including the right to be free from violence, make women particularly vulnerable to HIV.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law will interrogate the relationship between legal responses, human rights and HIV. The Commission shall also focus on some of the most challenging legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV, including criminalisation of HIV transmission, behaviours and practices such as drug use, sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and issues of prisoners, migrants, children's rights, violence against women and access to treatment. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law will develop actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for effective HIV responses that protect and promote the human rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV.