International AIDS Society to India: Return of anti-gay law a “major setback” to country’s HIV response

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Click on letter to read

Within the week that India’s Supreme Court reinstated the nation’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law, a letter from the International AIDS Society has counted the ways the decision brings harm to the country, its sexual minority populations, its response to its HIV/AIDS epidemics, and to other Commonwealth nations, for which, during the last four years, India had presented an example of human rights recognition.

The Supreme Court ruling last week reversed a 2009 Delhi High Court Ruling, which had ended criminalization of same sex relationships. “We believe that this retrograde step is a major setback for India’s HIV response,” the letter says.

The letter, to India’s President Pranab Mukherjee, urges him to lead an effort to address discriminatory laws. It is signed by current IAS President Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, IAS President-elect Chris Beyrer, IAS Advisory Group on Key Affected Populations Chair Michel Kazatchkine, and Asia and Pacific Island IAS governing council members from India, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and Australia.

“This decision makes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people even more vulnerable to HIV and to violations of their dignity and human rights,” the letter says. “There is irrefutable scientific evidence that punitive and discriminatory laws targeting LGBT people can push them to the margins of society, sacrificing their dignity and rights and that this fuels the HIV epidemic.”

Evidence also shows that eliminating barriers to human rights enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV-fighting efforts, the letter says, while keeping, or in this case restoring discriminatory laws, blocks individuals from accessing HIV care, treatment and prevention services.

The reinstated anti-homosexuality law also is at odds with both international human rights agreements and India’s own constitution, the letter says.

The letter cites the example that India has set, in its successful and humane approaches to address its HIV epidemic, and in its removal of the discriminatory law from its books four years ago.

” . . . we are also concerned about the negative impact this decision will have on the wider Commonwealth community where vestiges of the same British colonial sodomy law that criminalizes homosexuality persist in 38 of 54 member countries,” the letter says.

For more on the impact of India’s anti-gay law, read this story from the Times of India, which begins with an account of the arrest of staffers from an HIV services organization on charges that their HIV-related material is connected with “unnatural offences.” The article cites the Human Rights Watch report Epidemic of Abuse — Police Harassment of HIV/AIDS outreach workers and an affidavit from India’s National AIDS Control Organization’s calling the anti-homosexuality law a “serious impediment” to the nation’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. For the India Supreme Court ruling, which recounts arguments in favor of the colonial era law by a group called Trust God Missionaries who quoted Black’s Law Dictionary (to show ‘order of nature’ has been defined as something pure, as distinguished from artificial and contrived) as well as Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas in Lawrence v. Texas “wherein it was stated that promotion of majoritarian sexual morality was a legitimate state interest..” click here.

For more on responses to, and consequences of, anti-gay laws around the world, check out the blog 76 Crimes.

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