A lot has happened since our last blog post in July this year. As you may recall, UNDP is providing technical support to 15 countries in Africa as well as the African Union Commission and the East African Community so that countries can strengthen their legal environments and help increase access to HIV, health and social services for all, especially women, girls and other vulnerable and key populations. The Governments of Norway and Sweden support us in this work.
In this blog I share some of the exciting developments in Seychelles and Malawi in the area of HIV, law and human rights.
Seychelles has a concentrated epidemic, with high HIV prevalence among key populations (people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men/MSM). People living with and at risk of HIV often experience high levels of stigma, and current laws make harm reduction programmes for people who use drugs difficult. Regardless of these existing challenges, the Government of the Republic of Seychelles – which has shown continued commitment to improving the national response to HIV through leadership and through the allocation of resources to support interventions at various levels – undertook and completed a Legal Environment Assessment (LEA) in the context of HIV with support from a number of UN agencies. This was possible due to committed national leadership, financial support from the national government, capacitated consultants, and partner support. The LEA not only created awareness of key HIV law and human rights issues, but also strengthened access to justice and law enforcement as well. The commitment of the Government of the Republic of Seychelles to this process was underscored by the presence of the His Excellency James Michel the President of the Republic of Seychelles at the National Validation Meeting of the LEA. In the coming weeks, the Public Health Department and the National AIDS Council of the Government of the Republic of Seychelles are convening a planning workshop to develop a nationally-agreed action plan to take the recommendations from the LEA forward.
In Malawi, there was discussion and debate around the Draft HIV Bill (2008) that had a number of provisions thought to be contentious, including one that criminalized HIV transmission. The Department of Nutrition & HIV/AIDS (Office of the President) (DNHA) with technical support of UNDP and inputs from key stakeholders completed an LEA in early 2012. As a result of the LEA and its recommendations, and the leadership of the DNHA, the draft HIV Bill in its current form does not have any contentious provisions. In addition, a series of sub-national meetings convened by the DNHA on the recommendations of the LEA have resulted in specific and practical changes with regard to HIV, human rights and key populations. For example, a moratorium on arresting or harassing MSMs by law enforcement officials is currently in place. Another interesting outcome of this national discussion is the Memorandum of Understanding between the National AIDS Council of Malawi and Centre for Development of People (http://www.cedepmalawi.org/) a human rights organization to jointly conduct the national size estimation for MSM. As I write, the High Court of Malawi has decided to review the constitutionality of the Malawian Sodomy Law (http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/11/05/malawi-high-court-to-review-sodomy-laws/).
To conclude, let us inform you all that the Africa Follow-up to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law is well underway, and it's been an exciting year of work and progress so far. Stay tuned to hear what's next!
Senior Advisor HIV and Human Rights
HIV, Health and Development Practice
United Nations Development Programme
Regional Service Centre for Africa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia