A brutal murder recalls need for laws that protect LGBTI peoplePublished on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 13:50
Eric Ohena Lembembe, Executive Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), was found dead at his home on 15 July 2013, his body showing signs of torture. His was a powerful voice for those at the margins in Cameroon, notably lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people—but his violent death was hardly unique.
Seventy-eight countries criminalize consensual same-sex acts between adults. In at least five countries, same-sex acts can incur the death penalty. Even where being LGBTI is not a crime, LGBTI people commonly face violence, the threat of violence, discrimination, exclusion, and harassment, often with tacit or explicit support from authorities and with grave consequences for public health.
A new law in Russia, for example, imposes fines and up to 15 days in prison for people accused of spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors: This law will certainly fuel homophobia and could have the unintended consequence of criminalising sexual health education for young people in Russia, where rates of HIV infection have been rising dramatically, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
In many parts of the world LGBTI people are excluded and relegated to the margins of society.
Marginalised citizens, who often bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, and often face discrimination and constant threats to personal safety, are far less likely to seek HIV counselling, testing, and treatment. Most recently, data from the Global Men’s Health and Rights Survey show that experiences of violence are associated with significantly reduced access to condoms, HIV testing, and treatment for those most vulnerable to HIV.
In 2012, the UNDP-led Global Commission on HIV and the Law found that discrimination and criminalization of people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity reduce access to HIV services, increase stigma and undermine efforts to prevent and control HIV.
The Commission called on countries to outlaw all forms of discrimination and violence against those living with and vulnerable to HIV as an urgent public health and human rights priority. Calls for strategic investing in public health and prioritizing efforts to reach the most at risk are growing stronger.
In its report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights, and Health, the Commission noted the untenable contradiction between investing in HIV prevention and treatment while ignoring or condoning human rights violations against vulnerable and marginalized citizens, including LGBTI people.
The Commission’s work has spurred a number of countries to review laws that criminalize HIV, limit access to life-saving medicines, prevent people from accessing HIV and health services, and perpetuate gender inequality—which correlates to higher rates of HIV infection.
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has committed to supporting policies and strategies that remove human rights barriers to health services for all, especially the most vulnerable. UNAIDS has called on countries to remove punitive laws and to promote and protect human rights, especially the rights of those most vulnerable to HIV, to achieve zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS deaths, and zero discrimination. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has spoken out, calling for an end to homophobia as a matter of security, dignity, and survival.
Policies and practices that reaffirm rights to equality, dignity, privacy, and security would not only conform to international human rights obligations but also go a long way toward addressing HIV; they would also yield broader health and development dividends.
This means investing more in legal services and ensuring law enforcement offers protection from violence and prosecutes those who commit violence. It means supporting legislatures in promoting right-based legal reform and sensitizing judges.
Eric Ohena Lembembe gave his life to the cause of LGBTI rights. Millions of others are meanwhile subject to similar violence and discrimination around the world, prevented by fear from accessing vital HIV testing, treatment, and counseling services.
Ensuring that the law is on their side should be a public health priority and it would be a fitting tribute to Eric’s life of service.
Source: The Lancet Global Health Blog