Walk the path of human rights

Published: May 1, 2011

A report from the UN Special Rapporteur calls upon nation states to decriminalise consensual same-sex conduct, repeal discriminatory laws relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, repeal laws criminalising sex work, and provide human rights education for health professionals. Criminalisation is not only a breach of a State?s duty to prevent discrimination, it also creates an atmosphere where affected people are disempowered, unable to achieve full realisation of their human rights. According to a recent UNDP report, India has 30.5 million men who have sex with men (MSM), and over a million Hijra and transgender people. The national HIV prevalence in MSM is estimated at 7.41%, with 24% testing positive in the state of Goa and 18.8% in Mumbai. While MSM in India are at high risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV, only about 4% are able to access appropriate services. The situation is more serious for transgender populations. Here, HIV prevalence can be as high as 42% in Mumbai, and 49% in Delhi. This has been attributed to low levels of awareness, unsafe sexual practices, inadequate services and social marginalisation. The same report confirms that MSM and transgender people are highly stigmatised in India, with many reporting discrimination when accessing health care services, education, employment and justice. There is also violence perpetrated by police and health care workers. This is a gross violation of human rights. The new Pehch?n programme, implemented by the India HIV/AIDS Alliance and six state partners with Round 9 grant support from the Global Fund For AIDS, TB and Malaria (the Global Fund), is designed to strengthen community-based organisations for MSM, transgender and Hijra populations to address barriers in the delivery of HIV prevention services in a way that protects human rights and prevents violations. Heterosexuals living with HIV in India also face stigma and discrimination, but for MSMs and transgender populations there is double jeopardy. They are at increased risk of contracting HIV, and face poor access to services. In order to prevent and control HIV, we must protect and promote the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised people. Community organisations and civil society consider overwhelmingly that the Global Fund should urge recipient countries, including India, to introduce appropriate legislation, which decriminalises same sex relationships. Once appropriate laws are in place, steps can be taken at the country level for their proper implementation. Another suggestion was to withhold funding from countries with a record of human rights violations. The Naz Foundation International (NFI) is headed by Shivananda Khan, and is the recipient of another Global Fund Round 9 grant that supports a regional community-strengthening programme to reduce the spread of HIV among MSM and transgender people.
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