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Cherie Chairs the First Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights Lecture

Cherie Chairs the First Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights Lecture

Cherie Chairs the First Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights Lecture

Cherie Chairs the First Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights Lecture

The law on human rights is crucial to combating the spread of AIDS.

Last night Cherie chaired the first Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights Lecture, which coincided with World AIDS Day 2010, at the Commonwealth Foundation at Marlborough House. The lecture was organised by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth HIV and AIDS Action Group, and was part of a wider project to help civil society in Commonwealth countries to understand the link between the legal environment and its ability to aid HIV and AIDS.

In Cherie's introductory speech, she discussed the report by the three organisations above, which highlights the new laws introduced by many countries criminalising HIV transmission. She explained that the introduction of tougher laws against homosexuality and hostile media reporting in many countries had fostered a climate of fear which made discrimination, violence and stigma more acceptable. She said:

"These trends are both disturbing and damaging and an affront to those of us who fight for human rights".

She then argued that such laws are counterproductive and will lead to more people being infected with HIV/AIDS. She said:

"As the report makes clear, protecting public health and promoting human rights are mutually reinforcing strategies."

Justice Ajit Prakash Shah then gave his lecture and spoke about the importance of the law on human rights in combating the spread of AIDS.

He spoke about his landmark ruling which overturned Section 377, a 150-year old British law banning gay sex between consenting adults, finding it a violation of fundamental rights.

He described the arguments before the Court and the principle of "constitutional morality" as opposed to "public morality" which underpinned the Court's decision. He explained that in a human rights context the role of the Court is to uphold the dignity of the individual especially those who are disliked by the majority.

The Court also accepted the argument by the Ministry of Health that the need to protect public health trumped the argument about public morality put forward by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Finally the Court was persuaded that individual autonomy is central to the idea of human rights and that the Ministry of Justice's argument that the law was rarely enforced but was useful to protect vulnerable children ignores the stress and stigma of people living as "unapprehended felons".

He ended his lecture with a call for the UK government to apologise for introducing the sodomy law into the Empire in the 19th century.

To view Cherie's piece in The Independent click here

To view the report click here

To view an article on World Aids Day in Pink News click here