The United Nations Development Programme has just issued a report on the problem of Aids. A distinguished, 14-member panel spent two years compiling a 145-page report.
It concludes that the major block in addressing the HIV and Aids epidemic is "punitive laws". It recommends wiping off the books all current and important laws on prostitution, and many that seek to control illegal trafficking and abuse of drugs.
In short, it is a muddle-headed and poorly constructed recommendation which actually fails to address a hugely serious, deadly problem. Instead of treating HIV and Aids as a grave problem for families and communities, the two-year UNDP Global Commission on HIV and the Law considers the disease and its victims as problems in isolation. Its recommended help to actual and potential HIV/Aids victims is minimal, but many of its claimed solutions would cause serious harm to society at large.
It is hardly the first time that such recommendations have been made. Simplistic solutions to complicated problems even have a name. Libertarian ideals and politics seem attractive at first blush. They are as common in Thailand as they are in virtually every country. Drug problems will disappear if recreational drugs are legalised. The way to solve the problems surrounding illegal gambling is to license casinos.
Or so we are told, and often. One-solution pundits frequently include otherwise important and respected bodies. These now include the UNDP and its Global Commission on HIV and the Law. But even if the distinguished UN committee were right in its narrow view - which it is not - members have committed the frequent libertarian error. By solving one problem, allegedly, the commission members create others.
The commission's bland statement on prostitution is an obvious example. It claims that if prostitution becomes "consensual sex work" then the criminal harassment of HIV-positive workers will cease. Members fail or perhaps stubbornly refuse to consider the numerous problems that obviously would occur. Legalising and trivialising prostitution as just another job passes numerous problems on to government and society. Who will care for the health of the workers? How can society accept brothels as neighbours to schools?
The drug recommendations of the UN commission are even more shocking. Repealing drug laws may, as the report claims, reduce police violence now associated with anti-narcotic crackdowns. And some drug addicts may feel safer to emerge and seek treatment for HIV and Aids.
But again, this simplistic solution simply waves away the complicated issues surrounding the illicit use and trafficking of drugs. Legalising drugs means greater availability and almost certain increased use of tremendously harmful substances. In the name of helping marginalised HIV victims, society must be saddled with increased abuse of ya ba and actually pay for "safe injection sites" - drug houses funded by taxpayers.
No doubt, society and government must deal better with the HIV/Aids epidemic. There are nuggets of common sense and flashes of serious thought in the UN commission's report. Unfortunately, its two-year effort is difficult to take seriously when it demands major, outrageous changes to laws without even a discussion of the effect on society at large.