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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
AUSTRALIA: Commonwealth Urged to Tackle Homophobic Laws

October 25, 2011
Agence France Presse (10.25.11) - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week in Perth, leaders tasked with developing reform options for member nations said homophobia and laws that criminalize gay sex must be addressed.

Anti-gay statutes are still in force in 41 of 54 Commonwealth nations. "It's a very special British problem. And the problem is it makes it very difficult to get messages about HIV out," said Michael Kirby, a retired High Court judge and Australia's representative on the Eminent Persons Group (EPG).

Kirby expects cultural and religious objections from member nations, mainly comprising former British colonies from Canada to Cameroon and from New Zealand to Nigeria. "But you need to remove the criminal laws, and that is what the [EPG] is suggesting for the CHOGM meeting," Kirby said.

Though not every Commonwealth country actively prosecutes gays, the effect of punitive laws is the creation of an environment in which people are fearful about seeking help or advice, said Rob Lake, executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations. "When people are forced to hide, or cover who they are and what they do ... they are not the people who get the messages about prevention, get the messages about treatment," he said. "And that's one of the factors in these high rates in Commonwealth countries," which are home to some 30 percent of the world's population but 60 percent of HIV/AIDS cases.

CHOGM leaders also will debate whether the body should adopt a charter of common values and create an office of commissioner for democracy, rule of law, and human rights.