A brutal murder recalls the need for laws that protect LGBTI people | Mandeep Dhaliwal

15 Aug 2013

 Campaign encourages voluntary HIV testing in Cameroon. Campaign encourages voluntary HIV testing in Cameroon. Photo: UNDP in Cameroon

Despite the strides in HIV prevention and treatment responses, the brutal murder of a prominent AIDS activist in Cameroon serves as stark reminder of the work that still lies ahead.

Eric Ohena Lembembe, Executive Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, 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, and transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people—but his violent death was hardly unique.

LGBTI people around the world 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.

Marginalised citizens are far less likely to seek HIV counseling, 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 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.

It spurred a number of countries to review laws that criminalize HIV, limit access to life-saving medicines and health services, and perpetuate gender inequality—which correlates to higher rates of HIV infection.

Policies and practices that re-affirm 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. This means investing more in legal services and law enforcement. It also means supporting legislatures in promoting right-based legal reform and sensitizing judges.

Eric Ohena Lembembe gave his life to the cause of LGBTI rights. Meanwhile, millions of others are still subject to similar violence and discrimination around the world.

Talk to us: How can we ensure the law is on their side, and so pay a fitting tribute to Eric’s life of service?

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