The Africa Regional Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law took place on 3-4 August 2011 in Pretoria, South Africa. Ten Commissioners attended the dialogue*, which began with Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator welcoming participants via video message. Ninety-seven civil society and government participants hailing from 27 countries (Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe) participated in discussions on the impact of legal environments on HIV responses in Africa. The range of issues covered included the following: HIV-related law and policy relating to the marginalization and criminalisation of people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV; gender inequality and violence against women; discrimination in the context of HIV; access to HIV-related treatment; and laws related to children in the context of HIV.
On 4 August, BCC News anchor, Zeinab Badawi, moderated a town hall-style dialogue. Civil society and government participants shared experiences, views, and innovative ways in which law and policy can effectively contribute to achieving better HIV, health, and development outcomes. Throughout the dialogue, participants highlighted the need to:
• Adapt cultural practices and norms to protect the rights of women and children, including women and children living with HIV;
• Ensure that legal environments support the access of people living with HIV to health and social services – including the removal of legal barriers to accessing HIV services;
• Improve police practices so that they do not contribute to increasing HIV risk and vulnerability; and
• Promote and strengthen tolerance and acceptance within families and communities through: (a) implementation of laws to protect people who are stigmatized, discriminated against, and criminalized, and (b) removal of laws that contribute to increasing stigma for people living with HIV and those most affected by HIV;
• Improve the knowledge of Parliamentarians, judiciary and religious leaders on issues of HIV and the law; and
• Provide tools and resources for vulnerable groups to claim their rights and access justice.
In her comments during the dialogue, Commissioner Bience Gawanas eloquently emphasized the need for tolerance, acceptance and true equality before the law as essential ingredients of effective and sustainable HIV responses in Africa.
* Commissioners present were Ana Helena Chacón-Echeverría (Costa Rica), Charles Chauvel (New Zealand), Shereen El Feki (Egypt), Bience Gawanas (Namibia), Carol Kidu (Papua New Guinea), Michael Kirby (Australia), Stephen Lewis (Canada), JVR Prasada Rao (India), Jon Ungphakorn (Thailand) and Miriam Were (Kenya).