Campaign for the HIV/AIDS Bill sign now

Campaign for the HIV/AIDS Bill

This World AIDS Day . . .

Fight for the Bill, Fight for Your Rights!

The HIV/AIDS Bill, which was drafted after extensive civil society consultations since 2003 and submitted to National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) in August 2006, has been truncated by the Law Ministry. Important chapters like Information, Education and Communication, Strategies for Risk Reduction and Access to Treatment have been completely deleted.

On the contrary, there is an attempt to introduce draconian measures like mandatory testing, identification and tracing of HIV positive people. Such measures violate the rights of people infected and affected by HIV, and undermine the present National AIDS Control Programme that has been formulated on a rights based approach.

The Campaign for the HIV/AIDS Bill demands that the government should reject the Law Ministrys version of the Bill and the original NACO Bill should be tabled in the upcoming session of Parliament.

We, a group of civil society organizations spread across India, urge the citizens of India to support the campaign by providing their signatures for this petition. Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, which is leading the campaign, will forward the signatures to the government.

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The following Open Letter will be sent to the Union Law Ministry as part of the Campaign for the HIV/AIDS Bill:

To
Mr. Hansraj Bhardwaj
Minister of Law and Justice
Ministry of Law and Justice
New Delhi December 1, 2008

Honble Minister

We are a coalition of NGOs and community groups working on HIV/AIDS, including networks of people living with HIV and groups most at risk. We have recently come to know that the HIV/AIDS Bill, proposed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been returned by the Law Ministry with substantive changes. As individuals and organizations that work closely with National AIDS Control Organization and contribute to the response to HIV, we express our displeasure at the Law Ministrys handling of the HIV/AIDS Bill and the modifications made therein. Our concerns are as follows:

1. Disregard for community views and aspirations

The original Bill was drafted after extensive research and consultation with stakeholders like people living with and affected by HIV, vulnerable communities, women and childrens groups, health care providers, employers and trade unions, lawyers, civil society organizations, State AIDS Control Societies and other concerned departments. This consultative process continued from 2003 to 2006 and is well documented. The HIV/AIDS Bill, therefore, is comprehensive and reflects concerns of all stakeholders. In making changes, the Law Ministry has ignored peoples views and diluted principles of democratic governance.

2. Ignoring evidence and the national strategy

The HIV epidemic in India is concentrated among marginalized groups that is, sex workers and their clients, injecting drug users, and men who have sex with men. Experience from around the world has shown that effective prevention requires protection of rights of people living with and those at risk of HIV. For example, it is now epidemiologically proven that promotion of rights of sex workers increases condom use and lowers new HIV infections among clients wives. Similarly, where HIV positive persons are assured equal access and non-discrimination, more people come forward to receive prevention, testing and treatment for HIV. The National AIDS Control Programme is founded on this rights based approach and the HIV/AIDS Bill sought to give it a legal shape.

Unfortunately, changes proposed by the Law Ministry ignore these vital lessons. Deletion of provisions on access to treatment, risk reduction and information, education and communication will severely weaken the National AIDS Control Programme. Dilution of core chapters of prohibition of discrimination, requirement of informed consent and confidentiality will deny legal protection to people affected by HIV. Removal of provisions like Health Ombudsman, intended to provide speedy justice and lessen the burden on Judiciary, will also diminish benefits of the Bill. Together, these omissions, nullify the aims and objectives of the HIV/AIDS Bill.

Further, the Law Ministry has proposed new provisions such as mandatory testing, identification and tracing of HIV positive persons in the name of Surveillance and Rehabilitation. Not only do these measures infringe rights of people living with HIV but also drive the epidemic underground, making it difficult to prevent and control the infection. Moreover, these methods go against the grain of the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy, which clearly espouses a rights-based approach.

Ordinarily, the Law Ministry is expected to vet Bills of nodal ministries while preserving the integrity and philosophy of the proposed law. In this case, however, the Law Ministry appears to have interfered with the original Bill, in both letter and spirit. That this has been done without discussion with the Health Ministry and concerned stakeholders is even more unfortunate.

In the circumstances, we demand that the Law Ministry:

Drop the changes that it has proposed

Restore the original HIV/AIDS Bill 2006

Extend support to the Health Ministry in tabling the HIV/AIDS Bill in Parliament


Signatories:
Civil Society Organizations participating in the
Campaign for the HIV/AIDS Bill:

1. Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit
2. Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII)
3. Orissa AIDS Solidarity Forum, Bhubaneswar
4. MANAS Bangla, Kolkata
5. Sristy for Human Society, Kolkata
6. Prantakatha, Kolkata
7. Naihati Prolife, Naihati
8. Institute of Factual Theatre Arts, Kolkata
9. SPARSHA, Kolkata

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Tamera PattonBy:
AnimalsIn:
Petition target:
Ministry of Law and Justice, India

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