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Draft Law to protect people-with-HIV needs revision

06 April, 2007

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CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: A draft law on the protection of HIV-infected persons in Thailand has been dismissed as discriminatory to the people it seeks to protect, says AIDS NGO representatives and activists in the NGO Forum on Health meeting last month (27 March 2007).

The draft law titled "The Act on Protection of HIV-Infected Persons and AIDS Patients (B.E.)" could reverse the country's efforts to effectively respond to HIV and AIDS, said many of the civil society activists.  AIDS NGO representatives and activists said that government drafted the law without the consultation and participation of people living with HIV.

In the draft law, people living with HIV are referred to as "dangerous" and "special persons" who must be separated from society to protect the general public from the disease.  There are fears that if the law is passed, it will drive the disease underground as people will be afraid to know their status.

"It's a legal and policy tragedy, and we feel that out efforts will be belittled by the law," said Khun Supatra Nakapiew, director of the Thai National Coalition on AIDS (TNCA) and Center for AIDS Rights (CAR).  Civil society activists warned that the draft law initiative could backfire because, rather than protect, it stigmatizes and discriminates people living with HIV.

They further added that draft law will make people living with HIV reluctant to obtain services for HIV prevention, treatment, and care. The draft law proposes the setting up of special hospitals and schools for people living with HIV, and their children. It also proposes to separate people living with HIV from their children. The draft law also empowers the state to segregate and detain people living with HIV.

The assumption is that ostracizing people living with HIV will control the spread of the disease. The draft law gives the government permission to monitor and criminalize private personal acts of people living with HIV. A clause in the law authorizes public health workers to separate or detain people living with HIV. Little to nothing is mentioned about how to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV in the draft law.

"The network is opposed to this law because we were not included in the drafting process. We want to be accepted like other people. If this law is passed, we will go back 20-30 years in the epidemic, when people living with HIV were discriminated against. The incidence and prevalence of the disease will increase. People will not want to reveal their status to avoid criminalization," said Boontawee Yodruan, chairperson of the Thai Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+).

Essentially, civil society activists believe the draft law will lead to the infringement of the human rights of people living with HIV as well as perpetuate stigma. "After reading the law, I realized that it is not there to protect but infringe on people's rights, making lives of people living with HIV even more difficult. People living with HIV do not want any special status, therefore there's no need to pass a law to give them special status," said Yodruan, "If the law is passed, there will be a severe impact on society. People will be more reluctant to get tested for HIV to avoid being criminalized."

"I don't think we should penalize people with HIV," said a public prosecutor, "We should treat people living with HIV as fellow human beings."  "This draft law will create more problems than any good, so we will oppose it," said Khun Supatra Nakapiew. "If the law is passed, then we will take the case to the constitutional court," said Yodruan.

The Thai Network of people living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+), AIDSAccess, CAR and TNCA have already submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission's Chairperson, the Office of the Prime Minister and the State Council.

This monthly NGO forum on health was organized by Northern NGO Coalition on AIDS (NNCA), Thai NGO Coalition on AIDS (TNCA) and Health & Development Networks (HDN).

For more information contact HDN in Thai at: actioncentre@hdnet.org or in English at: info@hdnet.org  telephone +66 53 418438

Masimba Biriwasha

 

(The author is a Key Correspondent of HDN in Thailand.

Website: www.TheCorrespondent.org, email: masimba@hdnet.org)

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