Michel Sidibé congratulates Indian sexual minority communities for uniting against Section 377
09 October 2009
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé attended an event in Delhi today to recognize the activists whose efforts contributed towards the recent annulment of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The law, which criminalized consensual sex between men and transgendered people, was overturned in a historical judgment by the Delhi High Court on 2 July 2009.
Mr Sidibé congratulated India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities for their solidarity leading up to the court judgment, declaring it “a victory for tolerance, fairness and equality”.
Mr Sidibé also called on the activist communities to mobilize in the response to HIV and act as a voice for the voiceless for those who are most vulnerable to HIV. “If such laws are removed, India’s HIV prevention programme could serve as a model in the future for other countries around the world,” Mr Sidibé said.
In his address to the award reception, Mr Sidibé also strongly advocated for the removal of punitive laws specifically against sex work and drug use which are detrimental to the AIDS response. He said criminalization risks pushing at communities already at higher risk “into the dark shadows and undermines our efforts to ensure universal access to HIV prevention, care and support services”.
The High Court ruling came after a long legal battle in which India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities made a united effort in order to make their voices heard.
A victory for tolerance, fairness and equality
Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director
In its court affidavit against Section 377, India’s National AIDS Control Organization had contended that the law hampered HIV prevention efforts. It cited that only 6% of all men who have sex with men have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services, as most of them are reluctant to reveal their same sex behaviour due to fear of extortion, harassment, and violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities. It was noted that Section 377 encouraged people to remain hidden, making it difficult for them to access essential HIV, health and social services.
According to Justices Shah and Muralidhar, the Constitution of India recognizes, protects and celebrates diversity, and they declared Section 377 as a violation of the rights to privacy, liberty, health and equality enshrined in this Constitution.
Though the decision was largely seen as a victory for men who have sex with men and transgendered people, it has been hailed as a victory for all – regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The judgment is noteworthy and progressive in terms of its rejection of a hetero-normative and homogenous conception of sexuality. The judgment held that morality cannot be held as a ground for restriction of fundamental human rights.
There are around 80 countries worldwide with laws which criminalise same sex behaviour. Through collaborating with civil society as well as other stakeholders UNAIDS works towards removing punitive laws, polices and practices that hamper the AIDS response. This in one of the nine priority areas in the UNAIDS outcome framework 2006-2011.
Representatives from the sexual minority communities in New Delhi also explored with Mr Sidibé ways of successfully engaging with government and health authorities in the wake of the court ruling.