On the margins of the Global Conference on SDG 16, IDLO and UNAIDs convened a side event on the intersection of health and the law, and why reform to criminal law is crucial to improving health, equality and peace.
Throughout the Conference, the interlinkages between SDG 16 and the entire 2030 Agenda emerged as a prominent theme. This is especially apparent when it comes to health, captured in SDG 3, as the health-justice relationship shares touch points with several other Goals, including gender equality (SDG 5), reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and partnerships (SDG 17).
While it is often discussed how the law can pave the way to better access to justice, criminal law can be an agent of inequality. This is particularly the case for people living with HIV who face legal discrimination and further marginalization at the hands of the law.
“It’s not that they’re being left behind, they’re being pushed behind,” stated Emily Christie from UNAIDS, invoking the overarching objective of the 2030 Agenda.
Criminal law can increase structural barriers such as violence, discrimination, stigma and inequality for key populations or people living with HIV.
Speaking to regional and national experiences, Olga Perez, Senior Program Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean at IDLO, stated, “In Latin America, as in other regions, we find legal environments and practices which impede HIV prevention and promote HIV stigma and discrimination.”
The law, however, can be an ally and have a central role in realizing the right to health, including in the context of HIV. IDLO’s experience in programs and research illustrates that an enabling legal environment is essential to achieving improved health outcomes, and, therefore, positively contribute to the 2030 Agenda as a whole.
Perez continued: “Good legal services can facilitate access to justice for people who face HIV-related discrimination. Without quality, affordable and accessible legal services, justice is often unattainable for poor and vulnerable communities.”
Echoing the significance of the cross-cutting nature of SDG 16, Christie said, “HIV affects those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. We need to not only eliminate the health threats but eliminate the vulnerabilities as well.”