AIDS in Africa – leaders face both ways
This week, African leaders hailed a new emphasis on combating the HIV-AIDS pandemic that has ruined so many lives and holds back so many communities. This weekend, many of those same leaders will be represented at a Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting and reject a key step which would help the fight against AIDS – a ban on the homophobic laws that seem to be a defining feature of Commonwealth countries.
At the United Nations General Assembly during the week, the African Union brought leaders together to consider progress on the AU Road Map which aims to deal with the 23.5 million Africans already living with HIV-AIDS, and the need to reduce the spread of the disease.
But one key element of a strategy to tackle HIV-AIDS is missing from that Road Map: the abolition of homophobic laws which drive at-risk groups underground, making awareness, testing and treatment campaigns less effective.
This weekend, at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting, the final steps should be taken in responding to the Eminent Persons Group report initially presented to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Western Australia, last October. One of the Group’s recommendations was to outlaw homophobic laws in the Commonwealth.
But, largely due to the governments of Commonwealth countries in Africa, that recommendation looks likely to be abandoned, and even the Charter of the Commonwealth that sets out the values of the community is unlikely to include opposition to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
AIDS activists, campaigners like Peter Tatchell and trade unions have pressed Commonwealth Foreign Ministers to follow the more egalitarian and enlightened lead of South Africa (which now leads the African Union) and Australia which chairs the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meetings. But African governments are unwilling to break with their homophobic ideology, even to save lives.
There’s a word for people who say they want to end the scourge of disease but aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to do it. Commonwealth leaders from Africa are hypocrites, and because of their hypocrisy, members of LGBT communities in their countries will continue to suffer and die.