December 18, 2009
In Ghana, stigmatization of gay men is so harsh that many form sexual relationships with female partners to avoid prejudice and violence. It is also the root cause of the men's inability to access treatment and of the rising HIV rate among them, according to a Ghana AIDS Commission report presented at a recent meeting of 30 African jurists in Johannesburg.
"In Ghana, it is illegal for a man to have sexual intercourse with another man," said Chief Justice Georgina Wood. Human rights groups "are making moves to decriminalize homosexuality and open up the channels of treatment," she said.
"[Men who have sex with men] live in such constant fear of discovery and exposure to homophobic violence that they present a façade of heterosexuality and maintain female partners on the side," Wood said. "This places the women at an increased risk of HIV infection."
Due to the epidemic, some courts, "especially the lower courts" have mandated HIV testing of both plaintiff and defendants in cases involving sexual violence, said Wood. "However, beyond the public outcry, no one has yet tested the constitutionality of this practice by the judiciary."
"The criminalization of transmission will lead to further stigmatization and do nothing but push people who need treatment further underground," said Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, speaking on the sidelines of the conference. To prevent HIV transmission and facilitate treatment access, laws must protect human rights, he said.
"If we don't protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, they will simply go underground and not seek out treatment or services," said Mark Heywood, executive director of AIDS Law Project. "This is what Justice Michael Kirby [former member of the High Court of Australia] referred to as the paradox of AIDS. Normally we try to protect the uninfected from the infected; the paradox is that we have to protect the infected to protect the uninfected."