Human Rights Watch Says Curbs on Condoms Undermine Global Right Against
Associated Press, November
By David Crary, AP National Writer
NEW YORK—Criticism of condoms and
restrictions on access to them are undercutting the fight against HIV/AIDS in
countries ranging from Nigeria to Peru to the United States, Human Rights
Watch said in a report Tuesday.
Marking World AIDS Day, the New York-based human rights
organization described condoms as the single most effective weapon against
sexually transmitted HIV, but said they are subjected to government-backed
constraints in numerous countries.
In some places, Human Rights Watch said, police
confiscate condoms from AIDS outreach workers and use them as evidence of
illegal prostitution or sodomy.
“Governments should be promoting condom use, not
treating condoms like contraband,” said Jonathan Cohen, a Human Rights Watch
researcher. “The clear result of restricting access to condoms will be more
lives lost to AIDS.”
The U.S. government, although the leading donor to
HIV/AIDS-fighting initiatives, was criticized for its support of “abstinence
until marriage” HIV-prevention programs that often depict condoms as
unreliable and withhold any practical information about their use.
“The Bush Administration is spending millions of
dollars on abstinence-only programs that mislead people at risk of HIV/AIDS
about the effectiveness of condoms,” said Rebecca Schleifer, another Human
Rights Watch researcher. “Exporting these programs to countries facing even
more serious epidemics will only make the situation worse.”...
Tony Jewell, a spokesman for the Department of Health and
Human Services, said the U.S. government does fund condom distribution through
some of its HIV/AIDS programs, but he defended the philosophy behind other
programs which espouse the abstinence-only approach.
“It’s a scientific fact that you will not get a
sexually transmitted disease if you do not have sex,” he said.
Human Rights Watch also criticized religious
leaders—including officials at the Vatican—who have publicly linked
condoms with promiscuity.
Worldwide, Human Rights Watch said, less than half the
people at risk of sexual transmission of HIV had access to condoms, and even
fewer had access to basic HIV/AIDS education.
Among the countries examined in the report:
India. Human Rights Watch said some police officers
treat supplying condoms to men who have sex with other men as an act
abetting sodomy, which is outlawed in India. It said police also have used
condom possession as justification for harassing prostitutes.
Nigeria. The report said advertisements for condoms
have been banned in some cases on grounds that they encourage adultery and
Peru. Human Rights Watch said the government has
decreased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and increased barriers to condom
In other AIDS Day developments:
The sex industry’s role in spreading AIDS was
discussed at a conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, attended by about 400
aid workers seeking strategies for fighting the epidemic in the
Asia-Pacific region. “Sex work cannot be abolished. We must recognize
these sex workers are human beings, too,” said Khartini Slamah, a
delegate from a Malaysian relief group.
In China, President Hu Jintao shook hands with AIDS
patients in a Beijing hospital, encouraging them to stick with their
medical treatment. It was the second year in a row that top Chinese
leaders shook hands and had face-to-face exchanges with patients on AIDS