A Long Way To Go

In April 2008, the British Medical Journal published an article about Egyptian doctors who took part in forced HIV testing on suspected MSM, creating outrage among Human Rights NGOs and physicians worldwide. The inhuman practices such as chaining the detainees to their beds struck the International Community as particularly shocking and degrading.
Unfortunately, such behaviour is part of a broader strong prejudice against homosexuals and People Living with HIV/AIDS in Egypt, and is supported, if not encouraged, by the government.
Indeed, when they’re conducting raids, the Egyptian Authorities claim to be applying the Article 9 (c) of law 10/1961 which criminalizes the “habitual practice of debauchery [Fujur]”, the termination used under Egyptian law to designate consensual homosexual behaviour. Basically, this law is used and interpreted so as to allow the authorities to regularly arrest, ill-treat, beat and torture homosexuals and PLWHA. By doing so, Egypt, according to Rebecca Schleifer, Advocate for the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, “threatens Public Health by making it dangerous for anyone who seeks information about HIV prevention and treatment”. Indeed, such witch hunts have catastrophic consequences on all the prevention work that has been and is still done by the Egyptian Red Crescent and by NGOs. For example, campaigns that aim at encouraging people to disclose their HIV status can’t possibly be successful under such circumstances, people being far too afraid that they might get arrested, abused and tortured to speak up.
Besides, aside of being a looming danger for Public Health, such acts constitute serious breaches in International Human Rights Law. Indeed, the Egyptian Authorities, by mistreating homosexuals, violate the Right to have a Private Life, the non-discrimination Principle, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the interdiction to use Torture. In the Dudgeon vs. United Kingdom Case, (22nd October 1981), the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Right to have a Private Life encompasses the right to pursue any kind of sexual life within the legal framework:
“The Court sees no reason to differ from the views of the Commission: the maintenance in force of the impugned legislation constitutes a continuing interference with the applicant’s right to respect for his private life (which includes his sexual life) within the meaning of Article 8 par. 1 (art. 8-1)” ( Art 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, NdA) .

Even if Egypt isn’t a signatory State of the convention, the multiplication of such judgments (such as LV vs. Austria Case (ECHR 09/01/2003), Lawrence vs.Texas Case, (USA,2003)) indicate a shift in the practice of the states as well as a change within their opinio juris and a shift in mentalities, changes that will eventually create International Common Law that will be universally binding. Moreover, the Non-Discrimination Principle that’s being violated by Egypt, as well as the prohibition of the use of Torture and Ill and Degrading treatments, are considered International Common Law, therefore legally binding to every state. Saying that Egypt still has a long way to go to meet its Human Rights obligations would be an understatement.

The temptation to interpret the Egyptian’s attitude towards PLWHA and Homosexuals via the cultural or religious vector seems to be strong, but should nevertheless be avoided. Even if sexual matters remain something of a taboo, in some Arab countries, like Lebanon, HIV/AIDS issues are handled with open discussions and NGOs such as the Lebanese AIDS Society or Helem (Dream), as well as branches of National Societies like the Lebanese Red Cross Youth carry on education programs and provide treatment options. Although the situation of PLWHA and LGBT are far from being ideal in the Arab World, with for example laws that criminalize homosexual contacts between consensual adults, mentalities seem to evolve. The gay Lebanese associations Helem as well as the “Hurriyyat Khassa” NGO are struggling to make the government change the law and seem to receive a positive reaction from political parties. Indeed, Helem is now collaborating with the Lebanese Ministry of Health in the fight against HIV/AIDS and has unofficially been congratulated by Hassan Nasrallah for their relief efforts during the emergency situation of July 2006. The Movement also received an honorary award from the Free Patriotic Movement for the same reason. Nevertheless, the situation remains somewhat contradictory, with Helem on the one hand being able to organize in Beirut with great success the International Day Against Homophobia and with on the other hand, some officials calling for the shutdown of the Movement. Even if we’re far from the outrageous forced HIV testing carried out in Egypt, the situation is still very unstable.

Despite the dire living conditions LGBTs and PLWHA have to endure, the continuous prevention, education and awareness programs will provide results in the long term, as some improvement in certain countries already show. All we have to do is keep the faith….
References :

http://www.hrw.org/
http://www.amnesty.org/
http://www.helem.net/
http://www.toogezer.com/
www.echr.coe.int/echr
http://en.wikipedia.org/

Chetail Vincent, Lectures given within the MAS in International Humanitarian Law at the University Centre for IHL in Geneva, 2006-2007

Clapham Andrew, Marks Susan, International Human Rights Lexicon, OUP, Oxford, 2005

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Comments
One Response to “A Long Way To Go”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for posting this thoughtful piece. I too agree that the crackdown on homosexuals in Egypt is a disgusting practice. Just because these people are freaks of nature does not mean that they should be discriminated against by a government. They need our love and understanding to help them see the error of their ways. Also, if they are not checked for aids now, who is to say that (disguising themselves as straight people) they will not infect our CHILDREN!?!?!?!? That is what I want to know…

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