Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby has accepted a new role in the global fight against AIDS, being appointed to a United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

The Commission is made up of two groups, a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of experts and the Commissioners they advise.

Kirby is the only person to sit on both groups, co-chairing the TAG serving as a Commissioner.

Kirby told Sydney Star Observer that TAG had had its first meeting in New York in June and had identified three major impediments to responding successfully to the HIV/AIDS epidemic around the world.

“The first is how the international intellectual property regime adds considerably to the cost of licensing anti-retroviral drugs,” he said.

“The first line of retroviral therapies are not working as successfully as they were and patients will have to switch over to second and third line therapies that are more expensive because of the intellectual property protections that are given to the pharmaceutical corporations.

“We’d like to get a new international regime for intellectual property protection which is fair to the pharmaceutical corporations that invest sums into exploration of new drugs, but which is also fair to patients ­— particularly in developing countries.

“The second area was women’s rights and the disadvantages that women face in many societies which render them vulnerable to the epidemic and to seroconversion.

“The third area is the impact of laws which criminalise, stigmatise and shame vulnerable groups like men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners, refugees and other groups vulnerable to infection.

“The law can sometimes be a help to such people as in the case of anti-discrimination laws. But all too often the law is an obstacle to the successful prosecution of the responses to the epidemic, as for example in the many countries that criminalise same-sex sexual relations.”

The Commission was officially launched on June 24 by the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, who is now administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

She was joined by the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe,

Commissioners from the world of politics include the former presidents of Brazil and Botswana, Fernando Cardosa and Festu Mogae; Barbara Lee, a Democratic Congresswoman for California; NZ Labour MP, Charles Chauvel; Dame Carol Kidu, the only woman in the Papua New Guinea parliament; and Jon Ungphakorn, a retired Thai senator.

Non-political Commissioners joining Kirby are Edwin Cameron, a HIV positive Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Kenyan AIDS activist Professor Miriam Were, and the Ugandan feminist lawyer Professor Sylvia Tamale.

info: The TAG will report to the Global Commission in Rio de Janeiro in October this year.

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