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Tuesday 15 August 2006
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CAMBODIA: Court ruling under HIV/AIDS law upholds women’s rights

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

PHNOM PENH, 11 August (PLUSNEWS) - A landmark Cambodian court decision has jailed an HIV-positive man for 10 years after he forced his wife to have sex without a condom. The conviction is the first under a law that makes it a crime to knowingly expose a person to HIV.

In a socially conservative country where rape is pervasive but rarely prosecuted - especially marital rape - last week's jailing of Meas My, a 40-year-old sailor, has been hailed as a major step in upholding the rights of women to refuse unprotected sex if they know their partners are infected with HIV.

"This sends a very good signal to society and men in general that this is not acceptable," Tony Lisle, the UNAIDS coordinator in Cambodia, said from the capital, Phnom Penh.

Numerous factors render Cambodia particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. These include a legacy of genocide, civil war, and famine. In tandem with persistent poverty and political turmoil, this scenario has led to a weak national response to the virus.

Lisle said Phnom Penh police arrested My when his wife complained that he had raped her after refusing her request that he use a condom during sex.

"She apparently had requested him to consistently use condoms in sexual intercourse," Lisle said. "He not only refused but he knowingly, as a person living with HIV, raped her."

Cambodian prosecutors said that society "cannot tolerate" such an act. Lisle commented the conviction was a positive development for law enforcement. "Any sort of opportunity like this, where the courts have actually exercised due process under the law, is a good thing."

Increasingly risky sexual behaviour and drug use among youth remain key drivers of HIV infection in the country. Gender inequality is also shaping the epidemic. Another crucial factor is Cambodia's large commercial sex industry.

The country's AIDS law, passed in 2002, offers strong protection for the estimated 123,000 Cambodians living with the virus. It bans mandatory HIV testing, requires test results to be kept confidential (except under very specific circumstances), and prohibits discrimination against those living with the virus.

The law strictly prohibits people living with HIV/AIDS from any action that could potentially result in the virus's transmission, with a punishment of up to 15-years' jail for offenders.

The law has been hailed as a model for other countries but enforcement and implementation of its provisions is not common. Many police, local officials and other authorities do not fully understand HIV/AIDS-related issues and the inexperienced judiciary is weak.

UNAIDS is working with parliamentarians and other officials to boost understanding of the law and how it should be applied. It is also helping people living with HIV/AIDS to monitor and document violations of the law, so that those with the virus can better assert their rights.

Public health professionals are concerned about the spread of HIV to married women, who make up a growing percentage of new HIV infections in Cambodia. Husband-to-wife infection is now the major mode of transmission in Cambodia and one-third of all new HIV infections are from mother to child, UNAIDS Update 2005, reported.

A major campaign to promote condom use among sex workers and their clients helped reduced Cambodia’s HIV prevalence rate to 1.9 percent at the end of 2003, down from a peak of nearly three percent in 1998. However, little effort has been made to promote condom use by married couples. Observers said such a move would probably face a lot of resistance.


· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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