hiv-ribbon-handsInternational: A network of NGOs fighting to curb the spread of AIDS has said they will boycott a key U.N.-cosponsored conference of the Eastern European and Central Asian AIDS Conference.

The 21 civil society groups and networks at the international, regional and national said so in “harshly worded protest letter” to UNAIDS, reports

The conference is scheduled to be held May 12-14 in Moscow.

The groups have taken exception to UNAIDS accepting exclusion of gays and others in the conference.  Russia blames the spread of AIDS on same-sex relations.

“UNAIDS has ceased its leadership role in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and in Russia in particular, and does the Russian government’s bidding by supporting its inefficient HIV policies,” stated the letter, which was addressed to Michel Sidibé, executive director of  UNAIDS.

By backing the conference and not challenging Russia’s approach, the letter said, UNAIDS was, in effect, endorsing Russia’s failing HIV strategies.

These include replacing public health approaches with repression and criminalization, creating an atmosphere of intolerance and discrimination against key affected populations, such as people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and migrants.

Since UNAIDS being the co-chair and sponsor of the conference never contradicted these statements, “we can only state that UNAIDS is in the full agreement with them,” said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow, who signed the letter.

Russia’s new anti-gay laws interfere with HIV prevention programs for LGBT people and discourage participation by LGBT people at the conference, because they would risk prosecution if they spoke up, the groups’ letter said.

The open letter dated April 24 was obtained by 76crimes.

Russia recently passed a bill banning “homosexual propaganda,” meaning no one can talk to minors about the mere existence of gay people or hold pride parades and rallies.

Russia’s anti-gay stance has been sweeping through its borders and into neighboring countries of Central Asia, once part of the Soviet Union. Russia assumed the Soviet Union’s rights and obligations and is recognized as its continued legal personality after its collapse and still wields a lot of influence.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, both of which have Russia on their northern borders, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, a pair of post-Soviet countries further south of Russia have begun to imitate Russia’s anti-gay stance.

Earlier this year Tajikistan’s grand mufti, the government-sanctioned leader of the nation’s massive Muslim community, singled out the LGBT community for its role in crumbling nations.

Kyrgyzstan’s mufti followed suit by issuing a fatwa against same-sex relations. Its national parliament published a draft bill that imposes criminal sanctions for spreading information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.