GLOBAL: Human rights high on UNGASS agenda

NEW YORK, 12 June 2008 (PlusNews) – With the encouragement of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, civil society organisations are pressuring government representatives gathered at the UN High-Level meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York this week to step up their efforts in the global HIV/AIDS battle.

The meeting, attended by hundreds of government officials, including several African presidents, and AIDS activists from around the world, is an opportunity to hold governments accountable for failing to meet targets on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support they agreed to at the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) in 2001.

Earlier this year, countries submitted national progress reports revealing that most nations worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic were still far from reaching many of the UNGASS goals.

Olayide Akanni, of the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV/AIDS and Journalists Against AIDS, a Nigerian NGO, told IRIN/PlusNews that some countries had given incomplete pictures of their national AIDS burden in their reports to UNGASS. “Some countries are not reporting on the UNGASS indicators. Going forth from here we would like to see a lot more accountability and commitment on the part of governments.”

Ban Ki-moon praised civil society for its vanguard role in spurring governments that are “failing in their responsibility” to take action on HIV and AIDS. “I pay tribute to all of you who have led the struggle for the past decades, and I applaud the new leadership and new energy coming along, to take the response forward to the next phase. This next phase requires an approach that combines here-and-now emergency crisis tactics with strategic long-term thinking,” he told a gathering of NGOs on the opening day of the conference.

In a report presented to the General Assembly by the Secretary-General on Tuesday, Ban noted that by the end of last year, 3 million people had access to antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries; an increase of nearly a million over the previous year but still only 31 percent of those in need of such treatment.

Despite recent figures suggesting that the number of new HIV infections decreased from 3.2 million in 1998 to 2.5 million in 2007 and that the number of annual AIDS deaths had almost halved in the same time period, the report underlined the failure of expansions in prevention and treatment to keep pace with the epidemic.

“This situation is unacceptable. Our challenge now is to build on what we have started, bridge the gaps we know exist, and step up our efforts in years to come. We can do this only if we not only sustain, but step up our levels of commitment and financing,” said Ban.

In a year that marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a major theme at this year’s meeting has been the safe-guarding of the human rights of people living with HIV.

“Six decades after the Declaration was adopted, it is shocking that there should still be discrimination against those at high risk, such stigma attached to individuals living with HIV,” said Ban at Tuesday’s opening session. Such discrimination, he added “drives the virus underground, where it can spread in the dark; as important, it is an affront to our common humanity.”

The secretary-general called for a change in laws that uphold stigma and discrimination – including restrictions on travel for people living with HIV. According to UNAIDS, 74 countries have travel restrictions in place for HIV-positive people and 12 countries bar entry entirely to people infected with the virus.

''In most parts of the world human rights violations that increase the risk of HIV infection, and those that follow after HIV infection are getting worse''

On the issue of legislation that carries a human rights impact, Meena Seshu, director of Sampada Gramin Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), an Indian NGO responding to HIV/AIDS among sex workers and other marginalised groups, expressed concern about anti-human trafficking laws that are being introduced in countries such as India and Cambodia. She worried that the laws may have the affect of pushing sex work further under ground, hindering HIV prevention and treatment efforts.

“We are seeing increasingly in the world changes in sex laws that are detrimental to the human rights of sex workers,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. The new anti-trafficking laws, she said, “come down heavily on sex workers, who have been arrested, raped and denied access to HIV treatment.”

Addressing a civil society meeting, Mark Heywood, one of the leaders of South African AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign and deputy chairperson of South Africa’s National AIDS Council, also stressed the importance of human rights. “Whether from government or civil society we must admit that we are failing many, many people. This is because in most parts of the world human rights violations that increase the risk of HIV infection, and those that follow after HIV infection are getting worse,” he said.

He called on attendees to demand that governments meet commitments on increasing development aid and stressed the need to devise and implement systems that measure and monitor human rights. He also urged them to “have the courage to openly denounce countries such as Zimbabwe that violate rights to health,” and to demand investment in justice systems that poor people can access.


Report can be found online at:


1 Comment


    There are some simple steps all HIV-positive tourists can take regardless of their destinations to minimize chances of undue customs delays or outright deportation:

    * Look healthy. Travelers who appear to be ill are likely to be targeted for indepth questioning or inspections.

    * Be discreet and polite.Don’t draw any undue attention to yourself that could cause customs officials to pull you aside.

    * Don’t advertise the fact that you’re HIV-positive. It pains me to have to give that kind of advice, but you might not want to wear a PLWHA t-shirt.

    * Keep your anti-HIV medications in their original bottles, and do not attempt to hide the containers. If you’re hiding them customs officials may think they contain contraband and may hold you to verify that they are permitted into the country.Opening packages or taking pills out of their prescription bottles will delay your time in security(more info).

    *Pack extra medicine and supplies when traveling in case you are away from home longer than you expect or there are travel delays.

    *If you are taking injectable medications (e.g., Fuzeon, insulin, testosterone) you must have the medication along with you in order to carry empty syringes(more info).

    *Depending on the circumstances it may be worthwhile taking along a doctor’s certificate (in English) which shows that the holder is reliant on the medication and that it has been prescribed by the doctor.Carry a copy of your prescriptions in your carry-on, purse, or wallet when you travel.

    *You can ask and are entitled to a private screening to maintain your confidentiality. Show copies of your prescriptions and/or your medication bottles and if you have any problems ask to see a supervisor.

    In general, the above points apply to entering countries with ambiguous or restrictive regulations: as long as HIV positive status does not become known, there will be no serious problems for a tourist. However, if someone is suspected of being HIV positive, or if the authorities have concrete reasons to believe they are, entry may be refused. Since october 2008 non-immigrant US visas are granted to HIV-positive people who meet certain requirements, instead of waiting for a special waiver from DHS(more info).

    My philosophy on the whole issue is that it’s not an issue, so I don’t present it as one.And I’ve never had any problems over the years of extensive travel.


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