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Major UN Meeting, Major Demonstration This Week in New York

By John S. James

May 30, 2006

Summary: At the United Nations a four-day series of meetings will evaluate successes and failures so far in implementing the historic Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, adopted five years ago by 189 countries, and will plan for the future. For the first time, a person known to have HIV will address the United Nations General Assembly. Major controversies exist, mainly because the starting draft document of this meeting lists lofty goals in a way that will not lead to action; "what gets measured gets done," but here the measures are absent. On the first day of the meeting, a demonstration sponsored by 12 organizations and endorsed by over 70 more will call for better access to treatment and prevention.

Five years ago the United Nations General Assembly held a historic meeting on AIDS called UNGASS (United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS); at that session officials from 189 countries negotiated and signed the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, which listed measurable targets and timelines for progress against the epidemic. Civil society (mainly non-government organizations, which can often have more independent and honest view than government offices) largely supported the Declaration of Commitment. This week an UNGASS review meeting has involved thousands of people from around the world to examine what has and has not been achieved, and make recommendations for the future. Clearly many of the 2005 targets called for in the Declaration of Commitment have not been met, although some have been.

The current review meeting (from May 31 through June 2, 2006) is negotiating many issues that will be reflected in a new document called the Political Declaration, intended to be a short statement to evaluate progress toward Declaration of Commitment and highlight changes and issues. Many people have serious concerns about the starting draft of the Political Declaration -- especially the near-total lack of specific goals and timelines that would signal serious commitment (since nations can be held publicly accountable for their success or failure to meet clear goals). The draft of the Political Declaration also largely ignores controversial issues including sex, drugs, and stigmatized populations. One leading activist called the starting draft an "abomination"; it is laundry list of high-sounding statements unrelated to action. Hopefully it can be rewritten or greatly changed in the negotiations between now and June 2.

On May 31 a large rally and short march to embassies will take place starting at 1:00 p.m. at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 47th Street and First Avenue in New York. Sponsors include ACT UP, African Services Committee, CHAMP, Gay Men's Health Crisis, Health Gap, Housing Works, and Student Global AIDS Campaign -- for complete list of the organizations and their Web sites, see

Web Sites for News of UN Meeting

Copyright 2006 by John S. James. See "Permission to Copy" at:

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