September 22, 2010
The PWN and ally organizations helped build a bridge from Vienna and the International AIDS Conference's theme "Rights Here, Rights Now," to the U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) this year in Orlando.
Numerous sessions were held at the 14th Annual USCA that reflected on the integration of human rights principles -- government accountability and transparency; equality and nondiscrimination; meaningful participation; and indivisibility & interdependence -- into HIV/AIDS policy and programming.
A variety of organizations sponsored human rights themed sessions including U.S. Positive Women's Network (PWN), Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Just Detention International to name a few. Some sessions included:
A stand out session was the NAACP's Addressing Disparities Through Civil Rights Advocacy. This workshop was an introduction to the NAACP's new and more expansive approach to civil and human rights in the U.S. Speakers elaborated on civil and human rights as well as their work around community involvement and education in HIV/AIDS research, removing barriers to HIV related health services for drug users and sex workers, and the disparate impact of HIV on Black women in the U.S.
The session touched on the history and continuum of the civil rights movement in the U.S. The civil rights movement of the 1950's was the U.S. contextualization of the global human rights movement. In order to realize basic human rights principles in 1950's America, racial minorities' civil rights needed to be realized and protected; equal access to education, work, and public accommodations were a way of gaining these rights. Yet, with formal equality for racial minorities, in 2010, grave disparities persist and are driven by ongoing human rights abuses: lack of available, accessible, acceptable, and quality health care; lack of affordable housing and meaningful employment; subpar education and high rates of incarceration. These unrealized human rights are directly related to the staggering numbers of HIV rates among communities of color in the U.S.
Robert Rooks, Director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program, explained how his earlier work to provide HIV risk reduction methods -- e.g., clean needle and condom distribution -- to people who used drugs was seriously impaired by punitive drug and anti-prostitution laws. People were afraid to leave their residences and access HIV prevention services because they could be arrested for warrants or harassed by police at any time -- so they remained hidden and inaccessible to health outreach workers. Robert's experience as a health worker is a perfect illustration of 1) the general interdependence of laws, policies, and structural factors like poverty on the success of HIV prevention, care and treatment; and 2) specifically how laws that criminalize people's behaviors and modes of survival push those most vulnerable to HIV further away from the services that could prevent HIV transmission, help them stay in care, or simply survive.
The U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy listed high rates of incarceration as a contributing factor to the high rates of HIV among communities of color, and specifically among women of color. We know that high incarceration rates are driven in large part by drug arrests, parole violations, and three strikes laws. Hearing about HIV and human rights work from allies like the NAACP makes it even clearer that our community and our government has strong partners to work with in the struggle to identify and reform laws and policies that hinder the HIV response for communities most affected.
Return to USCA 2010 Reports.