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Statement by UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot to the International Coordinating Committee Meeting of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights


April 18-20, 2001

Chairperson, I am very pleased and privileged to be here to address you. My presence here is evidence of how the office of the High Commissioner for human rights and the UNAIDS Secretariat is increasingly working together.

It is critical and timely that the International Coordinating Committee meeting of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is seized with the issue of human rights and HIV/AIDS. During the past twenty years of the epidemic there has been a paradigm shift. HIV/AIDS has moved from a disease for medical doctors to a problem that touches human conditions, human security, human rights and social and economic development.

Human rights advocates have been instrumental in bringing greater understanding on the inter-relationship between human rights and HIV/AIDS, for example Justice Kirby of Australia, the late Jonathan Mann, former Director of the WHO Global Program on HIV/AIDS (GPA) were the early pioneers. Recently more eminent people such as Justice Cameron of South Africa have joined the crusade of advancing a rights based approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Chairperson, globalization has also had its impact on diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The constant movement of people and their sexual interaction has had impact on the spread of HIV. Today the epidemic requires a changed response.

We have begun to witness this changed response as multiple bodies have seen the need to address the epidemic. For example the UN Security Council has explicitly addressed HIV/AIDS issues three times. So have other bodies such as the G8, G77, Heads of States, Prime Ministers and various Ministries including Ministries of Finance.

Further, HIV/AIDS is on top of the political agenda. A number of multi-sectoral National AIDS Commissions have been established with reporting channels to the Head of State or Prime Minister. These are effective foundations for an effective response. The challenge is to multiply this.

Chairperson, human rights is an integral component of the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

  • The spread and impact of HIV is fuelled when human rights are not respected.

  • The promotion and protection of human rights is vital to reducing vulnerability to infection and to lessening the adverse impact of the disease.

  • National human rights institutions can play a central role in the realization of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS at the national level.

  • The epidemic is rampant at the national level. The statistics speak for themselves. Abuses or violations of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS are on the increase at the national level despite the existence of international human rights standards that aim to protect human rights of all. There is need to urgently identify mechanisms at the national level to address these issues.

  • Effective implementation of international human rights standards is ultimately at the national level, as other mechanisms at the regional and international levels are inaccessible by the majority of the world population.

Monitoring and fostering of the responsibility of states in the area of human rights generally and within the context of HIV/AIDS, in particular will depend on the existence of domestic institutions and structures that can provide the necessary checks and balances and that can also be a buffer for the protection of human rights.

Chairperson, in the context of HIV/AIDS, national institutions are essential for ensuring that National AIDS Plans integrate human rights issues. This should be beyond lip service in the preamble or some obscure insertion in the Plan, but substantive.

National institutions are also essential for ensuring that the protection of particularly vulnerable groups such as women, children and other sexual minorities. The insubordinate legal, cultural and political status of these at a national level often leads to gross human rights violations and increases their vulnerability to being infected.

I wish to highlight five examples of ways in which national human rights institutions can strengthen their work in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Firstly: Investigating Violations of Human Rights that Occur in the Context of HIV/AIDS

Human rights violations in the context of HIV/AIDS are many but many times they go unnoticed as they are neither investigated nor documented. National human rights institutions can strengthen their role in investigating violations of human rights that occur in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Examples of these include, violations of:

  • the right to non-discrimination (for example, discrimination based on known or presumed HIV status);

  • the right to life (for example, violence and killing of persons infected);

  • the right to health (for example, denial of access to general medical treatment and/or HIV/AIDS therapy);

  • the right to privacy (for example, breach of confidentiality of HIV status and mandatory testing);

  • the right to work (for example, dismissal from work and denial of benefits and equal pay on the basis of HIV status);

  • the right to marry and found a family (for example, the requirement of mandatory testing as a prerequisite to marriage and mandatory sterilization of HIV+ women); and

  • the right to freedom of movement (for example, mandatory HIV testing for returning residents, restriction of movement of national and aliens living with HIV/AIDS, segregation, quarantine or rehabilitation of HIV+ persons and denial of visas or entry permission).

Chairperson, in this regard national human rights institutions can strengthen their work in this area through:

  1. Gathering information and investigating HIV-AIDS related human rights violations through trade unions, brothels and prison visits;

  2. Enhancing links between themselves and key institutions working on HIV/AIDS in their respective countries such as UN Theme Groups on HIV/AIDS and National AIDS Authority; and

  3. Monitoring HIV/AIDS related trials/cases which currently are many. (Currently in Nigeria, Namibia, India and South Africa.)

Secondly: Conducting Public Inquiries Focusing on HIV/AIDS Related Human Rights Violations

National human rights institutions could strengthen their capacity in conducting public inquiries or hearings focusing on systematic violations of persons living with HIV/AIDS, particularly in the area of stigma and discrimination that they suffer which consequently erode the enjoyment of all other rights.

Thirdly: Receiving and, where Appropriate, Redressing Complaints of HIV Related Human Rights Violations

Many persons whose rights are violated in the context of HIV/AIDS have nowhere to lay their complaints and thus in many instances, these complaints are never heard nor addressed.

National human rights institutions could strengthen their capacity for receiving HIV/AIDS related complaints, dealing with them and where deemed appropriate, ensure appropriate remedy.

Fourthly: Providing Advice and Assistance to Governments in the Area of Human Rights and HIV/AIDS

National human rights institutions could strengthen their capacity in providing assistance to Governments and the National AIDS Authority in integrating human rights issues into their national health and other HIV/AIDS related statutes, regulations and policies.

In the recent past there has been a number of legislation mushrooming world-wide including in Asia (Philippines, Cambodia, China) and Africa (South Africa and Namibia). The challenge is to ensure that this legislation balances human rights and the protection of public health.

Fifthly: Conducting Human Rights Education in the Context of HIV/AIDS

To this end, national human rights institutions could strengthen their capacity in:

  1. sharing information, developing technical expertise, building awareness and advocating for the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS;

  2. reviewing training and education materials so as to integrate HIV/AIDS and human rights issues, where appropriate;

  3. conducting education and training on human rights for AIDS Service Organizations; and

  4. fostering or encouraging activities on human rights and HIV/AIDS, such as anti-discrimination campaigns.

Chairperson, as highlighted by the High Commissioner, I wish to reiterate that we have excellent International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights (pdf file 460kb) published jointly by UNAIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These are an important tool to assist national institutions in their efforts to promote and protect HIV-related human rights.

I wish to acknowledge the fact that several national institutions have already taken measures to integrate HIV/AIDS issues in their efforts to promote and protect human rights, including through joint activities with UNAIDS and local NGOS. For example, the human rights and HIV/AIDS training conducted recently in Ghana with the full participation of the Ghana Human rights Commission and the first ever-national human rights and HIV/AIDS workshop held in India in partnership with the Indian National Human Rights Commission.

I think it is important that HIV/AIDS be mainstreamed into the mandate of human rights institutions. To this end, I welcome the Lome Declaration adopted at the 3rd Conference of the African National Human Rights Institutions and hope that this will be used as an example for other regional meetings.

In conclusion, Chairperson, allow me to thank the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the personal support and importance that she attaches to issues of human rights and HIV/AIDS. For example, through the political advocacy that she undertakes at CCO meeting, her statement during World AIDS day and her indication that she will participate in the human rights sessions of the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS to be held in June this year.

With her continued support, I do hope that the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Intolerance and Xenophobia will consider issues of human rights and HIV/AIDS.

I am personally committed to moving human rights and HIV/AIDS issues forward. A number of challenges still confront us such as the quarantining or exclusion of those infected; denial, stigma and discrimination; and issues of mandatory testing, for example of UN peace-keepers. It is essential that policies that are being developed take into account human rights considerations.

I hope that the work with national human rights institutions will build on the existing good collaboration that we enjoy with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and this will lead to increased activities at the national level.

I wish you success in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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