Human Rights Watch
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We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.
We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.
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HIV/AIDS & Human Rights: Program Overview
Rights abuses fuel AIDS: Since the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS has claimed 25 million lives. 40 million people are living with HIV. Its destructive force is fueled by a wide range of human rights violations. Such violations include sexual violence and coercion faced by women and girls, stigmatization of men who have sex with men, abuses against sex workers and injecting drug users, and violations of the right of young persons to information on HIV transmission. In prisons, HIV spreads with frightening efficiency due to sexual violence, lack of access to condoms, lack of harm reduction measures for drug users, and lack of information. Human rights violations only add to the stigmatization of persons at highest risk of infection and thus marginalize and drive underground those most in need of information, preventive services, and treatment.
Abuses follow infection: Persons living with the disease are subject to stigmatization and discrimination in society, including in the workplace and in access to government services. Women whose husbands have died of AIDS are regularly rejected by their own and their husband's families, and their property is frequently taken from them. Thousands of children who have lost parents to AIDS or whose parents are living with the disease have lost their inheritance rights, have had to take on hazardous labor including prostitution, and have been forced to live on the streets where they are subject to police violence and other abuses.
Research: Documenting human rights abuses related to HIV/AIDS and raising awareness about them is essential to combating the epidemic. This work builds naturally on Human Rights Watch's large body of research on discrimination, women's and children's rights, rights of prisoners, and persecution of marginalized groups. Human Rights Watch's program on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights has documented, for example, the drug laws and routine police abuse of injection drug users in the Ukraine, rights violations against children affected by AIDS in Kenya, the fueling of the epidemic through sexual violence on the part of the military in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, police violence against HIV/AIDS outreach workers in India, and how inadequate health and social policies in Zimbabwe threaten recent progress in its fight against HIV/AIDS
Ensuring protection: Human Rights Watch continues to advocate for legal and policy protections for persons affected by or at high risk of HIV/AIDS. In India, for example, this means repeal of an antiquated sodomy law that contributes to police abuse of HIV/AIDS educators who work with men who have sex with men. For AIDS-affected children, this means protecting girls against sexual abuse and ensuring avenues of legal recourse for children without relatives to turn to. For injecting drug users, this means embracing harm reduction strategies and ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy. For sex workers, this means providing protection and empowering them to demand safe sex of their clients. Without a focus on human rights, many investments in HIV/AIDS programs and policies are doomed to fail.
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