Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keeping the Promise: Human Rights and AIDS

Below are two comments from high ranking UN figures, made on UN world AIDS day. The general tenet of the comments is positive and welcome, particularly the evident change in tone from the UNODC compared to some previous comments. That said, it is hoped that this discourse will develop in the coming years to acknowledge and discuss the role of the punitive prohibitions (enshrined in the UN drug conventions) in undermining human rights, and in creating or exacerbating many drug related harms, not least the context for the spread of HIV/AIDS though illicit drug injecting.

Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay

on the occasion of World AIDS Day

1 December 2008.

This year, we mark both the 20th World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is fitting that during these landmark anniversaries we consider how far we have come in the global effort to combat AIDS.

In 2006, UN Member States made a commitment to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. Today, fewer people are becoming infected with HIV, and fewer are dying of AIDS-related illnesses. At the end of 2007, three million people in low- and middle- income countries were taking anti-retroviral treatment. But much remains to be done.

Twenty-seven years after AIDS was first identified, stigma against people living with HIV is as strong as it ever was. One third of countries still do not have laws to protect people living with HIV. In most countries, discrimination remains against women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users, and ethnic minorities.

The continued existence of punitive laws on disclosure of HIV status, the criminalization of the transmission of HIV and travel bans for people living with HIV, inadequate protection of women and girls from sexual violence, the marginalization of and hostility against sexual minorities, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners and other vulnerable groups all combine to drive them underground and away from HIV services. Like all people, these groups are entitled to the right to health and the full enjoyment of their human rights even though they may engage in activities that are criminalized in some countries.

AIDS thrives on injustice and inequality. A human rights-based response is critical to preventing new HIV infections and mitigating the epidemic's impact – whoever people are, and wherever they live.

In this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is unacceptable that accident of birthplace or residence should determine our HIV survival prospects.

On World AIDS Day 2008, let the promise of human dignity enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide the vision and impetus for reinvigorated efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Statement from UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa
on World AIDS Day

"Let us invest in our young people"

Today, we mark the 20th anniversary of the World AIDS Day. Long ago, we pledged to "keep the promise" but we have not. AIDS is still with us. Among the estimated 16 million people injecting drugs worldwide, one in five will likely contract HIV.

Is "AIDS fatigue" setting in as other global problems compete for attention? United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared that the challenge is to sustain leadership in this fight. Without strong and committed leadership, we will fail.

It is scandalous that less than 10% of injecting drug users have access to evidence-based HIV prevention and care services. It is time to bring health back to the mainstream of drug policy. The goals are within reach. New analyses could better guide national HIV prevention programmes and treatment programmes are expanding.

As we prepare to mark the 60th anniversary year of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we should remember that the human rights of vulnerable groups, including drug users and prisoners, are violated everyday. Instead of showing compassion we stigmatize drug users and cast them out as pariahs. No wonder many shun life-saving HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Drug-related HIV particularly afflicts young people, cutting down tomorrow's leaders in their prime. Young people aged between 15 and 24 account for an estimated 45 per cent of new HIV infections. .

Sharing contaminated needles is almost a sure-fire route way to HIV infection. Yet many young people still lack accurate information about how to avoid exposure to the virus.

Let us empower the youth with information. We must start showing leadership now.

Stopping the spread of AIDS is not only a Millennium Development Goal; it is an investment in the next generation.

That is why UNODC's campaign tells young people "Think before you start. Before you shoot. Before you share".

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