HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: from Awareness
The AIDS pandemic is the most devastating health crisis in
human history. Worldwide, more than 40 million people are
living with HIV, half of them women. Already more than 22
million have died, and 15, 000 people are infected each day,
with half of the new infections occurring in young people
under 251. It is estimated that if current trends
continue, there will be more than 40 million AIDS orphans
in Africa alone by the year 2010.2 While much emphasis
is given to the AIDS crisis in Africa, the pandemic is escalating
in all parts of the world. The Caribbean has the world’s
second highest rate of HIV prevalence and in Eastern Europe
and Central and East Asia, infection numbers are skyrocketing.
In the U.S., AIDS is the leading killer of African Americans
between the ages of 25 and 49.
It has been 22 years since the first case reported case
of AIDS and it is becoming apparent that we are still in the
early stages of the epidemic. While these numbers seem daunting
and impossible to tackle, HIV/AIDS is, in reality, a preventable
and manageable disease that has transformed into a worldwide
pandemic due to lack of education, discrimination, and the
neglect of human rights. Those who are poor, marginalized,
uneducated and unable to access information, hungry, in poor
health and lacking health care are at greater risk of contracting
HIV; once infected, they are also those who are least likely
to know their HIV status, seek and afford treatment, or advocate
for their rights if they are discriminated against.
Recently, momentum has been building for international bodies
to unite against the destructive disease, resulting in a number
of important documents and initiatives, many of which emphasize
a Human Rights perspective in approaching the problem. Among
- Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS June 2001
- HIV and Human Rights International Guidelines August
2002 – UN, UNAIDS, OHCHR
- An AIDS Free Generation in Less than a Generation (UNESCO/UNAIDS
In June of 2001, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration
of Commitment on HIV/AIDS "Global Crisis — Global
Action", recognizing the essential connection
between human rights and eliminating HIV/AIDS as follows:
"The full realization of human rights and fundamental
freedoms for all is an essential element in a global response
to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, including in the areas of prevention,
care, support and treatment, … [This realization] reduces
vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and prevents stigma and related
discrimination against people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS."
The Declaration states what governments have pledged to do
- themselves, with others in international and regional partnerships,
and with the support of civil society - to reverse the epidemic.
The Declaration is not a legally binding document. However,
it is a clear statement by governments setting forth what
they have agreed should be done to fight HIV/AIDS and what
they have committed to doing, often with specific deadlines.
As such, the Declaration is a powerful tool for guiding and
securing action, commitment, support and resources for all
those fighting the epidemic, both within and outside government.3
In August of 2002, following a summit in Geneva, Switzerland,
UNAIDS and the Office of the United Nations High Commission
for Human Rights (OHCHR) released an updated version of HIV/AIDS
and Human Rights International Guidelines. These
guidelines, first formulated in 1998 by a panel of international
experts, integrate the principles and standards of international
human rights law into the response to HIV/AIDS. This document
includes 12 guidelines to assist member states in developing
programs and policies, which protect and promote Human Rights
in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.4
In February of 2004, at the 23rd meeting of the Committee
of the Cosponsoring Organizations of UNAIDS in Zambia, UNESCO
Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura proposed a new education
initiative entitled An
AIDS-free Generation in Less than a Generation.
Not only was this the first meeting of the committee in Africa,
but the cosponsors also held a landmark meeting with 17 education,
health and finance ministers from six southern African nations.
The intention of inviting representatives from these three sectors
was to actively engage all three in a productive dialogue about
how to take united action against AIDS. This new joint project,
developed within framework of the Millennium Development Goals
5, will consist of a concerted effort to help countries
to develop an urgent, scaled-up response for prevention education.
It was spurred by several studies that emphasized the importance
of youth in the fight against the pandemic.
These three summits and resulting documents are a testament
to the urgency of local, national, and international action
in response to HIV/AIDS and the violation of Human Rights
that exacerbated the consequences and global effects of the
disease. The world’s 2 billion children and adolescents
are both at the center of the HIV/AIDS crisis and offer the
greatest hope for defeating the epidemic.
1 HIV/AIDS and Human
Rights – International Guidelines
2 AIDS and Human Rights: A Call for Action. June
3 UNAIDS website
4 These guidelines
include: a National Framework, Community Partnerships, Public
Health Laws, Criminal Law and Correctional Systems, Anti-Discrimination
Laws, Regulation of Goods, Services and Information, Legal
Support Services, addressing Women, Children, and other Vulnerable
Groups, Changing Discriminatory Attitudes, Public and Private
Sector Standards, State Monitoring and Enforcement of Human
Rights, and International Cooperation.
5 The Millennium Development
Goals commit the international community to an expanded vision
of development, one that vigorously promotes human development
as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all
countries, and recognizes the importance of creating a global
partnership for development. The goals have been commonly
accepted as a framework for measuring development progress.