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Friday, December 3, 2004


United Nations Headquarters, New York


Intermediate and Secondary Students (grades 5- 12)


HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: from Awareness to Action


HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: from Awareness to Action

Background

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 these are:

  1. Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS June 2001
  2. HIV and Human Rights International Guidelines August 2002 – UN, UNAIDS, OHCHR
  3. An AIDS Free Generation in Less than a Generation (UNESCO/UNAIDS Feb 2004)

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 26, 2001
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.

 

 

 



"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."

Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS "Global Crisis — Global Action"


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