World Conference against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,

Statement by
Peter Plot
Executive Director

Durban, 4 September 2001



distinguished delegates,
ladies and gentlemen,

Across the road from the Durban Exhibition Centre and the International Conference Centre is a park which many of you will have walked past. There is a giant red ribbon in the park and you may have read the plaque commemorating the life of Gugu Dlamini. Gugu Dlamini may not be known to many of you but she was stoned to death for disclosing her HIV/AIDS status on World AIDS Day a couple of years ago. This park stands as a symbol of the discrimination that many people living with HIV/AIDS have to endure.

Nothing illustrates the global impact of discrimination and intolerance better than the global AIDS epidemic, which has become one of the greatest tragedies and challenges of our time.

HIV-related stigma and discrimination are immense barriers to effective responses to the epidemic.

HIV stigma comes from the powerful combination of shame and fear. HIV is transmitted through sex and so is surrounded by taboo and moral judgement. But we do not need to be prisoners of shame and fear. The AIDS epidemic can be turned back, and to do so, we must defeat HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Giving in to HIV/AIDS by blaming `others' for transmitting HIV creates the ideal conditions for the virus to spread: denying there is a problem, forcing those at risk or already infected underground, and losing any opportunity for effective public education or treatment and care.
Shame must be replaced with solidarity. People living with HIV are part of the solution, not part of the problem - they are the world's greatest untapped resource in responding to the epidemic.

Solidarity, knowledge and hope make an effective platform for fighting the HIV epidemic. An all-out attack on HIV-related stigma and discrimination is a central plank of this platform. Across the world, successful responses to AIDS have been built on respect for human rights, promoting the dignity of those affected, and building social solidarity.

Intolerance attaches new fears to old forms. In many cases, HIV-stigma has attached itself to pre-existing stigmas - to racial stereotypes and to discrimination against women and sexual minorities. At the same time, HIV vulnerability comes from the social inequality which has been shaped by long-term patterns of racial and sexual inequality.

The reality is that HIV affects rich and poor, white and black, men and women. However, over time, as the HIV epidemic matures, its effects tend to become largest among portions of the population that are most disadvantaged, whether on racial, gender or economic grounds.

There is no mysterious conspiratorial force at work that gravitates AIDS towards the disadvantaged. People who are vulnerable to HIV have less capacity to avoid risks - they are more likely to have no alternative but to trade sex for money food or shelter, or be dislocated from their families in order to find work. When HIV does strike, they have fewer resources to cope with its impact. People who are socially excluded as a result of racial or other intolerance are deprived of the sense that their future is worth protecting.

The fact that today the overwhelming majority of people with HIV in the developing world do not have access to life-saving treatment is the most crying discrimination against the poor Success is possible against the HIV epidemic. HIV stigma can be attacked and discrimination overcome. The chains that link HIV to racism and inequality can be broken.

There are very concrete steps . we need to take to attack HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Here are five points for immediate action.
First: leaders at all levels, from politicians to religious leaders to local heroes, need to challenge visibly HIV-discrimination, spearhead public campaigns, and speak out against the multiple discriminations that poor people, women, ethnic minorities and gay men face in relation to HIV/AIDS.
Second: document HIV-related violations of human rights and conduct public inquiries into them.

Third: support groups of people living with HIV and ensure both that they have access to mechanisms to redress discrimination and that they are fully involved in the response to the epidemic.

Fourth: ensure that a supportive legislative environment exists so that discrimination can be tackled, in relation both to the impact and spread of the epidemic.

And fifth: ensure that both prevention and care services are accessible to all parts of the population, making particular efforts to overcome the barriers of racial, gender and other discrimination.

Building a response to the HIV epidemic grounded in respect, dignity and human rights is a moral imperative. But experience over the past twenty years tells us it is also the only pragmatic, practical solution to containing the spread of the epidemic and alleviating its impact.

Within UNAIDS, including all our co-sponsoring organisations, we have embraced human rights principles in tackling the epidemic. Equally, the myriad world bodies tackling racism, discrimination and rights, need to take on the global HIV epidemic as a central concern.

In fifty years time, will there be a conference that deplores the vast global AIDS epidemic as a legacy of racism and discrimination? Or will there be a conference that celebrates the great global movement that arose to fight the threat of AIDS, setting aside the divisions of race and gender and inequality?

It is up to us to choose.

Thank you.