Statement by the Chairman of Round Table 2
H.E. Mr. Grzegorz OPALA
Health Minister of Poland

27 June 2001

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

    Let me start my concluding remarks from sharing with you my deep conviction that the round table, which I had great honour to chair gave us the opportunity for truly open and creative discussion.
 
    I would like also to express my gratitude to all participants for their significant contribution to the discussion.

    There was clear and broad agreement among participants that a respect for, and promotions and protection of, human rights is vital to the successful fight against HIV/AIDS.

    Let me underline four aspects of human rights based approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic:

    First, respect for human rights is vital to prevent the further spread of the epidemic. When human rights are respected people are able to better protect themselves from being infected. In addition, society respecting human rights offers more efficient protection to those who are not infected;

    Second, respect for human rights empowers individuals addressing the social, cultural and legal factors thus reducing their vulnerability to infection;

    Third, respect for human rights reduces stigma and discrimination. This helps to strengthen support and care for individual already infected, thus reducing the negative impact;

    Fourth, respect for human rights allows individuals and communities to better respond to the epidemic. They are able to act effectively by organizing themselves and accessing relevant information for prevention and care.
 
    Participates indicated that there is a vital link between an effective and sustainable response to the HIV/ AIDS crisis and respect for ALL human rights especially those that guarantee non-discrimination, gender equality and the meaningful participation of affected and vulnerable groups.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

    The human rights message is a positive one. Many participants underlined that protecting the rights of people with HIV/AIDS means treating them not as victims, but rather as bearers of rights. Respect for human dignity must be the core of our actions.

    The need for accountability at all levels was raised, from governments to the international community. Not only for what we do but also for what we neglect to do.

    Many spoke of how HIV/AIDS impacts on series of rights, including the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health; to non-discrimination and gender equality; to privacy, to freedom of expression and association; to education; to information, including education about sex; to employment rights and right to development.

    The link between the spread of HIV/AIDS and poverty was also acknowledged with calls for the right to development to be seriously addressed.

    Participant noted that protection of intellectual property rights is important, but that this should not override enjoyment of human rights, especially the right to adequate access to medication and care.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

    During the debate many delegations indicated that the time had come to break the silence around HIV/AIDS, calling for open and blunt public discourse about the factors that allow HIV/AIDS to thrive, how it is transmitted and who is affected. Governments were encouraged to lead open and inclusive discussions. Only by breaking the silence will problems and challenges be addressed and effective solutions found.

    An important aspect of breaking the silence - which was stressed repeatedly, was the need to challenge and redress stigma and discrimination, especially with regard to gender, sexual behaviour,  inequality and justice.

    The right to non-discrimination is a fundamental human right. Discrimination and stigma - borne of ignorance - has driven the failure to meaningfully address HIV/AIDS. It has raised a wall blocking recognition of the extent of the crisis, blocking access of the vulnerable, stopping those affected from coming forward, blocking the provision of information; and sidelining from participation those infected and affected. The principie of non-discrimination is also the basis for effective realisation of all other rights.

    A number of delegations pointed to the need to address gender inequality in a serious manner, to empower women and girls, to ensure their right to information, especially sexual information, to ensure their access to treatment and to ensure their protection from violence and abuse. It was pointed out that the failure to respect women's rights goes beyond an injustice - it is fatal.

    Gender inequality is fuelling the rapid spread of HIV. Many women and girls are not in a position to say no to unwanted sex, nor can they negotiate condom use.

    The power imbalances between men and women are a major factor in driving the epidemic. Further, women are increasingly taking on the burden of caring for the sick and dying, as well as for the next generation.

    Many speakers addressed the right to participate and the importance of ensuring that the response to the epidemic is inclusive. A supportive environment should be created for all individuals and communities to effectively participate (that is: people living with HIV/AIDS, children, women, and other vulnerable groups).

    Concluding, I would like to stress that it was common view that the rights to non-discrimination, equality and participation, which are reflected in the draft Declaration of Commitment are the starting point for our actions. The Declaration is an essential tool for assisting governments and civil society to address human rights in the context of the epidemic at national, regional and international levels. It contains measurable goals and targets to address human rights issues. It emphasises the need for strengthening monitoring mechanisms for HIV/AIDS related human rights. It is also the first time a Declaration on HIV/AIDS has acknowledged the importance of accountability.

    Implementation of the Declaration requires States' full commitment to the principles of non-discrimination, equality and participation in all HIV/AIDS related activities and programs.

Thank you for your kind attention.