HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING ON ASSEMBLY HIV/AIDS SESSION

25 May 2001

HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING ON ASSEMBLY HIV/AIDS SESSION

25/05/2001
Press Briefing

HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING ON ASSEMBLY HIV/AIDS SESSION

"Good progress" had been made overall in ongoing negotiations on the draft outcome document to be adopted by the forthcoming special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, Penny Wensley, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, told a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.  The session is scheduled for 25 to 27 June.

She said representatives of the 189 Member States, who had been working long hours since the current round of negotiations began last Monday, were close to final agreement on some sections of the draft document.  They dealt with issues such as "leadership" in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic; young people orphaned by the disease; and those infected or affected by it.

There was still work to be done on areas relating to AIDS prevention and areas of conflict, she said, adding that the problems were not so much serious political differences, as the complexity of the text which contained many ideas and proposals.  Some of the political problems involved language in the preamble of the text; HIV/AIDS and human rights; and sections of the document concerning reduction of vulnerability to HIV/AIDS as well as care, support and treatment of sufferers.

She said nothing was insuperable, and that with goodwill and determination the necessary middle ground essential for an agreement could be found.  She said the important question of resources to fund projects had not yet been tackled.  The session was scheduled to conclude on Saturday.  Ms. Wensley said the biggest problem facing the negotiators was time.  She paid tribute to the contributions of technical and development experts, whose work had been invaluable to the negotiators.  She said every minute would be needed today and tomorrow, if the meeting were to "produce a concrete, action-oriented, clear, and readable document".

Ibra Deguène Ka, Permanent Representative of Senegal, who is the other co-facilitator of the negotiating process, reminded correspondents that this was a first special session of the General Assembly devoted to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  As history was being written, it was comprehensible that sensitivities would be expressed about certain issues.  Non-governmental organizations and civil society were also involved in the history that was being made.  Two sessions of dialogue had been held with their representatives that were very instructive and informative, he said.

                In a question and answer session, a correspondent observed that non-governmental organizations had complained that many of the contributions of their experts had not been taken into account by the session.  The correspondent asked whether there would be another negotiating session if delegations did not complete their work tomorrow.  Furthermore, what kind of draft document should be expected in the light of objections expressed by Muslim countries concerning references to sex education?

Replying, Mr. Ka said that since the beginning of the negotiating process, the co-facilitators had been in contact with representatives of non-governmental

organizations and civil society.  Documentation had been received from them and their representatives had also met with them, and other Secretariat officials. Their comments had been taken into account in the first revision of the draft document.  Dialogues had also been held with them, including those he had earlier mentioned.  Those meetings were very instructive and interesting, he said.  "The non-governmental organizations have to help us and help themselves, too", he added.  They must create public awareness about the issues at stake, and they must ensure their inclusion in government delegations to the session.

Ms. Wensley said non-governmental organizations had shown a great deal of enthusiasm about the process and their frustrations could be understood.  It had been known since last February that the current session would be devoted to an intergovernmental process dealing strictly with the draft declaration of commitment.  The fact that two full and valuable dialogues were held with them this week proved that Member States were interested in listening to their views.

She said there would be more similar opportunities for non-governmental organizations during the special session itself.  They would participate in the proposed round tables.  A very large number of associated activities would be organized which would also involve representatives of the business community.

She told the correspondent that it was planned to conclude the current negotiating session tomorrow night.  She said the sensitive issues emerged during discussion of the draft text on vulnerable groups as well as on human rights.  In some cases there were familiar sensitivities relating to women and women's empowerment -- giving them the capacity to make decisions about their own sexuality and access to facilities.  She believed that a way could be found to resolve all those problems.  It had been known from the beginning that there would be serious problems about the listing of vulnerable groups because of the cultural and religious sensitivities about that subject.

She said a middle ground had not been found as yet by delegations, and "we have something of a standoff".  "We hope that we'll be able to find a way through this, but at the moment that certainly is a very difficult area," she said.

Asked to explain those sensitivities, Ms. Wensley said in the areas of AIDS prevention and vulnerable groups, a number of recommendations had been put forward.  They included a pursuit of a wide range of prevention intervention, including reduction of mistaken behaviour, encouraging responsible sexual behaviour and expanding access to essential commodities, such as condoms and disposable syringes.  There were recommendations about crime reduction relating to drug use, expanded access to voluntary and confidential counselling and testing; safe blood supplies; early and effective treatment of sexually transmissible diseases.  

There was a very strong wish on the part of many Member States, she said, that there should be a focus on protecting and promoting the health of groups that were perceived to be the most vulnerable and at the greatest risk of HIV infection.  Those included children; men who had sex with men; sex workers and their clients; injecting drug users and their sexual partners; persons confined to institutions and prison populations; refugees and internally displaced persons; and people separated from their families.

She also said some governments were sensitive about their own national laws and legislation, and that should be taken into account.  A way should be found to accommodate them, she also said.  "We recognize that there are problems and we hope Member States would show flexibility and find some accommodation."

She told a questioner that those were not side issues but central ones in the negotiations.  Was the meeting bogged down by side issues? the correspondent asked.  Ms. Wensley said some of those had emerged.  It was natural that some countries might feel very strongly about unilateral coercive measures or intellectual property rights or trade freedoms.  Those questions had been put in brackets and would be dealt with later.

Asked how issues such as drug pricing, intellectual property rights and trade were being treated in the negotiations, Ms. Wensley said it was realized that the session "could not solve everything" and that "they were all very ambitious" in the draft document.  A balance was needed.  Delegations must recognize that progress was required and that those were clearly issues that had to be pursued in other forums.

Mr. Ka said it should be remembered that delegations were not negotiating at the World Health Organization or the World Trade Organization.  The forum was not the same.  The draft document that would be issued at the end of the special session would be one of political commitments.  The message of the special session should be borne in mind, and that was why "a dynamic compromise" should be found to tackle the controversial issues, he said.

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For information media. Not an official record.