26 June 2001


Press Briefing


Lack of respect for human rights drove the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the extent to which human rights were neglected or promoted was a major factor in determining the spread and speed of the infection’s progression to AIDS, Grzegorz Opala, Minister of Health of Poland and Chairman of Round Table 2 of the special session on HIV/AIDS, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference. 

The Health Minister was joined by the Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations, Janusz Stanczyk upon the conclusion of the work of Round Table 2 on the relationship between HIV/AIDS and human rights.  The Minister said that there was an inescapable link between a truly effective and sustainable response to the HIV/AIDS crisis and respect for all human rights, especially those that guaranteed non-discrimination, gender equality and the meaningful participation of affected and vulnerable groups.  Indeed, respect for human rights was vital to preventing the further spread of the epidemic.  When human rights were respected, people were better able to protect themselves from being infected with the HIV virus. 

Also he said that respect for human rights empowered individuals and reduced their vulnerability to infection.  Human rights addressed the social, cultural and legal factors that increased people's vulnerability to infection.  Respect for human rights also reduced stigma and discrimination.  That helped to strengthen support and care for individuals already infected, thus reducing the negative impact.  Respect for human rights further allowed individuals and communities to better respond to the epidemic.  Through their full participation, they could organize themselves and access relevant information for prevention and care. 

The silence must be broken, he said.  Everyone must talk openly and bluntly about the factors that allowed HIV/AIDS to thrive, how it was transmitted and who was affected.   Breaking the silence would provoke a public dialogue, not only on the problems and challenges but also on the solutions.  An important part of breaking the silence was breaking down the discrimination, in terms of minority rights, gender, sexual behaviour, inequality and injustice.  Gender inequality was fuelling the rapid spread of HIV with women divested of control over their lives and their bodies.  Many woman and girls were not in a position to say no to unwanted sex, nor could they negotiate condom use.  The power imbalances between men and women were major factors in fuelling the epidemic, even as women were increasingly taking on the burden of caring for the sick and dying as well as the next generation.

He said the draft declaration of commitment, to be adopted at the special session, was a useful tool for assisting governments and civil society in addressing human rights in the context of the epidemic at national, regional and international levels.  Recognizing that the HIV epidemic was a global emergency and a formidable challenge to human life and dignity, as well as to the effective enjoyment of human rights, the declaration:  emphasized the need to break the silence surrounding the epidemic, in particular through addressing HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination; reaffirmed that fully respecting, protecting and fulfilling all human rights was an essential element; acknowledged the

Poland AIDS Conference              - 2 -             26 June 20001

importance of participation of civil society, particularly people living with HIV/AIDS, vulnerable groups and caregivers; and identified measurable goals and targets to address human rights issues, as well as monitoring mechanisms for HIV/AIDS-related human rights. 

For the first time, he continued, a declaration on HIV/AIDS had acknowledged the importance of accountability.  By spelling out follow-up action, the declaration required a periodic review of commitments made by governments at the special session.  The process called on the participation of civil society, particularly people living with HIV/AIDS, vulnerable groups and caregivers, to note progress achieved in reaching the commitments and identify problems and obstacles to further progress.  That process included a promise that results of those reviews would be made widely available.  International human rights law provided a critical framework for responding to the challenges of HIV/AIDS because its approach was relevant to all countries at all stages of development.  All governments had the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights commitments.

He noted that the round-table discussions had highlighted several challenges for follow-up.  Among them, the principle of non-discrimination was the basis for the effective realization of all other rights, such as rights to health care and services, employment, education and freedom of association.  Also the principle of equality, which should be enhanced by laws, policies and practices on the basis of gender and other factors, particularly in health care and prevention commodities and services.  Participation was another challenge.  It was important to ensure that the response to the epidemic was inclusive.  A supportive environment should be created for the effective participation of all individuals and communities, such as people living with HIV/AIDS, children, women and other vulnerable groups. 

Asked about the importance of the draft declaration and whether it would be modified, he said that many countries had endorsed the declaration, which was no longer controversial. 

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For information media. Not an official record.