It is a very special pleasure for me to be here and mark the launch of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s latest report, “Rights, Risks and Health”. Let me also acknowledge President Cardoso, the Chair of the Commission, who could not be with us. We thank him for his leadership and his fellow Commissioners for their work.
And I also want to thank particularly my friend, Helen Clark, for taking this initiative, showing this leadership and convening this Commission in 2010.
As Zeinab Badawi just said, I began my term as
UN Deputy Secretary-General only one week ago. I’m not really a new comer to the organization, so it’s coming home for me. I must say it’s a special feeling also to speak in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, which brings backs memories of my mentor in diplomatic life, namely Dag Hammarskjöld.
This meeting is one of my first public engagements and I’m very glad that it is on this very important subject. Under the delegated authority of the Secretary-General, I will have a special responsibility on Global Health. And you can count me as friend and ally in your work.
I have seen the effects of health hazards and the indignity of diseases or dealt with, and I’ve seen it in Africa, mainly when I was in Somalia and Sudan. And I feel it’s extremely important that we see the relationship also between health and development, of course, but also between health and peace and security. So, this issue has to be taken very seriously on all levels and in all parts of the organization and outside the organization, not least.
This is one of my first opportunities to advocate for greater protection of dignity and human rights, and the elimination, not least, of HIV-related stigma and discrimination wherever it is found.
I also want to thank you in this room for the great advances that have been made in our understanding of the value of human-rights-based responses in the fight against AIDS. And as you all know, we still have work to do and that’s why you are gathering here in this room.
We have shown how the law can promote equality and dignity, empower women, and safeguard marginalized communities from harassment and prejudice.
We have demonstrated how it can help drive down new infections by encouraging voluntary HIV testing and creating supportive environments – in homes, workplaces and communities -- where people feel safe to discuss their HIV status.
The law can also ensure that all people living with HIV, regardless of their financial means, have access to life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. We need both donors, as well as national governments, to make universal access truly sustainable. And I know we talked about this earlier today and you [Michel Sidibé] have done a great work in the progress in this field. And UNAIDS working with countries, like China and India, has new models that show how this can be done. How we need both the work on the international level, but of course, always on the national level where priorities have to be set according to the needs in this area.
This shared responsibility is at the very core of the UN charter. Last year, we saw the power of international cooperation at work when world leaders made groundbreaking commitments in the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. This included a commitment to review laws and policies that impede effective HIV responses.
And yet, as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent progress report concluded, persistent stigma and discrimination continue to undermine our efforts to end the suffering caused by this epidemic.
Let me also pause and say how deeply committed the Secretary-General is to this issue. He is very much engaged and you can count on him as a great supporter of the causes for which you are working and I will be at his side in this work.
I have seen for myself, all over the world, during the different parts of my career, the unjust and unacceptable discrimination to which people are subjected simply because they are living with HIV. This discrimination has served to increase HIV-related stigma and drive the AIDS epidemic, as you all know, underground.
It has made it extremely difficult for us to reach the most vulnerable people with prevention and care. We must do more – and we must do better.
I am glad that The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is pointing the way forward by highlighting the crucial role of law in addressing HIV at this turning point in the global AIDS response – a time when our efforts to contain and reverse the spread of HIV are starting to bear fruit.
That is why, as I said, the Secretary-General continues his passionate and persistent advocacy for legal reforms that will help eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination and by that accelerate our progress against the AIDS epidemic. I join the Secretary-General in urging Member States to eliminate HIV-related travel restrictions and abolish laws that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.
This Commission’s report presents compelling evidence and recommendations towards meeting these and other vital goals.
We have a chance to advance these goals by strengthening law-based responses to HIV today – and at the high-level meeting in the GA on the Rule of Law which is to be held on 24 September this year.
I thank you once again for your efforts to save lives, and save resources as we move closer to the transformative vision put forward by UNAIDS: a world of zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.
I thank you very much for everything you have done, for everything you are doing and above all, when I feel the energy in this room, for everything you will do.