Custom Search

Jun 6, 2008

Letter to Dr. Peter Piot; Human Rights and Universal Access at High Level Meeting

6 June 2008

Dear Peter,

Human Rights and Universal Access at High Level Meeting

I am writing on behalf of the UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights to express a number of concerns related to the lack of focus on human rights at the forthcoming High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS, and to kindly request that, in your interventions at the Meeting, you use the opportunity to highlight the importance of action not only on stigma and discrimination, but the full range of human rights issues that create barriers to universal access.

As you know, at the High Level Meeting in 2006, world leaders reaffirmed that “the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all is an essential element in the global response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic” (emphasis added). Yet, more than 25 years into the AIDS epidemic, the “essential element” continues to receive insufficient attention in the responses to HIV, as over 350 civil society organizations from countries across the world have pointed out by adopting the declaration, “Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More than Ever”[1]. Without much greater political commitment to, and implementation of, a human rights-based response to HIV, translating into appropriate programming, funding and monitoring in countries, universal access cannot be achieved.

In this context, we have a number of specific concerns:

1) The Report of the Secretary-General contains the “key findings” that “[a]lthough the number of countries with laws to protect people living with HIV from discrimination has increased since 2003, one third of countries still lack such legal protections” and that “[w]hile 74 per cent of countries have policies in place to ensure equal access to HIV-related services for vulnerable groups, 57 per cent of these have laws or policies that impede access to HIV services.” Nevertheless, the report contains no “key recommendations” related to human rights or even to stigma and discrimination.

2) Despite the fact that the Reference Group (in a communication to Peter Piot of 30 March 2008), as well as the Civil Society Task Force set up to advise the President of the General Assembly on matters related to the High Level Meeting, asked for a panel on human rights at the High Level Meeting, no such panel will
take place.

3) We share the concern (first expressed by the Civil Society Task Force in a letter to you of 12 May 2008) about the fact that there is a lack of emphasis on the commitment to universal access by 2010 in the documents prepared for the High Level Meeting and particularly in the background paper for the panel on universal access.

4) The background paper for the panel on universal access only refers to the need to eliminate stigma and discrimination, but fails to mention other essential human rights actions. While we fully support the need for action on stigma and discrimination, which needs to be vastly scaled up, stigma and discrimination are too often used to avoid the serious and more difficult issues involved in human rights and HIV that governments need to address in national responses to HIV if universal access is ever to be realized. These include gender equality, violence against women, denial of HIV information and education especially for young people, failure to protect orphans and assist caregivers, denial of information and services for those criminalized and stigmatized, and criminalization of HIV transmission.

As a result, human rights issues risk, once again, being marginalized at the High Level Meeting, instead of being discussed seriously with a view of moving from rhetoric to vastly scaling up programmatic action on human rights and HIV.

As a first step to developing more comprehensive guidance on what constitute valid goals of universal access, what actual programmes should be implemented, and what processes are needed at country level, from a human rights perspective, the Reference Group has developed the attached short statement on the need for greater attention to human rights in the context of efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

We very much hope you will find this statement useful, will ensure its wide dissemination at the High Level Meeting, and will take every opportunity at the meeting, including in your public statements, to highlight the need for much greater action on human rights and HIV,.

Many thanks in advance for devoting attention to this issue, and best regards,


Mark Heywood

Chair, UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights

cc: Margaret Chan

Antonio Maria Costa

Kemal Dervis

Antonio Guterres

Koichiro Matsuura

Thoraya Obaid

Joy Phumaphi

Josette Sheeran

Juan Somavia

Ann Veneman

[1] See the list of endorsing organizations at


DrugUsersNeverQuit (DrugWarLog) (ArtCoreFromTheHardCore)

Blog Directory - Blogged