AIDS conference to demand action not words over human rights

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The host country of an AIDS conference has been criticised for falling short on commitments made to address HIV-related human rights abuses.

17th International AIDS Conference will be held in Mexico in early August.

The Mexican government has been accused of failing to implement promises to address HIV-related human rights abuses.

“Mexico has good laws on HIV/AIDS,” said Anuar Luna Cadena of the Mexican Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“But government institutions don’t adequately monitor abuses faced by people living with HIV or make sure they get the treatment and the protection they’re legally entitled to.”

The conference is appropriately titled ‘Universal Action Now’ as 400 AIDS and human rights organisations called on governments across the globe to end the human rights abuses fuelling the spread of HIV and AIDS, stating little progress can be done without taking action.

“Ahead of the 17th International AIDS Conference, governments are still violating the rights of people living with or at high risk of HIV infection,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch.

“Governments have done little to fulfil their frequent promises to end HIV-related rights abuses.

“But until they act to end such abuses, even the best-planned policies to treat HIV and stop the spread of AIDS will fail.”

In Africa, nearly one-third of all new HIV infections occur among injecting drug users but prevention measures, such as needle-exchange programmes and medication-assisted treatment with methadone, are banned by law in many countries.

“It is a tragic irony that those at highest risk of HIV often receive the least attention,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“In many countries, drug users are the majority of people living with HIV, but the smallest group receiving antiretroviral treatment. When they’re arrested, they’re even less likely to receive the HIV prevention and treatment services they need.”

HIV and AIDS services for sex workers and gay men are also targeted by abusive police forces.

They confiscate condoms from outreach workers and extort bribes, confessions, testimony, and sexual “favours” from sex workers.

Meanwhile, in Africa, laws that deny women equal access to divorce, property, and inheritance increase vulnerability to infection and hinder access to treatment.

Domestic violence or rape by a partner is not seen as a crime thus women are more at risk from infection.

“African governments rush to ratify international conventions, but drag their feet when it comes to ensuring human rights protections for women,” said Michaela Clayton, director of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa.

“Legislation protecting women’s rights has languished in African parliaments for years. Protecting women from violence and securing equal rights to property are critical steps to stemming the AIDS epidemic.”

The 2008 AIDS fact sheet states that Universal Action Now is “an important reminder that the HIV/AIDS epidemic does not exist in a vacuum.

“Strengthening health systems in developing countries and addressing underlying social injustices that contribute to HIV risk and vulnerability – such as poverty, gender inequality and homophobia – are essential strategies in the global response to HIV.

“For those not yet engaged in the struggle, Universal Action Now is an invitation to get involved and make a difference.”

“There is no shortage of rhetoric about the importance of human rights in responding to HIV,” said Vivanco.

“This conference is the time to turn words into action.”