Next week’s conference coincides with two important dates in the history of the epidemic -- the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS, as well as ten years since the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). The theme of this year’s conference – “Time to Deliver” – highlights the sad fact that the advances made in HIV treatment and prevention have yet to reach the vast majority of those in need.
Human Rights Watch first did an in-depth report on HIV/AIDS and human rights in 2001. Since then, we’ve done about 30 more reports. We’ve reported on HIV/AIDS and human rights from many different perspectives, and from the viewpoints of many affected populations around the world. From injecting drug users in the Ukraine to displaced populations in Zimbabwe; from women in the Dominican Republic to schoolchildren in Uganda.
AIDS can be found in truly every country of the world. The response virtually everywhere has been the same – first to deny that AIDS exists, then to say it only affects “other people” – foreigners, “deviants”, “sinners”. Governments have failed to respond quickly – even though it is in their best interests to act quickly, proactively, and to adopt policies which are effective and which respect human rights. How many millions of people have become needlessly infected because governments delayed providing honest information on AIDS? Or refused to allow needle exchanges? Or prohibited condom distribution to youth, or even to sex workers? Unfortunately we can’t ask this question in the past tense – it’s still the case in too many countries: How many more millions of people need to die?
In our advocacy at Toronto, we will push for several changes to current approaches to HIV/AIDS. First, we will encourage governments to step away from moralistic anti-HIV campaigns in favor of more effective prevention and treatment programs rooted in science and human rights. Additionally, we will urge national governments and international bodies to accept accountability for the epidemics that they face and to involve civil society in their response, and in monitoring progress in their response.
Members of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch will be on hand to participate in a number of conference panels and discussion sessions. Joe Amon is going to present at a panel providing an “Overview of human rights violations fueling the HIV epidemic” on August 14. On August 17, Researcher Rebecca Schleifer will present “Rhetoric and Risk”” – a report documenting rights abuses and HIV among Ukrainian drug users – at a panel on law, human rights and HIV. We’ll also have a poster on our recent research in Romania on the discrimination and abuse facing children living with HIV, which will be presented on August 14. The entire program of conference events can be found here.
For more information on the work of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch, and to find out more about the XVI International AIDS Conference, check out our webpage. The site features our reports as well as links to information on a number of organizations we’ve partnered with worldwide. You will also find clips of audio interviews with those at the forefront of the AIDS movement, report summaries and news. Be sure to keep checking back for updates!