Sunday, August 03, 2008

HRW at the International AIDS Conference, Mexico City

Mexico City, August 3, 2008

The Global Village and the Centro Banamex hummed with excitement as the conference kicked off today. Plenty of momentum and energy had accumulated over the past few days, heightening the energy. The pre-conference satellite meetings, which included a gathering of youth coalitions, panel discussions on challenges faced by women, and a plenary focused on men who have sex with men, facilitated early conversations and focused the energy of the 22,000 people who have arrived in Mexico City over the past week.

Of particular notice was a magnificent march against stigma and discrimination that grew out of the Global Forum on Men Who Have Sex with Men on Saturday. The parade, bursting with inspiration, attracted thousands of individuals, both Mexico City dwellers and conference attendees. The parade progressed down Paseo de la Reforma to el Zocalo, the city center. Music and dancing created a lively and excited mood; the cheers from onlookers added to the general feeling of optimism.

Today, the official start of the conference, the Global Village was in full swing. There were booths of organizations from all regions of the world, with Mexican organizations comprising about one-fifth of them. The village filled with youth, harm reduction, human rights, and faith-based organizations; workshops, discussions, and trainings; dancers, singers, and costumed methadone-men. Behind the light-heartedness, a sense of determination reflected the various mottos of the constituencies: “Universal Access Now”; “Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever”; “Women Won’t Wait”.

The reasons behind this determination are clear: the numbers continue to climb and the factors affecting specific social groups persist. At the close of 2007, 33 million people were living with HIV. In just 12 months, 2.5 million people became infected with the virus, and 2 million people died of it. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage was low—only 31% of people estimated to be in need of treatment in low- and middle-income countries were receiving it in 2007.

A report released here on Saturday by the US Center for Disease Control adds to the sense of urgency felt around the Global Village: the number of new infections in the US in 2006 was vastly underestimated by over 15,000; the numbers are now thought to be around 56,300, as compared to the previously thought 40,000. Homosexual and bisexual men and African-American men and women were the most affected groups.

At this AIDS Conference, Human Rights Watch will focus its efforts on advocacy around the research it conducted over the past few years on groups at particular risk of infection. HRW’s aim is to shed light on widespread human rights violations spurred by weak health systems and the enormous obstacles to universal access to prevention and treatment for HIV; such obstacles tend to disproportionately affect communities that are already marginalized and discriminated against. A rights-based approach to the epidemic restores the rights of people affected by HIV and AIDS, fights stigma and discrimination, and reduces vulnerability of the world's most marginalized individuals.

Recent HRW research that will be highlighted this week includes:
  • Examining South Africa’s decision to treat Zimbabweans merely as voluntary economic migrants and its failure to respond effectively to stop the human rights abuses and economic deprivation in Zimbabwe that cause their flight and to address their needs in South Africa;
  • Documenting how the Zambian government has fallen short of its international legal obligations to combat violence and discrimination against women and detailing abuses that obstruct women’s ability to start and adhere to HIV treatment regimens, including violence against women and insecure property rights that often force women into poverty and dependent, abusive relationships;
  • Advocating for access to effective drug addiction treatment in Russia and for access to anti-retroviral drugs for injecting drug users in Thailand;
  • Bringing attention to the lack of access to HIV prevention information and services for immigrants and prisoners living with HIV in US detention facilities;
  • Demanding that the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS advocates in China, Saudi Arabia, Zambia and Burma are respected.

The physical presence of HRW will be in the Human Rights Networking Zone (section 421), where 24 human rights organizations have come together to drive home the role of human rights in addressing the epidemic. A guide to the zone has been published that highlights the human rights-themed events during the conference.

This daily blog will contain highlights, commentary, links, and resources throughout the conference, so please look for updates and feel free to leave comments on the entries.

Event Monday, August 4th:
Joint HRW-Physicians for Human Rights press conference, 4pm, conference room 2
Focus: detention of Iranian HIV doctors
For background information, please see HRW's recent press release

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