International coalition demands that governments adopt human rights protections in HIV Efforts

30 November 2007
International coalition demands that governments adopt human rights protections in HIV Efforts

More than 30 leading AIDS organizations from around the world including, The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) have called for a major shift in the global response to HIV/AIDS, by issuing an unprecedented joint declaration on the need to put legal and human rights protections at the center of HIV efforts.

The declaration, “Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever,” focuses on populations most vulnerable to HIV: women and girls, young people, injecting drug users, sex workers, gay and bisexual men, and imprisoned people. These groups are the most in need of comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment programs, including access to anti-retroviral drugs, yet they continue to face discrimination and abuse worldwide and are often denied access to life-saving programs. As a result, HIV continues to spread unchecked in communities worldwide.

“It’s plain and simple: without a greater focus on law and human rights, the global response to AIDS will stagger and fail,” said Jonathan Cohen of the Open Society Institute (OSI), which sponsored the declaration. “This is widely recognized, yet few governments have ensured human rights protections for people living with or vulnerable to HIV.”

“Universal access to HIV testing is critical, but there is no evidence suggesting that human rights need to be relaxed in order to achieve this goal,” said Kevin Moody of the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, which endorsed the declaration. “Public health and human rights can and should go hand in hand.”

The lack of legal protections for African women, who comprise the majority of infections on the continent worst-affected by HIV, best illustrates the need to combine public health with human rights approaches. In many countries, governments do not aggressively prosecute domestic violence or even recognize the crime of marital rape. This leaves women vulnerable to HIV infection from their spouses and intimate partners.  Preventing HIV in these situations is as much a legal challenge as a public health one, experts say.

“The Botswana Parliament is currently discussing the Domestic Violence Bill. This is an opportune moment for the state to categorically outlaw any violence against women in the home, which should include the criminalization of marital rape,” said Christine Stegling, BONELA.