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The role of OHCHR

The mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is to ensure universal enjoyment of all human rights, to remove obstacles to their effective implementation, and to enhance coordination and cooperation of human rights-related activities throughout the United Nations system. As human rights are intimately linked with the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS, OHCHR endeavours to contribute to an effective and sustainable response to the epidemic by raising awareness and understanding of the human rights dimensions of HIV/AIDS and by strengthening capacities to address HIV/AIDS-related human rights issues at the national and international levels. In addition, OHCHR has, for several years, worked in close collaboration with UNAIDS towards the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS.

In 1999, UNAIDS and OHCHR agreed to strengthen their cooperation in order to streamline activities in the field of HIV/AIDS and human rights. Key objectives of this ongoing collaboration include:

  • The integration of HIV/AIDS issues into the work of the United Nations human rights machinery,
  • Ensuring the integration of a human rights perspective into the response of other UN agencies and programmes to the HIV epidemic,
  • Strengthening capacity at the national level to address HIV-related human rights issues, and
  • Global and regional advocacy.

OHCHR has made progress towards these objectives, in particular by supporting the work of the UN Human Rights Council and its special rapporteurs, the UN treaty bodies, the universal periodic review, national human rights institutions, as well as mainstreaming issues within the broader UN system.

The UN Human Rights Council (and before it the Commission on Human Rights) has long considered the impact of HIV and AIDS on human rights and, since 1996, has addressed the issue as part of its formal agenda. OHCHR has provided the Council with information and support on the issue of HIV/AIDS, including preparation of reports of the Secretary-General to the Council on measures taken by member States towards implementation of provisions contained in HIV/AIDS-related resolutions. The Council has and continues to adopt resolutions which focus on the epidemic. They have focused on addressing the protection of human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS (for the most recent resolution click here) and previous resolutions focused on access to medication in pandemics (for the most recent resolution click here). As part of its continuing mandate, OHCHR prepares the Secretary-General's reports on the protection of human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS.

UNAIDS and OHCHR continue to work together to encourage the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to address HIV in their reports and urgent appeals. The objective is to develop a strategic approach for the integration of HIV/AIDS-related issues into the mandates and work of special rapporteurs, special representatives and independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and in so doing strengthen country level HIV/AIDS related human rights work.

The Office has provided regular briefings, together with UNAIDS, to the human rights treaty bodies with information on the background and status of the epidemic in priority countries; analysis of the links between HIV/AIDS and the core international human rights treaties; and identification of particular issues of concern. OHCHR has provided support to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in developing a General Comment on HIV/AIDS and the rights of the child , as well as the General Comment on adolescent health and development. Evidence of progress can be found in the increased attention paid by UN human rights treaty bodies to HIV/AIDS-related issues, most notably in the increased references to HIV/AIDS in concluding observations and recommendations to States parties to the treaties.

OHCHR accords priority to the establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions in accordance with the relevant international standards (the "Paris Principles", adopted in 1993 by the General Assembly). OHCHR and UNAIDS have published a handbook for national institutions on the links between respect for human rights and the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The Office has also drawn the attention of the broader UN system to the human rights dimensions of HIV/AIDS. OHCHR has contributed to the integration of a human rights perspective into the work of other UN agencies and programmes, including through input to inter-agency policy documents. For example, the IASC Guidelines for Addressing HIV in Humanitarian Settings. It has also reported to the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights/Human Rights Council on developments and activities related to HIV/AIDS and human rights.

Future Directions

OHCHR is committed to continuing its efforts to ensure a rights-based response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As such, it will continue to carry out its efforts and activities in this regard as described above. In addition to these activities, UNAIDS and OHCHR have identified the following as key programming priorities:

  • Promoting the further understanding and implementation of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS, including by effective dissemination of the 2006 Consolidated version of UNAIDS/OHCHR International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights , and
  • Strengthening capacity at the national level to address HIV/AIDS-related human rights issues