31 March 2008
Thank you Chairpersons,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to welcome you to Palais Wilson, home of OHCHR, for the second meeting of the International Task Team on HIV-related travel restrictions. This gathering seeks to address a current issue which invokes the core of the human rights doctrine – non-discrimination. Thus, it is both relevant and timely for this meeting to take place here, where we endeavour to live up to the expectation as the house of excellence in promoting and protecting human rights.
The Task Team was established to draw attention to the issue of HIV-related travel restrictions and to move toward their elimination. The fact that some 74 countries impose travel restrictions on HIV-positive people is disconcerting and illustrates the magnitude of stigma and discrimination still faced by people living with HIV.
Today, we know more about the HIV pandemic than ever before, including that there is no rationale for limiting the enjoyment of the unprecedented mobility that this globalized world has brought about, based on HIV status. We need to find more effective ways to elaborate how HIV-related travel restrictions profoundly affect people’s lives and better articulate the inappropriateness of such restrictions. Travel restrictions for HIV-positive people also fuels misconceptions against other groups, for example that migrants are vectors of HIV and deflects attention from highlighting their vulnerability to HIV. Such restrictions are also an affront to commitments made by Member States in the Declaration of Commitment and the Political Declaration to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV and ensure universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
In her statement on the occasion of World AIDS Day last year, the High Commissioner called for an end to discrimination against people living with HIV and an end to punitive measures such as travel restrictions against them. The former Commission on Human Rights, now replaced by the Human Rights Council, confirmed that HIV status cannot serve as a ground for discrimination, and the human rights treaty bodies have also begun to formulate concluding observations related to restrictions on freedom of movement for people living with HIV.
While travel restrictions are a question of State sovereignty, it must be pointed out that States also have obligations under international law within which sovereign rights may be exercised. Under basic norms of non-discrimination, States must provide compelling reasons for any differentiation, in restricting travel for people living with HIV. We know that there are no such compelling reasons nor is there a public health rationale for restricting the freedom of movement based on HIV status. As a result, any such differentiation is discriminatory and thus unacceptable.
Human rights are essential to public health. The human rights standards and principles as enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in international human rights treaties are obligations which States must respect, protect and fulfil. People living with HIV are entitled to the same rights as others. Blanket travel restrictions for people living with HIV should be discouraged and eliminated because they are discriminatory and disproportionally affect their enjoyment of human rights.
Chairpersons, distinguished delegates,
I assure you of the full commitment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to this Task Team and our preparedness to assist you in meeting your objectives. I hope that this meeting will be constructive and forward looking so that together we may find meaningful ways to affect change.
Your endeavours to promote and protect the human rights of people living with HIV will contribute to making the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights even more meaningful and substantial.
Let me end by wishing you every success in your deliberations. I am confident that the recommendations that this Task Team will develop will be pragmatic, strategic and purposeful.