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Lifting HIV-related travel restrictions

The International Task Team on HIV-Related Travel Restrictions has pointed out that HIV-related travel restrictions raise serious human rights concerns, including violations of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, freedom of movement, and the right to privacy.

Susan Timberlake, Senior Law and Human Rights Adviser at UNAIDS, co-chaired the task team on the elimination of HIV-related travel restrictions - OHCHR PhotoThe Task Team, consisting of representatives of government, intergovernmental organizations and the United Nations such as UNAIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), civil society, including networks of people living with HIV, is an advisory and technical body tasked to draw attention to HIV-related travel restrictions and develop recommendations to eliminate such restrictions.

In an address to the Task Team, Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that travel restrictions on HIV positive individuals were discriminatory and affected their human rights.

“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,” said the Deputy High Commissioner when she opened the Task Team’s second meeting in early April at Palais Wilson, Geneva. 

“In particular, under basic norms of non-discrimination, States must provide compelling reasons for any differentiation in treatment, including in restricting travel for people living with HIV. We know that there are no such compelling reasons,” she added.

Lilian Moreko, a member of the International Community of Women Living with HIV, has been living with HIV for the past decade. In 2005, she was denied a visa because of her HIV positive status.

“The process is challenging and stigmatising. I would not want anyone to go through that kind of situation I have gone through,” Moreko said, pointing out that discriminatory treatment of HIV positive travellers was counterproductive in combating HIV AIDS.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, some governments have put in place restrictions that bar people living with HIV from visiting and or residing in their countries. In these countries, the disclosure of HIV status or mandatory testing is often without the safeguards of counselling, privacy or confidentiality is frequently a prerequisite for entry, for short term and or long term stays.

The impact of such requirements on people living with HIV is often profound including deportation, denial of entry into countries where important meetings on HIV are taking place, loss of employment, denial of asylum, and increased stigma and discrimination.

“There is no public health rationale for travel restrictions and there is no evidence that HIV positive people incur excessive demand on public funds so there is no reason for restricting their freedom of movement for economic reasons,” said Susan Timberlake of UNAIDS, Co-chair of the Task Team.

Under the co-chairmanship of UNAIDS and the Government of Norway, the International Task Team will meet regularly over a period of six months this year in order to develop recommendations on the elimination of HIV-related travel restrictions. As a member of the Task Team, the OHCHR continues to advocate for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights for all, including individuals living with HIV.

April 2008