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Opening of the Consultation on HIV and Human Rights

Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, Palais des Nations, Salle XII, 12 February 2019

Good morning everybody. It’s a joy to see you all gathered here. Thank you so very much for giving the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights such a wonderful way to start official business in 2019. With the gift of Chinese New Year, I can still say happy new year to you all. It is a New Year whose theme is a promise of prosperity for us all - which is the topic for this session.  What would a truly prosperous, compassionate and just response to the HIV epidemic look like?  How can we effectively, inclusively, sustainably and radically shift the status - the negative status - under which still so many people living with HIV and AIDS languish?

We thank you for your presence here. We know that through you we are reaching out into networks of influence and consideration – tables of decision-making and resourcing - that extend the world over. That you have found the time and chosen to join us here in Palais de Nations for this purpose – is a true gift. For that, we are enormously grateful.

I am particularly honoured to join this esteemed Panel, and we warmly appreciate the participation of Her Excellence the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Brazil, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, and of my UN family colleagues: Mr. Tim Martineau, Deputy Executive Director a.i., UNAIDS, and Dr. Ren Mingui, Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases, WHO, as well as Mr. Rico Gustav, Executive Director, Global Network of People Living with HIV – than you for the gift of your contributions and indeed your leadership and commitment.

We are particularly appreciative and indeed grateful for the leadership of the core group of Member States - Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, Portugal and Thailand - who are responsible for bringing forward to the Human Rights Council that consideration which subsequently led to the adoption of resolution 38/8, adopted by consensus, making another milestone of recognition and affirmation that the HIV epidemic is indeed a human rights epidemic.  An epidemic of human rights loss, denial, derailment and, in some instances, in many instances, an epidemic of human rights abuse and even violation.  

The Council’s resolution is a milestone that recognises - conceptually, legally and practically - just what an asset to effective and sustained response to the HIV epidemic the framework of human rights laws norms and standards is.  The resolution is a milestone for the international community and for its leadership in application of that framework and specifically of rights to and through the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health – of all human rights, universal and indivisible.

Friends, as we search here together to identify affordable, practical, do-able and just transformative solutions the work in contexts where the epidemic has flourished rather than contracted, let us recall that we have already promised to implement exactly that.  Such solutions are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Agenda. That agenda is strong, not only unique, in its universal challenge, and in its call on all Member States without exclusion. It is particular in its invitation further to us all – to understand and support the integration of delivery across all its goals in order that every population – no matter their identity, location or context - enjoys access to a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous planet.

It is for this reason that we again commend the Core Group for its leadership, for enabling us - under the instruction of the Human Rights Council - to come here so that we might contribute support to fully inclusive implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda.  We once again thank Her Excellency, the Ambassador of Brazil, for the Brazil’s leadership on the right to health over many years now and for her personal attention to these critical issues.

Friends, rights to and through health, specifically for those living with HIV and AIDs, ask us to recall this integrated story - this universal vision that is the 2030 agenda. SDG 3 makes explicit the commitment to healthy lives for all, however, target 3.3 applies it specifically so that there is no wiggle room to be had in regards to upholding the right to health of people living with HIV and AIDs!  

But the even deeper opportunity for us to grasp here, is that were we to thus address our response to HIV from a more fully human rights-based standpoint, we would find ourselves joined also to dismantling of so much more that is toxic to human dignity than HIV alone.  For a human rights-based response to HIV is also and critically an entry point, - a window of significant opportunity - by which to dismantle the broader toxicity of discrimination, bigotry, phobia and identity-based inequality.  After all, the gravest costs of HIV and AIDS track precisely the contours of the deepest and worst discriminations that drive the toughest and most life-threatening exclusions. By nature of the epidemic’s interlinkages with bigotry such as homophobia and sexism; with hatefulness against key populations and with poverty and exclusion of people affected by HIV and AIDS, were we to address this epidemic powerfully, justly, inclusively and sustainably we would shift just so much more.

You know better than I do, that the pivot point of the sustainable development agenda is to leave no one behind. That’s its truly transformative essence. So, over the course of the coming discussion, we will ask you to pause and reflect, to help us think carefully about how to work well with the depth and breadth of that promise; to help us reveal more fully its truly transformative power. Imagine that - No one to be left behind? Not one by number. Not one single person. No one, no matter our status or identity, place or position. No one, nowhere.  None left further behind for any reason: no matter how passionately is held a belief that hates; a faith that denounces; an ideology that rejects, or a policy that excludes – none is legitimate, acceptable or to be tolerated as a reason, excuse, explanation or cause for any us to be left behind.

Arguably, not since the General Assembly resolve for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 - with its profound and unequivocal affirmation that born we all are free and equal in dignity and rights - has there been a more transformative, existentially relevant or more broad reaching, dignifying promise than this promise to leave no one behind!  

It is clear that at the intersections of these promises – that of the UDHR and of “leave no one behind”, there sits anew and contemporarily so, the affirmation that there is nothing that can justifiy the bigotry, discrimination and exclusion that has plagued this epidemic.  And it means, we have already promised to bring that exclusion to a powerful, conclusive and inclusive end.

There is still 37 million people in the world living with HIV, with hundreds of thousands still losing their lives to the epidemic each year. It is a tragedy whose gravest imprint is on the daily lives of people the world over, and most harshly felt on the African continent. It is women, young people and key populations who are most directly afflicted by the human rights failings in our response to HIV.  The health agenda in that response is essential and sets out as a top priority services, treatment, and care.  But a human rights agenda asks of us more as well.  It asks of us an inclusive and deliberate proactive programme of dismantling toxics attitudes, behaviour and conduct by government and non-government actors alike towards those who are living most directly with the cost of the epidemic. Without deep-seated advances in our efforts to root out ignorance and bigotry that manifests as homophobia, misogyny, and prejudice against key populations there will be no enduring advance in health or medical response. And this is the integrated opportunity of human rights and health-based responses to HIV and AIDS.

Friends, let us not mince words here. Lives hang in the balance of our courage. Stigma and discrimination are the authors of violence and abuse, and the progenitors of the suffering, and ultimately, the preventable deaths that indeed are the true plague against our resolution of the HIV epidemics, costs and casualties.  It looks like we will fail to make UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment targets by 2020. And we won’t meet the 3.3 target of the 2030 Agenda if we continue with such high tolerance for intolerance.

The epidemic is a tragedy of global proportions, but the journey we have already travelled through response to it is impressive, thanks largely, to human rights defenders and to civil society. If it had been left to those of us in power, so little would have been done so late. So, more effective response also lies in what we have already learnt: that to accelerate and expand effective response to HIV we must expand participation and contribution by people living with HIV and AIDS directly, and we must protect their rights to stand up for their human rights. If we do so more urgently and more effectively, each and every one of us will be taken closer to that moment when all human rights are upheld for all.

You have a day and half to discuss these matters and to identify together key regional and sub-regional strategies and best practices, evidence, learning and challenges. Monitoring, accountability and empowerment play an important role in advancing human rights-based solutions, so it will also be useful to consider the role of human rights institutions and civil society at national and regional levels. We also hope you will consider advice on conclusive steps towards greater freedom from stigma, discrimination, violence and abuse. In this regard, it will be particularly important to consider the situation faced by key populations, children and young people.

We are very much here to learn from your experience and to benefit from your wisdom. We look forward very much to your challenge propositions to ensure this important meeting is a truly transformative meeting.  And, again thank you for the gift of your presence here with us.