Human rights vital in fighting AIDS

HIV is not just a virus. It is also about people who endure discrimination and a wide array of human rights violations.

Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang accompanied by OHCHR staff and members of IKON, a local NGO in Bali, which advocates for drug users rehabilitation and access to HIV prevention, treatment and care. © OHCHR“Many people think drug users are criminals, but there are many reasons why people use drugs – poverty, social pressures, lack of education, and an inability to find employment,” said Gusti Ngurah Wahyunda, Coordinator of IKON, a non-governmental organization (NGO) helping people who use drugs in Bali, Indonesia.

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang visited IKON during the ninth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which took place from 9 to 13 August in Bali. The NGO has reached some 700 injecting drug users in Bali and currently has 200 clients, 75% of them are HIV positive.

A group of former drug users, who are now volunteers at IKON, told Kang their experiences and how injecting drug users are more vulnerable to HIV, discrimination and human rights violations.

Wahyunda said that according to research conducted seven years ago, 78 per cent of injecting drug users in Bali were HIV positive. However, data from last year indicates a significant drop to 38 per cent, although the number of drug users who seek voluntary counselling and testing also decreased.

“At times both male and female injecting drug users sell sex in order to fund their drug use, this makes them even more vulnerable to HIV,” Wahyunda said.

“We want drug users in Bali to know their human rights and for people to recognise that injecting drug use is a health problem that requires rehabilitation and not criminal punishment or coercive treatment,” he added.

“People who use drugs do not surrender their human rights,” the Deputy High Commissioner said. “We must find better ways of holding governments accountable for their obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of people who use drugs.”

Kang also spoke of the various human rights mechanisms available for drug users to address violations of their human rights if national remedies prove to be ineffective.

The Deputy High Commissioner attended the Bali international conference to send a clear message that the protection of human rights is dispensable in addressing the AIDS epidemic.

“Where human rights are neglected, HIV responses have been ineffective. Far too many lives have been lost to AIDS and often as a result of a number of human rights violations,” she told the conference.

13 August 2009