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“AIDS epidemic still being driven by human rights violations” – UN experts warn

AIDS & rights violations

03 June 2016

GENEVA (3 June 2016) – In an public statement* ahead of the High-Level Meeting on ending AIDS by 2030 (New York, 8-10 June), a group of United Nations independent experts has warned that the AIDS epidemic is still driven by human rights violations around the world, including discrimination, violence, punitive laws, policies and practices.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on the right health Dainius Pῡras; on human rights defenders, Michel Forst; on extreme poverty, Philip Alston; and on violence against women Dubravka Šimonović; and the Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against women, Frances Raday, urged all Governments to remove punitive laws, policies and practices, including overly broad criminalization of HIV transmission, third-party notification requirements, mandatory testing and others that block key populations’ access to health services, goods and information.
“Such laws and practices impede, and sometimes altogether bar, certain populations from accessing information, as well as health goods and services that are critical to the prevention, treatment, and care of HIV,” they said.

The UN experts noted that AIDS response has shown the importance of human rights when it comes to overcoming barriers that block effective responses to HIV, for better health and for advancing rights. “Using the power of human rights, people living with HIV and HIV/AIDS defenders have secured important victories, including access to medicines, law reform and the inclusion of human rights programmes in HIV responses.”

“But the HIV epidemic continues to be a metaphor for great inequalities within and between countries,” the human rights experts underlined. “Ending the AIDS epidemic in a way that leaves no one behind requires reaching out to populations that are deeply marginalized, even criminalized.”

“Regrettably, over the past few years, we are witnessing a trend of increased criminalization of key populations most affected by HIV in certain parts of the world which fuels stigma, discrimination and violence against them,” they said. 

Specific populations that continue to be left out and bear the brunt of the epidemic include people who inject drugs, who are 24 times more likely to acquire HIV; women in prostitution/sex workers, who are 10 times more likely to acquire HIV; men who have sex with men, who are 24 times more likely to acquire HIV than adults in the general population; transgender people, who are 18 times more likely to acquire HIV; and prisoners, who are five times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population.

Evidence shows that health care settings are among the most frequent environments where people experience HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and even violence, the experts noted. Examples include denial of health care and unjust barriers in service provision, extreme violations of autonomy and bodily integrity such as forced abortions and sterilizations, undue third party authorizations for accessing services, and mandatory treatment; or compulsory detention.

“Globally, women and girls are still the most affected by the AIDS epidemic and women living with HIV report higher levels of stigma, discrimination and violence than men living with HIV,” the human rights experts underlined.

Young women who experience intimate partner violence are 50% more likely to acquire HIV than women who have not. Barriers for women living with HIV/AIDS to access health services, such as third party authorization, deter many adolescents and young women from seeking sexual and reproductive health information and services. This in turn can lead to higher level of unsafe abortion, unwanted pregnancies, and HIV infections.

“The ability of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV continues to be compromised by gender inequalities,” they said drawing attention to unequal legal, economic and social status; insufficient access to education, health care and services; and inability to exercise sexual and reproductive rights; as well as all forms of discrimination and sexual violence and exploitation in the public and private spheres.

“Ending AIDS is not just critical to realizing health for all. It will also advance and depend on progress in many of the Sustainable Development Goals such as gender equality, peace, justice and inclusive institutions and partnerships for the goals,” the UN experts said while calling on States to ensure the full respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights in the efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“We have an historic opportunity not to be missed: to put an end to AIDS within our lifetimes. The international community has made great progress in the fight to end HIV/AIDS, but it has been uneven. The present challenge is to reach the many who are still being left behind,” they concluded. 

(*) Read the experts’ full Open Statement:

The experts:

Mr. Dainius Pῡras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms. and Frances Raday, Chair-person of the Working Group on Discrimination against women in law and in practice, are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

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Ms. Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+41 22 917 9768 / [email protected])
Ms. Lucía de la Sierra (+41 22 917 9741 / [email protected])

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