|United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, New York, 2001|
What urgent action should governments take to tackle the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS pandemic? This was the subject of negotiations at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, which took place in New York on June 25-27, 2001. The Special Session, attended by many heads of state from Africa, brought unprecedented attention to the AIDS pandemic and its root causes. Dr. Pascoal Mocumbi, the Prime Minister of Mozambique and an IWHC Board member, gave a speech at the Special Session, highlighting the need to talk frankly about sexuality and gender inequality in order to prevent the further spread of HIV. The speech followed his Op-Ed on the same subject, published in The New York Times a few days earlier. After rancorous negotiations that spanned the few months leading up to the Session, governments agreed to a Declaration of Commitment by consensus.
Throughout the negotiations and in spite of nongovernmental organizations' limited access to the process, IWHC provided continual support to progressive delegations on a range of technical issues, in particular on the human rights of women, gender equality, and adolescents' access to sexual health information and services.
The Declaration covers a broad range of issues, including prevention strategies, respect for the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, access to treatment, and the Global Fund on Health and HIV/AIDS. Among other forward-looking agreements, the Declaration reaffirms the International Conference on Population and Development Plus Five target of reducing HIV prevalence among young people aged 15 to 24. It also includes strong statements about the need to challenge gender stereotypes and inequalities. In particular, it states that women's full enjoyment of all human rights should be protected, that national HIV prevention strategies should "empower women to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality," and that women and adolescent girls should be provided with sexual and reproductive health services. The progressive content of the Declaration has already been integrated into agreements on HIV/AIDS currently being negotiated for the Special Session on Children (Postponed until 2002).
The explicit mention of individuals particularly vulnerable to HIV infection (men who have sex with men, sex workers, and intravenous drug users) and of the UN's Guidelines on HIV and Human Rights was vehemently opposed by conservative Islamic countries, and had to be dropped from the final text in the last hours of the negotiation. Contributions to the Global Fund, compared with the targeted amount set by Secretary General Kofi Annan, are still low, and governance of the Fund has yet to be decided. Finally, the adverse impact of certain patent and trade laws and regulations on antiretroviral drug pricing remains largely unaddressed.
Click here to read "Global Crisis - Global Action", the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted by the UN General Assembly (New York, 25-27 June 2001). Also available in French and Spanish.
Click here to read IWHC's analysis of the Declaration.