HIV and Human Rights

The UN has issued a strong statement highlighting the importance of human rights in the preventing the spread of HIV and Aids.  With Human Rights Day only recently passed, it seems appropriate to reflect on the issues raised.

Speaking during the first UN Human Rights Council panel on HIV, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stressed the link between human rights violations and the spread of HIV, saying “the lack of respect for human rights has not only fuelled the epidemic, it has brought to the surface pernicious and persistent forms of discrimination and marginalisation, in multiple and overlapping manifestations.”

In South Africa, people living with HIV are afforded many rights under the Constitution, including the right to treatment in a safe and healthy environment and the right not to be discriminated against because of their status.

However, in reality, many of those living with HIV, particularly members of marginal groups such as sex workers or homosexuals, still face discrimination in the form of stigma, which we have discusses several times before on this site. In her statement, Ms Pillay issued a call for all marginal groups to “be involved in the policy options and choices that affect them.

“It is no coincidence that these populations are the most vulnerable to the epidemic – they not only bear the burden of the disease, they also endure a broad range of human rights violations,” she said, while drawing attention to the role that human rights violations such as violence against women and girls play in increasing the spread of HIV and Aids.

Constitutional protection is only a small step towards preventing these violations; a strong message from government, effective and comprehensive education and activism at a community level all have a part to play. Hopefully, future Human Rights Days will be used as a platform to address these concerns.

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