Background information: Commonwealth Ministers of Foreign Affairs Meeting

The Alliance fears that the Commonwealth has brushed human rights and health issues under the carpet in advance of the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in New York on 29 September 2012.

This is very disappointing, as previously it seemed that the Commonwealth was making great strides towards improving the human rights and health of people living in Commonwealth countries, and proving its relevance.

In 2009 an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) of respected experts was established to examine the Commonwealth’s future and relevance. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) the EPG presented their recommendations. As a result of intense advocacy, including by the Alliance’s ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign, most of their recommendations on HIV were adopted.

However, other key recommendations were deferred. These recommendations could have a huge impact on the lives of people in Commonwealth countries, particularly key populations at higher risk of HIV, such as sex workers, people who use drugs and LGBT people, for whom criminalising laws are a major barrier to accessing HIV prevention, treatment and support.

Key recommendations were:

– For the Commonwealth to “take steps to encourage the repeal of laws that may impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic”.

– The creation of a Commonwealth Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.

– The development of a new Commonwealth Charter, which should underpin core human rights principles and the commitment of the Commonwealth to fight HIV and other major health challenges.

These recommendations were passed to a Ministerial Task Force to develop further and present at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Meeting. Rather than accepting the above recommendations, the Alliance understands that the Task Force has requested further guidance from the Ministers at the September meeting on how to pursue them – potentially opening the issues up to further delay, and possible dismissal.

A lack of transparency and commitment

We’d hoped that the discussions by the Ministerial Task Force would exemplify the core Commonwealth principles of transparency, accountability and civil society participation. That has not happened. Discussions on the new charter, which should have involved every Commonwealth country, only happened in the UK, Canada and Australia to our knowledge.

And now everything seems to be done and dusted. The draft Charter which representatives of the task force have agreed to present contains no mention of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Nor does it include the creation of a Commonwealth Democracy and Human Rights Commissioner or refer to HIV and other public health threats.

The task force has also subscribed to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s approach to its Strategic Plan 2013-2016, described in the Secretariat’s First Discussion Paper. The paper proposes health to be an “area of diminished focus”. This is in spite of health being prioritised profusely in the CHOGM Perth Communiqué, including a commitment to universal health care. Was this all just empty rhetoric?

The task force is also going to request further guidance from the Ministers at the September meeting on how to pursue the recommendation to take steps to repeal discriminatory legislation undermining the HIV response – potentially opening the issues up for further debate, and possible dismissal.

Don’t miss this opportunity !

There is still time for the Commonwealth the do something to address the key human rights and health challenges it’s citizens are facing. Ignoring the recommendations that the Commonwealth leaders themselves have made will simply add to the ever growing questions among Commonwealth citizens about the impact and added value of the institution.

The ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign has launched an action for the Commonwealth ministers of foreign affairs, who meet on 29 September, to approve the recommendation to “take steps to encourage the repeal of laws that may impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic”. Take action here

Don’t stop now, we can end AIDS!

The International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) takes place in Washington D.C., 22 -27 July, and is a highly significant event for those working in the field of HIV, bringing together HIV activists, governments, donors and other key institutions.

An HIV awareness play is performed in Zambia (c) Gideon Mendel for the Alliance. The conference theme, ‘turning the tide together’, reflects that this is a unique moment in history: if we take the right approach, we can bring an end to AIDS.

For that, we have to invest in community-led approaches, centred on human rights.

Are you ready to end AIDS? Then sign the Washington Declaration.

The declaration recognises the fact that we stand at a unique time in the history of the AIDS epidemic. Through new scientific advances and societal, political and human rights gains, it is possible to turn the tide against the AIDS and begin to end the epidemic in our lifetimes.

On 24 July we joined the We Can End AIDS march, which brought together activists who fight AIDS and work for economic justice and human rights, to demand political will to bring an end to AIDS.

Check out photos from the march below. Visit www.wecanendaids.org for more details.

Our key messages for AIDS 2012: Don’t Stop Now! Community-led approaches are essential to universal access to quality HIV services

We’re calling for communities at higher risk of HIV to fully participate in the response, including in National AIDS Plans and Global Fund coordination mechanisms. Read more here.

Don’t Stop Now! A human rights approach must be the foundation of the HIV response

We’re campaigning for national laws which do not criminalise those most affected by HIV and protect them from human rights violations, stigma and discrimination and lack of access to HIV services. Read more about human rights at AIDS 2012.

Don’t Stop Now! We must invest in a combination of interventions that are proven to work best

We demand that governments and donors make strategic investments that combine HIV interventions focused on those most at risk, community mobilisation and human rights-based HIV programmes. Read more here.

Don’t Stop Now! Globally agreed financing targets for the HIV response must be met

We’re calling for the Global Fund to be fully funded and for donors to scale up their global response. You can TAKE ACTION by endorsing the WECARe+ petition for the replenishment of the Global Fund.

Treatment as prevention: new policy briefing

There are rapid developments in the field of HIV prevention.

Treatment as prevention (TAP) is one emerging issue that is causing great debate. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has conducted a partnership-wide consultation on the topic in order to inform its own programming and advocacy messages. The ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign has produced a briefing paper which draws on the results of that consultation and on an extensive desk review of the available literature.

The briefing paper highlights some of the key questions that communities most affected by HIV and the organisations that support them are currently discussing, and outlines our eight points to remember to make TAP work.

Download the briefing paper here.

New blog: Protecting the rights of sexual minorities as national values

The work of national human rights commissions shows us that rights for sexual minorities are ingrained in the religions, cultures and traditions of nations argues ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign manager, Enrique Restoy, in a new post on the Alliance blog.

You can read the full article here, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Commonwealth: crunch time for committing to ending AIDS

As Commonwealth Day 2012 approaches (12 March) HIV and AIDS remains a major challenge that the Commonwealth must commit to addressing.

This year Commonwealth Day marks Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary as the head of an institution which, over the years, has become a strong association of independent nations that share common values.

In these 60 years, Commonwealth nations have encountered few challenges as formidable as the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Although the Commonwealth contains only 30% of the world’s population, a shocking 60% of all people living with HIV live in Commonwealth countries. No other group of nations has been so disproportionately affected by the epidemic. It is time to reflect on the role the Commonwealth needs to play to better tackle HIV.

The story so far

Last year the ‘What’s Preventing Prevention?’ campaign worked hard to ensure that the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG), a group established to examine options around Commonwealth reform, made essential recommendations to deal with the challenge of HIV and AIDS.

They did, and Commonwealth Heads of Governments (CHOGM) who met in Perth in November last year agreed the following: to ensure that HIV and AIDS is prominent on the agendas of all relevant Commonwealth meetings; to develop HIV programmes with the private sector; and to advocate for more access by Commonwealth countries to global funding mechanisms to fight HIV and AIDS.

We know that a legal, policy and social environment which protects those at higher risk of HIV is essential in responding to the epidemic. The Commonwealth, with its shared language, common history and constitutional and legal system is uniquely placed to play a vital role in creating an enabling environment to tackle HIV.

However, across the Commonwealth outdated discriminatory and criminalising laws hinder effective HIV responses among men who have sex with men, transgender women, people who use drugs, sex workers and other key affected populations, and increase the vulnerability of people living with HIV.

EPG recommendations

Three of the most crucial recommendations made by the EPG were left for a ministerial taskforce to develop and present at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs meeting in New York in September 2012. The recommendations are to:

• Take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of the Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic
• Create of a Commonwealth Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.
• Consider the implications of global laws regarding intellectual property protection (patents) for Commonwealth countries that face the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Together with our partners, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and the Commonwealth HIV and AIDS Action Group (CHAAG) the Alliance will keep campaigning for these key recommendations to be fully adopted.

A new Commonwealth Charter

Commonwealth governments are also currently working on a new Charter, which will be presented at the New York meeting. A draft text is open for consultation during March.

At the UN High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS last June, the world’s governments committed to a human rights-based response to HIV. Some world leaders, such as the US administration, have committed to make ending AIDS a priority and to uphold the rights of those most vulnerable to HIV.

The new Chapter represents a unique opportunity for the Commonwealth to take a lead and commit its shared values to ending AIDS.

What do we want from the new Charter?

We are campaigning for the text of the Charter to:

• Expressly oppose all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
• Create a Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law.
• Commit to eliminating AIDS and prioritising malaria and tuberculosis as main health threats across the Commonwealth.
• Commit to creating a legal environment which protects people at higher risk of HIV and enables them to access HIV services.
• Support the production and trade of essential generic medicines between Commonwealth countries.
• Commit to the full participation of civil society in Commonwealth institutions and processes.
• Make sure that the Commonwealth Secretary General, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and other Commonwealth Institutions are fully accountable for their work.

A real impact

If all of these aspects are included in the Charter, and the recommendations of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group are acted upon, the Commonwealth could make a real impact on HIV across the world.

In the coming weeks the International HIV/AIDS Alliance will be consulting Alliance Linking Organisations, Key Correspondents and other partners in Commonwealth countries as to how best they can advocate for these recommendations to be agreed by the Commonwealth.

If you’d like to get in touch about this campaign, please email Enrique Restoy, Campaign Manager at the Alliance Secretariat:

Ugandan parliament re-tables anti homosexuality bill

David Bahati, Member of Parliament for Ndorwa West, has re-tabled the anti – homosexuality bill in the parliament of Uganda, reports Key Correspondent James Kityo.

The bill, which seeks to further criminalize same sex among consenting adults, was tabled on Tuesday (7 February 2012) and seconded by several MPs.

Ugandan campaigners bring LGBT rights into the spotlight

Campaigners are planning to organize Uganda’s first ever international dialogue on LGBT rights.

This is part of a campaign against a proposed anti-homosexuality bill, which is soon to be discussed in Parliament, reports Key Correspondent Kyeswa Johnson.

Uganda Students AIDS Prevention Association (TUSAPA), which works with LGBT people and contributes to HIV prevention amongst young people, is organizing the dialogue. TUSAPA strongly advocates for legal reforms to allow LGBT people to have freedom of expression, access to health services, and in order to fight homophobia and transphobia.

Why the EU should take the lead on ending AIDS

The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest source of official development assistance and one of the main contributors to the global HIV response. The EU has also placed the promotion of human rights at the centre of its foreign policy.

But the EU currently has no plan of action on HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

Click here to take action and ask the European Union to take the lead on ending AIDS

You can find out more in our briefing European Union: honouring commitments on HIV and human rights?

The end of AIDS is now possible; we call on the EU to seize the opportunity and take the lead in providing a human rights-based response to end AIDS within a generation.

THE NEXT GENERATION COULD BE FREE OF AIDS ….

A clinical trial recently proved that if people living with HIV receive anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment early enough, it can prevent the spread of the virus to their partner. It’s up to 96% effective.

Recent modelling led by UNAIDS shows that by investing strategically it is possible to prevent 12.2 million new infections and 7.4 deaths by 2020 to start bringing an end to AIDS.

… IF THE RESPONSE IS BASED ON THE RESPECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

In order to end AIDS, HIV interventions must be human rights-based, focused on those at higher risk, and mobilise affected communities. Read more in our report Making HIV Funding Work.

The EU provided leadership and negotiated hard for the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS at the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS in June 2011 which reaffirms the “full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all is an essential element in the global response to HIV”.

…. AND FUNDING IS PROVIDED

By signing the Political Declaration, the EU and its member states committed to “achieve, by 2015, universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.”

But the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund), a vital mechanism to provide human-rights based responses to HIV worldwide is severely underfunded. Read more in the International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s report Don’t stop now: how underfunding the Global Fund impacts on the HIV response.

The EU and its member states have provided over 52% of the Global Fund budget between 2002 and 2010. Now, some member states are not complying with their pledges.

WHAT DO WE WANT FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION?

There is currently no EU plan of action on HIV and AIDS. Not even a Global Health strategy where this plan could sit.

The EU must play its part in “creating an AIDS-free generation” and make this clear in its planning and financial mechanisms.

Call on the EU to:

1) Develop a renewed plan on Global Health and on HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the EU External Action that underscores the importance of a human rights-based response to HIV and makes clear steps towards helping to end AIDS

2) Provide leadership by allocating additional support to meet the urgent funding needs of Global Fund before the International AIDS Conference in July 2012; and call on member states to live up to their pledges to contribute to the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria.

3) Strengthen human rights based financing mechanisms for communities who are at higher risk of HIV infection in those countries that the Global Fund will no longer be funding, such as those in middle income countries.

4) Include concrete measures in the renewed plans on HIV and AIDS to increase policy coherence across the EU’s trade, external action and development and human rights policies, ensuring that its trade agreements do not undermine the rights of people living with HIV and others to access affordable essential medicines.

Ukrainian doctor accused of drugs trafficking acquitted

Dr Illya Podolyan, a substitution maintenance therapist, accused of drug trafficking has been acquitted in Ukraine.

Thank you to everyone who took action!

“We welcome the decision by the Appeal Court” said Pavlo Skala, Senior Programme Manager on Policy and Advocacy for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, “it confirms the inconsistency of the charges brought against Dr. Podolyan and the lack of adequate medical attention he received while he was detained. It comes as a great relief for him, his family and us all.

Stop Aids Campaign action

Ask for commitment and leadership from governments

The Alliance is an active member of the UK’s Stop AIDS Campaign which is a coalition of over 60 UK NGOs and trade unions working together to demand universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

We’ve never been this close to ending AIDS. The results of a huge clinical trial published in May prove that if people living with HIV receive anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment, it prevents the spread of the virus to their partner. This ground-breaking evidence gives us a fantastic new tool to fight the epidemic. When coupled with a combination of other effective prevention, treatment and care efforts and scale up our investments in what works we now know we have a chance to begin to bring an end to AIDS.

If we are to make this final step, it will require commitment and leadership from our governments.

This is where you come in. We need you to email Prime Minister Cameron – asking him to announce that bringing an end to the AIDS crisis within a generation is a UK government priority.