Engaging WHO/UNAIDS

Rights and Humanity’s first breakthrough came in 1988, when we first started working with the World Health Organisation’s Global Programme on AIDS (GPA) to identify and address the human rights implications of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.Over the coming decade we acted as human rights consultant to advise GPA on how best to ensure the protection of human rights in the global response to HIV/AIDS, a role we continued with UNAIDS after its establishment in 1996.

Rights and Humanity met with WHO before the first summit of Health Ministers on HIV/AIDS in London in 1988. In May 1987, the WHO had called for the response to AIDS to be compassionate and in solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS and the organization was aware of the discrimination being suffered by people living with HIV. But we explained the wider human rights implications, both for people living with HIV/AIDS and for those who were not.

The Director of GPA, Dr Jonathan Mann, raised these issues at the London Summit. The London Declaration on AIDS Prevention, adopted by the Summit on 28 January, 1988, recognised that AIDS prevention programmes must protect human rights and human dignity, avoiding discrimination or stigmatization. Shortly after the Summit, Dr Mann sought Rights and Humanity’s advice on integrating respect for human rights into the response to HIV/AIDS.

In the early years of the pandemic, throughout the world there were widespread restrictions on the human rights and freedoms of people living with HIV/AIDS. These were imposed on the mistaken belief that such restrictions were necessary in order to protect the public health. It was frequently argued that there was a conflict between the duty of states to protect the public health and the rights of individuals to freedoms and liberties.

In a number of papers written for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rights and Humanity exposed the fallacy of the argument that there was a conflict between the duty to protect public health, on the one hand, and the enjoyment of individual rights and freedoms, on the other. Rights and Humanity has consistantly advocated that, on the contrary, respect for individual human rights and freedoms is essential for effective health policies.

We continued to act as human rights consultants for WHO and UNAIDS for a decade, researching the impact of the pandemic on human rights and dignity and advising on global policy issues.

WHO Workshop with Human Rights Experts
One of our early initiatives was to propose to WHO that it host a one day workshop to explore the importance of respect for human rights in public health. One of Rights and Humanity’s objectives for this meeting was to show that human rights could make a significant positive contribution to WHO’s work.

At the time, the disruptive activities of some AIDS activists in the USA had brought controversy to the rights agenda. We carefully chose leading human rights advocates such as Mrs Mary Robinson - then a practising lawyer, who was later to become President of Ireland and subsequently the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The seniority of the participants at this workshop ensured that human rights law was displayed in its true light – an objective framework of internationally agreed norms and standards adopted by states throughout the world.

First International Consultation on AIDS and Human Rights
In 1988, we advised the WHO to call an International Consultation on AIDS and Human Rights with leading international lawyers in order to confirm that AIDS-related discrimination violated existing international human rights standards and to consider other human rights aspects of the pandemic.

The Consultation was held at the UN in Geneva, 26-28 July 1989. Our President served on the drafting committee that produced conclusions on the human rights dimension of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Participating in the Consultation, Rights and Humanity proposed the preparation of guidelines to assist policy-makers and others in compliance with international human rights standards regarding law, administrative practice and policy.

Rights and Humanity took up the challenge of identifying such guidelines, included in The Rights and Humanity Declaration and Charter on HIV and AIDS, published by the UN in 1992. This work later prompted adoption of The International Guidelines on AIDS and Human Rights by the UN in 1996.

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