Global Expert Meeting
In May 1991, Rights and Humanity hosted a Global Expert Meeting entitled “AIDS: A Question of Rights and Humanity”. We organised the meeting at the Peace Palace, in The Hague, the Netherlands, with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Health and in co-operation with WHO.The aim was to prepare international guidelines to assist policy-makers and others to comply with international human rights standards in the response to the AIDS pandemic.
We brought together Ministers of Health and public health officials, Ministers of Justice, other national policy-makers, educators, and human rights advocates, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS and those working on AIDS at the community, national, and international levels.
We also involved representatives of the world’s main faiths, in order that the faith communities might be brought into partnership with AIDS workers, in a joint endeavour to tackle the pandemic and its social consequences.
The participants at Rights and Humanity’s Global Expert Meeting “AIDS: A Question of Rights and Humanity” developed consensus on the application of human rights norms and ethical principles with respect to a wide range of difficult issues.
These included the balance between the need to respect medical confidentiality and the need of carers to know the nature of an illness affecting a patient or family member; and the conflict between women’s rights and certain cultural traditions, such as widow’s inheritance, which pose a risk of HIV transmission.
Rights and Humanity had first proposed the preparation of guidelines at the first International Consultation on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights held at the UN in 1989.
Our successful conference indicated to us the importance of providing a “safe”, “non-confrontational” environment for consensus building. By bringing together the key stakeholders in common accord each had a sense of ownership of the recommendations we adopted and implemented them in their own work. By choosing our participants with great care we were able to influence policy and action throughout the world through just one such meeting.
Our evaluation concluded that our multi-stakeholder consensus building had a significant multiplier effect, as each participant took the conclusions into their own spheres of influence. This was part of the explanation for the rapid impact we were having on global policy.
The Global Expert Meeting challenged and transformed thinking. At the time, AIDS was considered by many to be the consequence of ‘abhorrent sinful behaviour’ and this prevented momentum for an urgent and compassionate response. A few of the delegates at our Meeting were initially unable to sympathise with people living with HIV/AIDS.
The discussions prompted one delegate, who had been outspoken in his condemnatory views before the meeting, to announce publicly in the closing session that the conference had radically changed his attitude to AIDS. He now agreed that people living with HIV/AIDS deserved respect and support as well as full enjoyment of their human rights and dignity.