Legal and Policy Frameworks
In the early years of the AIDS pandemic, Rights and Humanity identified a wide range of human rights abuses and advocated the integration of human rights norms and ethical principles into the public health response.At the time, a number of governments resorted to public health policies which were excessively coercive, abusing human rights and freedoms.
Legislation compiled by WHO in the mid 1980s, indicated that much of the public health legislation around the world dated from the end of the 19th century. It had been designed to contain yellow fever and earlier plague epidemics and often authorised restrictive and coercive policies, such as quarantine.
There is no public health benefit to be gained from isolating a person believed to have HIV or AIDS, since HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact or the respiratory route. On the contrary, there is a strong public health rationale for respect for human rights and the avoidance of stigma and discrimination.
Working in tandem with WHO, Rights and Humanity advocated reform of outdated public health legislation in line with international human rights standards.
Advocating Repeal of Travel Restrictions
A number of Governments had imposed travel restrictions of people with HIV/AIDS. Since there is no public health reason to restrict the travel of people with HIV infection, such restrictions amounted to a violation of individuals’ right to freedom of movement under internationally agreed human rights legal standards.
In 1990, the USA hosted the VI International AIDS Conference in San Francisco. Travel restrictions were in place which prohibited the entry into the USA of anyone known to have HIV-infection or travelling with antiretroviral drugs. As a result, people living with HIV/AIDS were unable to participate in the conference. In protest, many international NGOs felt unable to participate in the conference and future conferences were held in countries without such travel restrictions.
In 1990, with the support of a group of international NGOs, Rights and Humanity produced a video entitled “AIDS: Breaking Down the Barriers”. This clarified the manner in which HIV can be transmitted, explaining that there is no risk of transmission during normal social contact and calling for an immediate withdrawal of all travel restrictions.
Using footage from NGOs around the world, Rights and Humanity’s video was designed to be aired at the Conference, explaining the reasons for the NGO boycott, led by the Red Cross. The video proved a useful addition to AIDS educational material.
Rights and Humanity produced a study for the Commonwealth Secretariat on AIDS and Human Movement which called on Commonwealth members to avoid travel restrictions on the grounds of HIV/AIDS.
One of Rights and Humanity’s major achievements in overcoming travel restrictions was ensuring repeal of the AIDS-related travel restrictions in Thailand in 1991. See: Prompting Thai Law Reform
Community Response to HIV/AIDS and Human Rights
In 1995, at the invitation of the World Council of Churches Working Group on HIV/AIDS, Rights and Humanity helped to develop strategies for the Church to prompt a supportive community response. Our work broke new ground by complementing state obligations with a focus on the responsibilities of individuals and communities to respect and promote the human rights of others.