The High Level Meeting on AIDS took place at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York on June 10th and 11th. It was convened in order to review the progress to date on implementing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and Attaining Universal Access to Necessary Services.[i] Participants, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon, several heads of state, over 80 governmental ministers, senior officials, civil society members, and representatives of international organizations, came from all over the world.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented his report on the progress towards the goals stated in the 2001 and 2006 Declarations based on the national reports submitted by 147 countries. In the opening plenary of the general assembly he remarked on some of the achievements to date, including that three million people in low and middle income countries who now have access to anti-retroviral treatment and that more women have access to services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. [ii] Despite these accomplishments, he stated that more needed to be done, lamenting that there were two and half million new infections last year, more than two million deaths, and that stigma and discrimination compounded the other drivers of the epidemic.[iii] He led the charge for more to be done, including a “change in laws that uphold stigma and discrimination — including restrictions on travel for people with HIV.”[iv] This latter point was not lost on the HIV-positive participants from around the world who had come to the United States for this meeting and was echoed in several statements in the civil society hearing which urged the UN to hold the next high level in a country that does not have entry restrictions.
The General Assembly made civil society participation in the meeting a major priority. In December of last year, the General Assembly passed a resolution about the importance of the participation of civil society, “in particular associations of people living with HIV, non-governmental organizations, including organizations of women and young people, girls and boys and men, faith-based organizations and the private sector, especially pharmaceutical companies and representatives of labour.”[v] Individuals and organizations representing civil society, regardless of whether they had consultative status to the UN, were permitted to apply for entry to participate in the meeting. Nearly seven hundred of those who applied were invited to attend. The members of civil society were interwoven throughout the entire proceeding of the meeting and side events, forming part of the country delegations, convening caucus meetings, contributing to the panel discussions, and participating in the forums, luncheons, and presentations that made up the official side events.
While the meeting boasted an impressive array of speakers and participants who brought their insight, analysis, and determination, the final outcome of this meeting is still unknown. The final words of Ms. Ratri Suksma, the Representative of Coordination of Action Research on AIDS in Malaysia, at the opening plenary of the general assembly captures the burning question of the meeting: “Keep your promise and renew your commitment of Universal Access by 2010. To not do so would mean to condemn many people living with HIV, like myself, to unnecessary pain, suffering and… even death. I will honor my commitment and so I ask. Will you honor yours?”[vi]
While much of the dialogue circulating at this meeting promoted the idea of addressing and eliminating discrimination and stigmatization, this meeting also provided fertile ground for right-wing activism. For example, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality convened a “family rights” caucus to champion the institution of the family they perceived to be under attack at various levels in the High Level Meeting. SIECUS monitors such right-wing actors and their involvement in sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world in the International Right Wing Watch (IRWW). The upcoming IRWW special edition will focus on some of their agenda points and tactics at the High Level Meeting. If you would like to subscribe to the IRWW to receive this special edition, please visit www.siecus.org/irww.
[i] 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, 2 August 2001, accessed on 20 June 2008, <http://daccessdds.un.org/>.
2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, 15 June 2006, accessed on 20 June 2008, <http://daccessdds.un.org/>.