Analysis by J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – Though 22 gay and transgender rights groups were excluded at the behest of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting resolved to put an end to the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The three-day meeting that concluded at the UN headquarters in New York on June 10 adopted what is being touted as a “progressive, new and actionable Political Declaration” that “includes a set of specific, time-bound targets and actions that must be achieved by 2020 if the world is to get on the Fast-Track and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals”.
At the start of the High-Level Meeting, UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organization, called on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft to “name and shame” the countries responsible for excluding of 22 gay and transgender rights groups.
The NGOs were excluded from the UN conference due to a letter reportedly sent by Egypt on behalf of the OIC, backed by Russia, Cameroon and Tanzania. The UN refused to release the text.
“By barring activists from this conference because of their sexual orientation, the UN is committing a gross violation of the equality and anti-discrimination guarantees of its own Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.
“The discrimination is particularly absurd and pernicious in the context of this HIV summit, because it silences the voices of those who suffer most from the problem the summit is supposed to address, with transgender people 49 times more likely than others to be infected by HIV.”
UN Watch noted that Ban had said he was “opposed to the exclusion of LGBT organizations” from the conference, adding that “NGOs are close to communities affected by the epidemic and they must be part of the response”.
“This is welcome but insufficient,” said Neuer. “The only way to stop non-democracies from the escalating and widespread phenomenon of NGOs being barred from normal UN participation is for the head of the organization to call out serial offenders and hold them to account. Unless the enemies of civil society are named and shamed, they will continue to block human rights activists – especially gay rights defenders – with impunity.”
Neuer noted that this was not an isolated incident. When the UN Secretary-General recognized gay marriage for UN staffers in 2014, a coalition of 44 states including Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria tried, but failed, to block the move.
During the opening of the High-Level Meeting to End AIDS, Ban said that the AIDS response had been a "source of innovation and inspiration". The Executive Director of UNAIDS outlined the progress made in recent years with 17 million people accessing antiretroviral treatment and significant declines in AIDS-related deaths and new HIV-infections, particularly among children.
The High-Level Meeting to end AIDS was convened by the President of the General Assembly and co-facilitated by Switzerland and Zambia. At the opening, the President, Mogens Lykketoft, urged Member States to commit to action.
"All stakeholders must now step up to the plate. Today is the day that we collectively say that we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030," said Lykketoft. “We must pay greater attention to equality and inclusion, uphold human rights and speak out against stigma and discrimination."
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said: "For the first time in history we can say that in Africa there are more people on HIV treatment than there are new HIV infections . . . We the peoples made the commitment together and we delivered results together." He also underlined the importance of inclusion saying, "the doors of the UN should be open to all."
Among many of the civil society representatives who participated in and spoke at the meeting was Loyce Maturu, a young woman living with HIV from Zimbabwe. She shared her inspiring story during the opening plenary about growing up living with HIV. "I want young people living with HIV to be able to realize their dreams and hopes for the future," she said.
Ndaba Mandela, a grandson of Nelson Mandela, spoke passionately about his own family’s experience of HIV and urged everyone present to stand together to end AIDS by 2030. “I'm here to ask you to continue the legacy of my grandfather, Nelson Mandela: a legacy of unity and leadership."
During the High-Level Meeting, major announcements were made in support of ending the epidemic by 2030.
USA announced the launch of a new $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund to increase access to HIV services for sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, transgender people and prisoners. The new fund will focus on reducing stigma and discrimination, empowering community leadership in design and delivery of services and increasing the quality of data on key populations.
Yusuf K.Hamied, chairman of the Indian pharmaceutical company, CIPLA, announced a package of assistance to African countries to facilitate local production of pharmaceuticals in Africa.
UNAIDS and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) released a final report on the progress made since the Global Plan to stop new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive was launched at the last UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS in 2011.
There has been a 60% decline in new HIV infections among children since 2009 in the 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been most affected by the epidemic. To build on the enormous progress made in stopping new HIV infections among children UNAIDS, PEFAR and partners released a framework for ending AIDS among children, adolescents and young women – Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS-Free. The initiative sets ambitious targets to eliminate new infections among children, ensure access to treatment for all children living with HIV and prevent new HIV infections among adolescents and young women to put the world on a path to ending AIDS among children.
Armenia, Belarus and Thailand joined Cuba in receiving official certificates of validation from the World Health Organization for eliminating new HIV infections among children. Thailand is the first country with a major HIV epidemic (450 000 people living with HIV in 2014) to receive such validation.
Events were held on the wider health agenda including learning the lessons of responding to emerging epidemics such as AIDS, Ebola and Zika and empowering young girls and young women to access integrated health care services organized by the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS.
During the week of the meeting, several supporting events took place across New York. The Mayor of New York, Bill De Blasio hosted around 30 mayors at New York City Public Library to discuss how they are getting on the Fast-Track to end AIDS in cities. They also shared how smart cities are implementing urban innovations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
In partnership with the Xinhua news agency, a billboard showcasing UNAIDS Fast-Track response to ending AIDS ran 24 times a day in the city’s iconic Times Square. There was also an interfaith service and a number of events that focused on the importance of women’s involvement in leadership roles in the AIDS response.
On the eve of the High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, fashion designer and amfAR chair, Kenneth Cole, was named as an International Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS. UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 June 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: A view of the UN General Assembly Hall during the High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas