Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator: Keynote address at 5th Anniversary of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law: Lessons for the 2030 Agenda

Jul 13, 2017

By investing in promoting equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, together we can turn the tide on HIV and on many of the other issues embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Photo: UNDP

As prepared for delivery.

UNDP is proud to be a close partner to and founding Co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), whose Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, joins us today. On behalf of UNAIDS, UNDP was honoured to convene in 2010 the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, which was an independent body of 14 eminent persons chaired by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil. The Commission aimed to develop actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for effective HIV responses that promote and protect the human rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV. 

The Commission’s ground-breaking report was released at the United Nations Headquarters in July 2012.  Today, five years later, the Commission’s main message about the power of the law to promote dignity, equality, inclusion and justice remains as relevant as ever and continues to be a priority for HIV responses. Laws, policies and practices can bridge the gap between vulnerability and resilience to HIV when they are informed by the latest evidence and grounded in human rights.

Based on extensive research and consultation, the Commission concluded that even though the science and tools to control HIV effectively existed, bad laws — such as those that criminalize HIV transmission, same-sex relations, sexual orientation and gender identity, adult consensual sex work and drug use — were perpetuating stigma and discrimination, wasting resources and impeding effective HIV responses. Importantly, the Commission also concluded that evidence-informed laws that protect and promote the rights of the vulnerable and reduce stigma and discrimination exist and urgently needed to be scaled up.

Why do I say the Commission’s report has been ground-breaking?

First and foremost, the Commission and the process it followed led to quick and concrete follow up in countries and for people on the frontlines of HIV responses. Since 2012, UNDP has been working in close partnership with governments, civil society and UN partners in 88 countries to implement the Commission’s recommendations. Aligning laws and policies with the Commission’s recommendations is saving lives and money by safeguarding dignity, reducing stigma and discrimination, and improving access to prevention and treatment.  In Mozambique, for example, follow up to the Commission’s report resulted in the removal of a law in 2014 criminalizing unintentional HIV transmission. In Pakistan, protections for people living with HIV were included in the Sindh Province HIV/AIDS Control Treatment and Protection Act in 2013. The Government of Seychelles decriminalised same-sex relations in 2016.

Second, the Commission heard directly from people about their first-hand experience of HIV-related laws and brought together those who shape and enforce laws, those who are affected by laws, and other experts. It facilitated a frank and constructive dialogue on law reform and better enforcement of existing protective laws in the context of HIV responses.  Since the launch of the Commission’s report, UNDP has supported the convening of at least 21 national dialogues which have resulted in action on creating enabling legal and policy environments for effective HIV responses. For example, in 2015 UNDP convened a national dialogue on HIV and the Law in Peru. The need for a gender identity law was presented and is highlighted in the report recommendations of the Peru national dialogue. A draft bill for a Gender identity law (seconded by the Ombudsperson´s Office in Peru), was presented to the National Assembly in December 2016.

Third, the Commission’s report and its follow up have contributed to shaping policy for and investments in rights-based HIV and health responses.
• Since the Commission’s report, there is more investment in human rights programmes for effective HIV responses.  The Global Fund, one of the major funders of the AIDS response, has committed to investing in human rights programmes in their new strategy. In Africa and the Caribbean, with support from the Global Fund, UNDP is working in 18 countries with leading human rights civil society organizations to remove legal and human rights barriers to effective HIV responses.

• The Commission’s report has contributed to broadening the global debate on drug control policy to include a stronger human rights and public health focus. The Commission’s report has also contributed to strengthening the evidence base on decriminalization of certain behaviours, such as same-sex relations sex work and drug use, as an effective public health strategy.

• One of the Commission’s recommendations called on the United Nations Secretary-General to “convene a neutral, high-level body to review and assess proposals and recommend a new intellectual property regime for pharmaceutical products.” In November 2015, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. In 2016, the High-Level Panel issued its report calling for countries and corporations to refrain from intimidating or preventing those WTO members who wish to make greater use of TRIPS flexibilities  from doing so, for increased transparency in the biomedical sector, and for negotiations toward a global agreement that delinks the cost of research and development from the end costs of medicines, diagnostics and vaccines. The High-Level Panel’s report has reinvigorated global dialogue on innovation and access; its recommendations are being discussed in the TRIPS Council, the Human Rights Council, the WHO Executive Board and the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board.

Equality, inclusion and non-discrimination are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  It requires us to protect and promote the human rights of all, especially those populations left furthest behind. As highlighted in the report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, evidence-informed and rights-based laws and policies that protect rather than punish, when combined with programmes to reduce stigma and discrimination, can be cost-effective tools for accelerating combination prevention and treatment  and ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. Even where formal legal change has been slow and arduous, countries have taken action to strengthen access to justice and challenge stigma and discrimination. Inclusion and dignity must be front and centre in our responses. These are all important lessons for many other development issues articulated in the 2030 Agenda. By investing in promoting equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, together we can turn the tide on HIV and on many of the other issues embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Comments are closed.