UN Secretary-General and leaders join stars in “LIGHT FOR RIGHTS” event on World AIDS Day in New York City

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UN Secretary-General and leaders join stars in “LIGHT FOR RIGHTS” event on World AIDS Day in New York City

07 December 2009

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaking at the "Light for Rights" event during the World AIDS Day celebrations in New York City.
Credit: UNAIDS/B. Hamilton

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined with leaders in the AIDS response and entertainment stars at a dramatic public event commemorating World AIDS Day 2009 on 1 December at New York City’s historic Washington Square Park Memorial Arch.

Lights on the arch and other landmarks around the city were turned off at 6:15 pm to remember those lost to AIDS, and to represent how stigma, discrimination, fear and shame drive people with HIV into the darkness; then re-lighted to show how shining a human rights light on HIV can help people with HIV emerge from the shadows, to seek the information, treatments, care and support they need to live healthy lives.

“On World AIDS Day this year, our challenge is clear: we must continue doing what works, but we must also do more, on an urgent basis, to uphold our commitment to reach universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “This goal can be achieved only if we shine the full light of human rights on HIV. AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them.”

If we shine a human rights light on people with AIDS, they can emerge from the darkness to gain access to treatment, information, care and support to allow them to live normal lives.

Dr Paul de Lay, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme

Joining the event were Naomi Watts, Oscar-nominated actress and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador; Christine C. Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council; Oscar winner and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Susan Sarandon, Dr Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS; and Tembeni Fazo, a counselor and educator for HIV-positive African and Caribbean immigrants in New York; and Cheyenne Jackson, a star on television and now on Broadway, who opened the evening.

UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador and actor Naomi Watts addressed the event in New York.
Credit: UNAIDS/B. Hamilton

UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Naomi Watts highlighted the injustice of stigma. “It has been both unfortunate and unfair for HIV infection to be considered a shameful disease, for people living with HIV to be judged as blameworthy, and for AIDS to be equated with certain death. I have personally seen that dignity and hope have been strongest among those whose lives were changed by HIV.” As UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, Watts has used her celebrity status to raise AIDS awareness and give a greater voice to the needs of people living with HIV.

“We are here tonight to shine a light on the human rights that are so central to the success of the fight against AIDS. And we’re here to recommit ourselves to bringing an end to the global AIDS epidemic,” said Kenneth Cole, renowned fashion designer, chairman of Kenneth Cole Productions, and chairman of the board of trustees of amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), who hosted the event.

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme Paul De Lay at the "Light for Rights" World AIDS Day event. New York, 01 December 2009.
Credit: UNAIDS/B. Hamilton

The event launched the global LIGHT FOR RIGHTS campaign organized by amfAR, UNAIDS, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and the World AIDS Campaign. UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Paul De Lay confirmed UNAIDS support, “UNAIDS is excited to participate in the launch of this two-year campaign to shine a light on the importance of humans rights for achieving universal access.

“If we shine a human rights light on people with AIDS, they can emerge from the darkness to gain access to treatment, information, care and support to allow them to live normal lives,” he continued.


Dr De Lay called Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and Marcel Van Soest, the Executive Director of the World AIDS Campaign, to join him on stage and thanked their organizations for the commitment to co-sponsor the two-year LIGHT FOR RIGHTS campaign. Dr De Lay also thanked Mr. Cole for his leadership on the campaign and for the LIGHTS FOR RIGHTS brand and Red Ribbon Light Bulb symbol, which the design team of Kenneth Cole Productions developed in consultation with the four co-sponsoring organizations.

Other speakers spoke powerfully of the shared responsibility we have to ensure rights are protected.

Ms Susan Sarandon, who was a leader of efforts to free HIV-positive Haitian refugees from the HIV detention Camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the early 1990’s, recalled the long struggle against stigma and isolation facing people living with HIV, and said that ensuring respect for human rights is essential. City Council Speaker Quinn highlighted how the lack of equality for segments of the general population including the inequality of men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers and women and girls, heightens their vulnerability to discrimination and marginalization, which makes them especially at risk of contracting HIV.

Other landmarks around the city that dimmed their lights and then re-illuminated them as part of the LIGHT FOR RIGHTS event included: the Chrysler Building; Rockefeller Center; Lincoln Center, including the Metropolitan Opera, Avery Fisher Hall, the David H. Koch Theater and the Revson Fountain; the MetLife Building; Madison Square Garden; the Beacon Theatre; 33 Broadway theaters; and Radio City Music Hall.