Putting human rights at the centre of the AIDS response

11 March 2016

The Human Rights Council held a special session in Geneva, Switzerland, on 11 March to discuss progress in and challenges of addressing human rights issues in the context of the AIDS response. The panel discussion mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 30/8 took place less than three months ahead of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, which will take place in New York, United States of America, from 8 to 10 June.

The panellists agreed that the greatest advances in the AIDS response had been made in areas of the world where public health provision was rooted in a respect for human rights. In his keynote speech, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Luiz Loures, stressed that the AIDS response continues to be an instrument for challenging social injustice. He urged countries and all stakeholders in the AIDS response to place human rights and the voice of those most affected by HIV at the centre of the AIDS response. Participants said that evidence clearly shows that a lack of respect for health-related human rights leads to poorer health outcomes and the transmission of HIV. Discrimination, stigma, violence and other human rights violations continue to undermine efforts to end the AIDS epidemic.

The panel called for rights-based responses to AIDS, universal health coverage to ensure equitable access, availability of medicines for all, an end to discrimination in health-care settings and increased investment in human rights programmes. There were also calls to eliminate punitive and discriminatory laws that lead to violations of human rights and poorer health outcomes by driving key populations away from HIV services. The panellists stressed that without addressing deeply entrenched inequalities, including gender inequality, and ensuring full enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights, the world will not end the AIDS epidemic. 

They concluded that the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS represented a critical opportunity for the global community to reiterate its commitment to a human rights-based Fast-Track approach to ending the AIDS epidemic. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, which provide guidance on ensuring the respect, protection and implementation of human rights in the context of HIV.

Statements were made by around 40 representatives of states, United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations acknowledging the progress made in the HIV response and highlighting key legal and human rights challenges and barriers still to be overcome. A summary report of the panel discussion will be prepared for the General Assembly to take into consideration ahead of and during the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.

The panel was chaired by Bertrand de Crombrugghe, the Vice-President of the Human Rights Council. The keynote speaker was UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Luiz Loures. The panel also included: Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ayu Oktariani, from the Indonesia AIDS Coalition; Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana; Jorge Bermudez, Vice-President of Fiocruz, Ministry of Health of Brazil and member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines; Mark Dybul, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The moderator was Pedro Afonso Comissário, Permanent Representative of Mozambique to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva.


“AIDS is unfinished business. Specific populations and communities—often the most fragile and marginalized—continue to be left behind. The upcoming United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS has the power to deliver on the promise of ending AIDS and leaving no one behind. The 2016 Political Declaration must be firmly grounded in the values and principles of human rights, non-discrimination, dignity and social justice.”

Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS

“These are the real human faces—the people who fail to get access to justice, remedies for human rights violations or legal redress. They face increased vulnerabilities to HIV; human rights violations are committed against these key populations, the prevalence of gender-based violence is high and there is assault, violence, discrimination, disgrace and poverty. Advocacy, research, direct human rights interventions at all levels, using international, regional and national laws and conventions, are the most effective strategies to assist them.”

Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ghana

“We realize that efforts to tackle the AIDS epidemic cannot be separated from the fulfilment of human rights of people that are most affected. We need to empower, we need to encourage and, most importantly, we need to listen to the communities and respect each human being. We call upon global leaders to rally national leaders so that human rights and sound public health are the key approaches in providing services for people living with HIV and other key populations. Stop dehumanizing and criminalizing us!”

Ayu Oktariani, Indonesia AIDS Coalition