Press Release

The IACHR, the CIM, UNAIDS and PAHO call on OAS Member States to eradicate stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV in the Americas

December 17, 2012

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), call on all Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to respect and guarantee the rights of persons living with HIV and to adopt the measures necessary to eradicate all forms of stigma and discrimination against key populations at risk of and all those persons affected by HIV in the Americas.

According to UNAIDS, most of the HIV epidemic in Latin America is concentrated in and around networks of men who have sex with men, trans persons, injecting drug users and sex workers. With respect to the Caribbean region, the HIV prevalence among adults is higher than in all other regions outside Sub-Saharan Africa. Unprotected sex, particularly sex between men and women—especially transactional sex—is believed to be the main mode of HIV transmission in the Caribbean; however, emerging evidence indicates that substantial transmission is also occurring among men who have sex with men.

The IACHR is concerned with the effects of the rampant social stigma and discrimination (which in many OAS Member States is manifested through criminalization) that surround men who have sex with men and trans persons. As a result of social stigma and discrimination, the HIV epidemic amongst these sectors of the population has remained hidden, unacknowledged and non-addressed, furthering fueling the HIV epidemic.

Additionally, the intersections between HIV prevalence and sex, gender and race are quite alarming. The IACHR, CIM and PAHO have highlighted the heightened risk of HIV among women in Latin America and the Caribbean. This stems from biological, socio-cultural and economic factors, as well as the prevailing discrimination and violence against women (VAW) in society and unequal power relations. Also, women are often unable to negotiate safe sex. Further, the IACHR is concerned about information it has received on the alleged human rights violations of reproductive rights of women living with HIV, such as forced sterilization. Moreover, the IACHR has expressed its concern about the high HIV prevalence rate in the afro-descendent population, which is most prominent in the Caribbean, Central America, Brazil and the United States.

In a 2012 report, the CIM highlighted the inherent link between violence against women (VAW) and HIV and AIDS in Central America. A CIM analysis of the legal framework surrounding HIV and violence in four countries of the region concluded that legislation on HIV does not include VAW as a risk factor, and, similarly, that specific legislation on VAW does not include HIV status as a potential cause or effect. CIM also found that although some protocols, regulations and agreements do contain references to the link between HIV and VAW, this approach is not reflected in the formulation or implementation of policies, strategies, actions or indicators for addressing either issue. The CIM concluded that the lack of a full understanding of the causal role of gender inequalities in both VAW and HIV in women undermines the effectiveness of efforts to respond to women survivors of violence and/or women living with HIV.

The IACHR has indicated that persons living with HIV and AIDS have been historically subject to discrimination. HIV-related stigma is rampant in the Americas, which not only hinders an effective response to the epidemic but also negatively impacts on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights. The IACHR and the CIM continue to receive information that stigma and discrimination associated with HIV often lead to loss of employment and access to credit, loss of family and social ties, refusal of health care, and violence at the hands of health care providers, agents of the State or family and community members as well as other forms of direct and indirect discrimination.

For UNAIDS, the protection and respect of human rights is one of the cornerstones of its strategy to achieving the vision of "zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths" in the Americas. In the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS adopted in 2011, the United Nations General Assembly calls on Member States to intensify efforts to eliminate HIV and AIDS and focus the response on those populations that are at higher risk, specifically men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers. The Declaration further notes that each country should define the specific populations that are key to its epidemic and response, based on the epidemiological and national context, though without stigmatizing these populations or jeopardizing the full exercise of their human rights.

Legislation and public policies currently in force in several OAS Member States have a dire impact on the full exercise of human rights by key populations at higher risk of HIV infection and persons living with HIV and AIDS, and constitute the main barrier to achieving Universal Access to HIV related services, including prevention and treatment. Several OAS Member States continue to have discriminatory laws criminalizing same-sex adult consensual relationships and acts, as well as punishing diverse sexual behaviors, associations, and gender identities and expressions. Furthermore, some Member States continue to impose discriminatory restrictions on entry, stay and residence based on HIV status. In addition, criminal laws are increasingly being used in the region to prosecute and punish HIV exposure and transmission. Finally, sex, gender and race-based de facto discrimination fuel the epidemic among women and the afro-descendant population.

The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have reiterated that the right to equality and non-discrimination is the cornerstone of the Inter-American human rights system. The IACHR, the CIM, UNAIDS and PAHO have affirmed that in order to effectively ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination, States must abstain from enacting laws and regulations that are discriminatory or have a discriminatory impact on certain sectors or groups of the population, and must adopt all measures necessary to guarantee equality and non-discrimination.

The IACHR, the CIM, UNAIDS and PAHO call on OAS Member States to remove all legal and factual barriers that hinder the full enjoyment of human rights by key populations vulnerable to HIV and, in general, by persons living with HIV and AIDS. They also call on OAS Member States to take positive measures to guarantee and ensure their human rights, and to eradicate all forms of stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS and affected by the epidemic in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Established in 1928, the CIM was the first inter-governmental agency established to ensure recognition of the human rights of women. CIM is made up of 34 Principal Delegates, one for each member state, and has become the principal forum for debating and formulating policy on gender equality and women's empowerment in the Americas.

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, is an innovative United Nations partnership that leads and inspires the world in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. UNAIDS’ vision: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is an international public health agency with 110 years of experience in working to improve health and the quality of life of the peoples of the Americas. It serves as the specialized organization for health of the Inter-American System. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system.

No. 147/12