Politics interferes at UNGASS

Politics interferes at UNGASSAfrican AIDS activists at the UN High-Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in New York are furious over what they see as the overturning of agreed commitments on performance targets and the protection of vulnerable groups by a handful of African governments.

African AIDS activists at the UN High-Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in New York are furious over what they see as the overturning of agreed commitments on performance targets and the protection of vulnerable groups by a handful of African governments.

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Gabon led African negotiators this week in thrashing out the text of a UN review of implementation of the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.

However, activists accuse the oil-producing country of ignoring a common African position agreed last month in Abuja, Nigeria, and are scrambling to persuade other countries to join Nigeria in publicly objecting to the new interpretation.

Nigeria is the only African country that has openly spoken out against the undermining of the commitments made by African leaders during the Abuja meeting to review progress in implementing the 2001 Abuja Declaration on AIDS, TB and Malaria.

“The latest draft [UNGASS] declaration looks really bad from a civil society perspective – it’s a regression compared with the 2001 document,” said Fatima Hassan of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. “The problem is, negotiations have been taking place by [a Gabonese delegation] that doesn’t really understand issues of HIV/AIDS.”

Gabon, with the support of some Muslim countries, has opposed reference to specific vulnerable groups in the draft declaration, including men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, and women and young girls.20

“It fears gay men and sex workers demonstrating in the streets,”

commented Abdelkader Bacha of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, adding: “There is no deep thinking here.”

Gabon, sandwiched between Congo and Cameroon, is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an inter-governmental organisation of 57 largely Muslim states.

As current chair of the African Union (AU), Gabon automatically assumed leadership of the continent’s negotiations during the UN’s three-day high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS.

With the support of South Africa, Gabon has also sought to exclude targets in the 2006 draft declaration, including the Abuja commitment to reach 80 percent of people needing AIDS treatment by 2010.

“South Africa is obstructing the inclusion of targets – it doesn’t want to be accountable. It says the issue is quality [of services], not quantity [of people on treatment],” said Hassan.

Negotiations on reviewing the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) have taken a back seat for some African delegations in New York, who seem to be more focused on Darfur and the coming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Our states have behaved in the most shocking fashion – people were not attending the negotiations”, remarked Sisonke Msimang, HIV/AIDS programme manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).

“Our missions have been complacent and disorganised at best, and in the case of Gabon and South Africa, obstructionist.”

PlusNews was unable to get comment from the Gabon country delegation.

According to Omololu Falobi, executive director of Journalists against AIDS Nigeria, the danger is that “not only are we going to lose out on UNGASS, but also on Abuja. It means the past five years of work in Africa would have been fruitless.”

African NGOs have joined global civil society groups in warning that the entire General Assembly review process lacks vision, and risks delivering an empty declaration that does not move substantially beyond what was agreed at UNGASS five years ago.

They want to see reference to treatment – absent from the 2001 document

– with time-bound targets linked to additional financing, recognition of the impact of violence against women, and the needs of injecting drug users and other specific vulnerable groups.

“The fear is that we have a piece of paper that is bland; that doesn’t move us forward in any way. Five years on, there are important things that should be on the agenda, like universal access [a comprehensive package of care, treatment and support],” said Msimang.

This article appeared at www.plusnews.org

For additional information on the UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS:

http://www.plusnews.org/UNGASS.asp