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Sydney AIDS Conference: Scientific Advances Undercut by Rights Abuses

Advances in HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment Hinge on Respecting Human Rights

(New York) - Scientists and other delegates meeting July 22-25 at the 4th International AIDS Society Conference in Sydney should focus their attention on how human rights abuses against people living with HIV undermine the impact of scientific advances against AIDS, Human Rights Watch said today.

"Research is central to the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Joe Amon, director of Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS Program and a molecular biologist by training. "But scientific advances will have little impact if people living with HIV continue to be stigmatized and abused."

Human Rights Watch cited examples from the Asia-Pacific region, where the conference is being held, of children and adolescents living with or at risk of HIV infection being discriminated against, sexually abused and socially marginalized:

  • On July 14, police in Kathmandu beat and sexually abused five Nepalese transgender youths. The officers also strip-searched the youths and examined them for signs of sexual intercourse. Police said that the carrying of condoms by transgender youth was an illegal act.
  • On June 4, five HIV-positive children were barred from entering their school in Pampady, India. The students had not attended school since they had been kicked out in December.
  • In over a year, hospitals have repeatedly refused to operate on a 5-year-old orphan living with HIV in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. Recent newspaper headlines have referred to the child as the "AIDS Boy."
  • In October 2006, Taiwanese officials ruled that residents of a home for people living with HIV/AIDS in Taipei should move out of the local community because they threatened the psychological health of neighbors.
  • In January 2006, corrections officers at Buimo prison in Papua New Guinea beat and sexually abused male detainees by forcing them to have anal sex with each other. More than a year later, the officers continue to work at the prison.

Human Rights Watch also called on scientists attending the conference to protest government harassment and intimidation of AIDS activists. Human Rights Watch cited several recent cases from Burma, China and Zambia:

  • In Burma, authorities detained a leading HIV/AIDS educator between May 21 and July 2. Phyu Phyu Thinn, who has cared for people living with HIV/AIDS in her home, had protested against the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in government hospitals. She was arrested and imprisoned along with other individuals while praying for the release of political prisoners.
  • In several cases in China this year, AIDS activists and people living with HIV have been detained: on May 18, two of country’s most prominent HIV/AIDS activists, Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, were placed under house arrest and banned from leaving the country; on April 11, about 350 people infected with HIV/AIDS were blocked by police from protesting over ineffective government-supplied drug treatments in Zhengzhou; and on February 1, Dr. Gao Yaojie, an 80-year-old Chinese doctor, was detained by government officials and put under house arrest to prevent her from leaving the country to receive an award for her work on transfusion-related HIV transmission.
  • In Zambia, Paul Kasonkomona and Clementine Mumba, the chairperson for Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC), were detained by the police on July 9 as they were demonstrating outside parliament in solidarity with striking healthcare workers.

"While scientists are able to travel freely to Sydney to discuss the international response to AIDS, activists around the world are jailed and harassed for their work against HIV," said Amon.

Conference delegates should also focus attention on human rights abuses faced by women, and acknowledge that technological advances such as vaccines or vaginal microbicides will have little impact unless they are accompanied by a greater respect for women’s rights. Governments have consistently failed to protect women from the violence that leads to infection or violence targeted against women living with HIV. Human Rights Watch pointed to two examples from India:

  • In New Delhi this spring, an HIV-positive woman was beaten to death by her in-laws who feared she would infect the family.
  • On September 1, 2006 in Kolkata, an HIV-positive woman was forced to perform an abortion on herself at a state-run hospital. The doctors had refused to treat her because of her HIV status, instructed her as to how to terminate her six-month pregnancy, and forced her to leave the hospital afterwards.

"We can not end the AIDS epidemic solely through science," said Amon. "Scientific advances and human rights advances must go hand in hand."

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