Disagreements Over Language Preventing Consensus on U.N. Special Session on HIV/AIDS Draft Declaration
Diplomats from more than 100 countries preparing a draft declaration on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention standards for approval at the June 25-27 U.N. General Assembly special session are struggling to agree on acceptable language, the AP/Chicago Sun-Times reports. According to the AP/Sun-Times, diplomats have engaged in "intensely angry, frustrating and emotional" meetings since May in an attempt to find a consensus on the 19-page draft document that is "acceptable to all 189 U.N. member countries" (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17). The document seeks to create "tough" universal standards for all countries, including: the development of national programs to increase the availability of HIV drugs by 2003; a 25% reduction in the number of 15- to 24-year-olds infected in the "most affected countries" by 2005; a 20% reduction in the number of infants infected through vertical transmission by 2005 and a 50% reduction in the number of HIV-positive infants by 2010; and the development of national AIDS strategies, including financing plans, by 2010 (AP/Reuters/Toronto Star, 6/16).
U.S., Muslim Countries Raise Objections
Finding a consensus for the implementation of these standards, however, remains a challenge. Many Muslim nations "that view homosexuality as a sin punishable by death" have objected to "men who have sex with men" being listed as a group vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and in need of protection. Egyptian diplomat Amr Rashdy, who called the phrase "shocking for my society," has instead proposed that homosexuality be called "irresponsible sexual behavior" that contributes to the spread of HIV. Rashdy's proposal led the Norway representative to do the "diplomatically unthinkable" and threaten to cut foreign aid to Egypt if it "continued to oppose the original phrasing." In addition, the United States has met opposition from European and Latin American nations, as well as "most Americans," for its proposal that a "long list of groups targeted for protection" be replaced with the phrase "vulnerable individuals," including those who engage in "risky sexual behavior." The AP/Sun-Times reports that the United States believes that the current language focused on risk groups would create "political problems" and would "conflict with the U.S. Constitution, which recognizes the rights of individuals rather than groups." But many diplomats and advocates say that a "watered-down version" of the document will only have limited effectiveness in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Gregg Gonsalves of Gay Men's Health Crisis, one of many advocacy groups that will participate in the special session, said, "We know that prevention programs work best when they are targeted specifically to the needs of the individual communities. These are the people that we need to reach, and if governments cannot utter their names, what chances do we have of stopping the epidemic?" (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17). To view the "disputed language" of the draft declaration, click here (Associated Press, 6/15). Please note that this link is available to Web readers only.