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Wednesday 2nd June 2010

The HIV& AIDS epidemic continues its speedy spread regionally and internationally, even though we saw a decrease in numbers here in Antigua and Barbuda for the year 2009 with forty six (46) persons tested HIV positive. With this increase of HIV infection there is the frequency of Human Rights violations against persons infected and affected by HIV & AIDS.

The stigma and discrimination associated with HIV & AIDS have caused many within our twin island state to deprive themselves of much needed Care, Treatment and Support; some have gone underground in isolation and others have retrieve to the notion “what you don’t know cannot hurt you” and continue to have unprotected sex not caring about their HIV status.

Importantly, fear of stigma and discrimination creates a detachment and those most vulnerable to HIV infection find it more complex to access significant information and opportune treatment, which is paramount to living positively. Also, the misconception about how HIV is transmitted and by whom builds fear which leads to stigmatization and further discrimination, as some sect of society believes it is associated with homosexuality and prostitution. The violation of Human Rights is not only extended to the persons infected but also their affected family members and friends.

As a member of CARICOM we have a responsibility to adhere to and whenever necessary re-examine the legal and ethical protocols and principles established as a part of our National HIV & AIDS Response. This is obvious as the Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework on HIV&AIDS recognized human rights and legal and ethical issues as significant areas that is critical requiring urgent attention. The Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework Guiding Principles 5.1 Human Rights states “Equality before the law and freedom from discrimination must be respected, protected, and fulfilled. Implementing the ten (10) key principles of the ILO Code of Practice on HIV & AIDS will ensure human rights are upheld in the workplace”.
UNIVERSAL GUIDELINE 10: States should ensure that Government and the private sector develop codes of conduct regarding HIV issues that translate human rights principles into codes of professional responsibility and practice, with accompanying mechanisms to implement and enforce these codes.

It is evident that Persons Living with HIV&AIDS (PLWHA) continues to be stigmatized and discriminated within our society. Complaints made to the Human Rights Desk funded by the Global Fund and situated in the Ramco Building within the office of the 3H Network covers a broad spectrum of discriminatory acts. Examples of violations after disclosure of one’s HIV status: persons have been disowned by family members, evicted from their homes, lost their jobs either through dismissal or quit due to unbearable acts of stigma and discrimination, their children are being discriminated at school and some have suffered at the hands of health care professionals.

UNIVERSAL GUIDELINE 11: States should ensure monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to guarantee the protection of HIV-related human rights, including those of people living with HIV, their families and communities.

Complaints of Human Rights violations reaching the Desk represent a wide cross section of the populace of Antigua & Barbuda. These acts of discrimination have occurred in almost every institution within our twin island state and the most vulnerable have been the target with eighty-five percent (85%) being females. This predominance is evident not only in Antigua & Barbuda but also around the world due to gender inequalities. Some women have become subjected to these inequalities in all areas of their life which increases the abuse of their sexual and reproductive rights, as well as their legal and economic rights, and this abuse is further increased if the woman becomes HIV positive.

UNIVERSAL GUIDELINE 8: States, in collaboration with and through the community, should promote a supportive and enabling environment for women, children and other vulnerable groups by addressing underlying prejudices and inequalities through community dialogue, specially designed social and health services and support to community groups.

Issues of Human Rights should be integrated at all levels within the private and public sector, inclusive of an effective HIV & AIDS Workplace Policy. Mobilization and participation, of all stratum of society, with emphasis on policymakers commitment to the endorsement and integration of human rights and anti-discriminatory practices is essential. Also, the enforcement of the ILO workplace code of practice should be taken into consideration as it detailed strategies for stigma along with the development of supporting mechanisms. These practices must become policy and legislation in accordance with international guidelines for HIV & AIDS and Human Rights, best practices and commitment as set out by the UN and UNAIDS.

UNIVERSAL GUIDELINE 12: States should cooperate through all relevant programmes and agencies of the United Nations system, including UNAIDS, to share knowledge and experience concerning HIV-related human rights issues and should ensure effective mechanisms to protect human rights in the context of HIV at international level.

Human Rights are universal legal entitlements protecting individuals and groups against actions or the lack of actions that affect their freedom and human dignity.

If you have experienced discrimination or witnessed someone being discriminated please call 562-4643 or 786-8727 or email and report your human rights violation/s.

Rev. Karen Brotherson
Human Rights Advocate Antigua & Barbuda

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