Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Combat Discrimination against All People Living with HIV

February 27, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of Zero Discrimination Day, celebrated around the world on March 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to maximize their efforts to combat discrimination against all people living with HIV.

The stigma and discrimination faced by people who test positive for HIV is endemic in the Americas. The IACHR continues to receive information concerning situations that occur as a result of that discrimination, such as violence by health care providers, State agents, relatives, or members of the community; denial of public services; loss of employment; loss of family and social ties; lack of access to credit; and other direct and indirect forms of marginalization. Discrimination and stigma, in turn, hamper efforts to provide an effective response to the epidemic and have a negative impact on the exercise of the human rights of people living with HIV.

Moreover, even today there continue to be major challenges in terms of equal access to HIV -related services that could improve and even save the lives of seropositive persons. “In the Americas of the 21st century, not one single person who is seropositive should be without access to comprehensive medical treatment, free of charge. This goal is far from being met, even though some countries have adopted public programs and policies that have improved services for people with HIV,” said IACHR Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, who is in charge of the IACHR Unit on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. “Stigmatizing someone who lives with HIV virus constitutes a violation of that person’s right not to be discriminated against, and also becomes a public health problem. This happens because as a result of the stigma, many people are reluctant to seek medical supervision, and that hampers proper prevention and treatment, the Commissioner added.

In this regard, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has expressed its alarm over the high rates of discrimination against people who are seropositive and those at a higher risk of contracting HIV (“key populations”). This last group includes men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, trans persons, and people who use injectable drugs. Zero Discrimination Day, announced by UNAIDS in December 2013, constitutes a call to promote and celebrate everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity, independent of such factors as what they look like, their sexual orientation, where they come from, or their HIV status.

One of the main obstacles to achieving universal access to such services stems from existing laws and public policies being implemented in a number of OAS Member States. Along these lines, there are laws that criminalize certain types of consensual sex between adults, gender identities, and/or expressions of sexual diversity. In addition, some States in the region have discriminatory restrictions, based on serological status, to determine criteria for entering or staying in the country. 

“Education has a critical role to play in preventing discrimination,” indicated IACHR Chair Tracy Robinson, the Commission’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons. “Education is the means to a lasting cultural change in which discriminatory actions are not tolerated or allowed. Therefore, we believe the States should urgently adopt educational policies designed to change social and cultural patterns of conduct, counteract prejudices and customs, and eliminate practices based on stereotypes that can legitimize or aggravate discrimination against persons living with HIV and key population groups disproportionately affected by HIV. The States should particularly expand their efforts to implement educational policies that help to reduce and eventually eliminate the disturbing levels of stigma that these persons endure.”

The IACHR calls on the OAS Member States to remove all barriers in law and in practice that impede the full exercise of human rights by people living with HIV and key populations. The Commission urges the Member States to take positive measures to guarantee their human rights and to eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and those affected by the epidemic in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the 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.

No. 019/15