1. At the 50th Ordinary Session of the African Commission, held from 24 October to 7 November 2011, in Banjul, The Gambia, I was appointed to Chair the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV (the Committee). The Committee, which was established by Resolution ACHPR 163/XLVII at the 47th Session held in Banjul, the Gambia, 12-26 May 2010, is mandated to raise awareness on human rights violations specifically targeting the vulnerable group of people living with HIV/AIDS, those at risk, affected and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
2. This Report is presented to the African Commission in accordance with Rule 72 of the African Commission’s Rules of Procedure, and in light of Resolution ACHPR 163/XLVII establishing the Committee, which states that the Committee should “(g) report regularly to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
3. The Report will highlight activities that I have undertaken during the inter-session period, from 6th November 2011 to April 2012, challenges faced in performing these activities and recommendations on the way forward.
I. ACTIVITIES PERFORMED
4. The main activity that has been undertaken during this inter-session period was the organisation of the third internal meeting of the Committee, and follow-up on the implementation of the Work Plan that was adopted during the above-mentioned meeting.
(a) The Internal meeting of the Committee, Douala, Cameroon, 27-29 December 2011
5. I chaired the Committee’s third internal meeting, which was held from 27–29 December 2011, in Douala, Cameroon. The main aim of the meeting was to, firstly familiarize myself with the work of the Committee, and secondly to develop a Work Plan for the period 2012 – 2013.
6. The meeting provided an opportunity for Members to highlight activities undertaken on behalf of the Committee, such as International Conference on AIDS and Sexual Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) conference which was held in December 2011, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting also provided an opportunity for Members to discuss and develop the 2012 Work Plan, the Committee’s communication strategy and potential research and country visits to be conducted in 2012.
7. The Work Plan that has been adopted encompasses 7 key activities, which are:
· Organisation of internal meetings of the Committee, in order enable us to consider reports produced on previous activities, submissions received and examine ways to undertake further activities;
· Undertaking capacity building activities with civil society organizations (CSOs), State Parties and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and strengthening of relationships with key stakeholders in the fight against HIV;
· Undertaking country visits, in order to build a data base of best practices on HIV/AIDS policies that should be promoted and bad practices to be challenged by the Committee;
· Organisation of three thematic meetings on key questions relating to human rights issues with regard to HIV/AIDS, namely: Women’s Rights and HIV/AIDS; Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Medicine for PLHIV/AIDS in Africa; and Vulnerable Key Populations and HIV AIDS. The aim of these meetings is to discuss evolving concerns in the area of Human Rights and HIV/AIDS with key stakeholders;
· Undertaking research on the three afore-mentioned thematic areas, with the aim to report to the Commission and to produce recommendations on the best strategies for protection of the rights of PLHIV and those at risk, in order guide State Parties;
· Discussing ways to improve internal communication between members and external communication for the visibility of the Committee; and
· Seek institutional support for the Committee.
8. The meeting also provided the opportunity for the Members of the Committee to meet and interact with a number of representatives from CSOs, based in Cameroon. The CSO representatives provided information on initiatives and programs they are involved in. The CSO representatives asked several questions on the work of the Committee, and the African Commission, and enquired on how they could contribute to the Committee’s work. Attendees were informed on the process of applying for NGO observer status with the African Commission, and were further encouraged to consider submitting cases on human rights violations to the African Commission, in accordance with the requirements stipulated in the African Charter.
(2) Follow-up on the implementation of the Work Plan
9. Following the Committee’s internal meeting, I kept in touch with Expert Members of the Committee on the way forward; specifically on the implementation of the Work Plan. This involved discussing strategies on how to undertake activities as stated in the Work Plan, in the absence of available funds. It is important to recall, last year the Committee met twice and undertook activities mainly with financial support from UNAIDS and technical support from the Human Rights Development Initiative (HRDI). The Committee is still working on securing crucial financial support; including through involving new partners through the assistance of the Expert Members of the Committee. This would enable the Committee to undertake studies, build capacity of organisations working with PLHIV and those at risk, and ensure visibility of the Committee.
10.The two first years of the Committee have mainly been focused on its visibility. As a new special mechanism of the Commission, the Committee has done its best to fit in the institutional framework of the Commission. In this regard, the Committee’s mandate has been to explain to partners the link between human rights and HIV/AIDS, and to ensure that it is understood that this work is also part of the African Commission’s mandate. This has not been easy, given that HIV/AIDS is mainly considered as a medical issue.
11.In order to undertake its ambitious Work Plan, the Committee requires technical and financial support; other than the financial support provided by the African Commission. This current situation makes it difficult to perform several activities, the commitment of the Commissioners and Experts members notwithstanding.
12. Another challenge is the legal environment in many countries which does not provide an enhanced protection of PLHIV. Criminalisation of HIV transmission is the rule in the majority of African countries, and this constitutes a big stumbling block to HIV prevention and to protection of the fundamental rights of PLHIV and those at risk.
13. In order for the Committee to be able to fulfil its mandate, I would like to propose the following recommendations:
- To the African Commission, to renew the mandate of the Committee which expires this May 2012;
- To State Parties, to take into account the rights of PLHIV and those at risk, in policy developed in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to refrain from criminalising PLHIV and those at risk. State Parties should endeavour to create an environment where PLHIV feel secure and involved in the fight against this disease. State Parties are also called on to adopt a human right based approach in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to use the African Commission and the Committee, as a partner when conceiving and developing legal frameworks on dealing with HIV/AIDS;
- To Civil Society Organisations, to use the Committee as a tool in their advocacy toward promotion and protection of the rights of PLHIV and those at risk, and to promote the Committee within their networks, including through inviting the Committee to participate in capacity building sessions in order to share experiences and to benefit from its support. CSOs are also called on to support the Committee by making statements during the session with specific relevance to HIV/AIDS and to submit relevant information during inter-session period to the Committee.