Hi from Geneva,
The language of diplomacy is truly fascinating….As some of us had witnessed already at the CND meeting in Vienna. Getting consensus in the UN is an excruciating task. It seems that recommendations to get adopted can only occur when there is total consensus and when just one country has a problem with it, then round again it goes, whittled down (or watered down) until you get the statements everyone is happy with. You can imagine why then these things take so long.
However, here at UNAIDS, the feeling seemed to be different but I had failed to notice the extremely subtle nuances of this ‘diplomatic language’. Countries are not allowed or permitted to come out openly and say I disagree or don’t like what you are saying or what you want, instead they say they ‘appreciate the comment’ and throw in minor or major clarification issues that seem to send the whole thing round and round and then off the table for….discussion at a later. date.
The Sharp Edge of Discrimination
There were some interesting points watching this today; For example, the NGO delegation representatives put forward an excellent document or rather report, which aims to highlight some of the major concerns their constituents have in their respective organisations/constituencies (as they are called). The NGO delegation used a new Communication Facility to extend their consultations globally to really get to the voices on the ground, to identify the main issues of concern for people. It was interesting and of course very clear to many of us already, that STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION was by far the main issue for people and the leading cause of barriers to reaching the UN’s goal of achieving universal access.
There are already 3 adopted pillars of universal access (commitments made by Governments in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDs 2006) ; universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. The NGO delegation had, among a small series of recommendations put forward, asked for ‘non-discrimination’ to be the forth pillar of universal access. (I will attach the NGO’s report at the earliest opportunity, it really is excellent and well worth having as it makes some very cohesive statements that’s cold be used in our own documents. In fact I think this ‘4th pillar’ could be adopted and utilised in our own movement as for people who use drugs, stigma is what kills so many of us and destroys lives.)
Table Manners Please!
So, when this ‘request’ went around the table of member states, it seemed to get a great deal of support. But apparently, that’s what happens. Then, then start ‘putting the boot in’ as one colleague put it! Picking it apart I suppose is what you could say. On the positive side, Belgium, Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to reiterate that stigma and discrimination are the main issues, and then brought up the recent CND declaration in Vienna that omitted Harm Reduction from the text, which raised issues of concern they felt, and had set back in advances made to the PCB. Hear Hear! It was a topic that the language of the UN be harmonized and it sister branches (like the UNODC) use the term HARM REDUCTION as it is just not up for discussion and has already been adopted as the language used by the UN.
The United States (and we saw the new US ambassador for HIV/AIDs, Eric Goosby – more later) gave a rather supportive, but sideways kind of answer to the forth pillar request by stating that they would be interested to incorporate non discrimination as the 4th pillar of Universal Access as it brings in human rights theme, and they would be interested in hearing more about just how that could be operationalised– “Could the NGOs please tell us and how we could support it.’ So far so good. Or is it?
The UK then went on to say that they would like to thank the NGOs for this comprehensive, helpful and informative report, and it gave the UL delegation comfort to know that they have been discussing the right things and are not way of base. They wanted to also highlight the CND for not mentioning ‘harm reduction’ and evidence based approaches in their declaration this year. They agreed to the 4th pillar on stigma and discrimination but stated they wished others to please ensure whatever approach we take take does not water down the progress so far and….we would like to know the methadology and operation of the 4th pillar.
France then came in and stressed that, although not disagreeing, they were not certain whether in fact, that stigma should not be part and parcel of the first 3 pillars, and not identified as a separate pillar but combined with the other 3 – each one having already discrimination as a factor. Interesting point.
The Word From Above
The chief executive, Michele Sibde, who after a very moving speech to open the day (he really does seem to be a much nicer guy than usual readers) after hearing the rest of the member states, came in with a similar thought. He said that whatever the member states decide, he would like people to take on discrimination not just as the forth pillar of Universal Access, but of the overarching goals of the UNAIDs. He said the barriers to access are well known and one of them is stigma, but more than that – “how would we integrate this 4th pillar into each area of prevention, support, care and treatment. The 4th pillar needs to be not just linked emotionally to universal access but to the entire picture of the HIV fight. Its important that we open this debate today.” So then it went round and round.
The woman from Denmark then made a comment that really threw a spanner in the works and seemed to turn the whole tide of the debate. She was concerned about the process by which the NGO’s had raised the items. To be honest, I haven’t quite got my head around what she means by this and by the end of the day (7pm) my head was swimming! I did learn though that basically, she didn’t want to start a process where NGO’s could just come in and highjack proceedings with their agendas and raise further work for the PCB that wasn’t already in the work plan.
Hard Pillar to Swallow
The 4th pillar, though it seemed to be supported by mostly all member states, many needed clarifying on the operational aspects of it, budgetary costings and such like. It went back for discussion again at a later date…There is clearly a need to get that date agreed on. However, the NGO delegation did get 2 of their recommendations adopted; that people living with HIV should not face restrictions on entry, stay and residence in countries and are not detained, excluded or deported because of their status. I believe this gets adopted formally in November. Well done!! They also got the Secretariat to report to the next PCB board meeting on the anticipated impact of the financial crisis will have on counties ability to meet their universal access targets and to include mitigation and strategies.
A very important request no doubt. OK friends, alas its 6am and today is THE DAY, where our harm reduction colleagues raise their 8 recommendations, a true nail biting exercise. I will report in much more detail on this as I go home tonight and will have a chance to give this issue the time it deserves. I will also be attaching documents (the HIV prevention paper on Injecting Drug Use) and, I pray, some good news. One exciting development is that Mat Southwell, is hopefully going to get the chance to speak for 3 minutes, and introduce INPUD to the UNAIDS collectively, and offer our hand in partnership to work forward on drug related issues. We wrote the speech yesterday together and will publish it online today.
To our Friends…We say Thank God!
I would however like to say one more thing – you would be proud and pleased with the way all the NGO Representatives and delegates have been fighting for these issues that affect so many of us. They really do work so hard and you CAN see things change – they ARE changing. I will talk more about this in the next blog. I would also just like to put in a word for Mat Southwell, who has been working like a dog and has been making some wonderful contacts for INPUD, he really has been superb, everyone has been dead impressed with INPUDs commitment. Much of that here in Geneva has been thanks to Mat and his constant work. Nice one Mat.
So, Fingers crossed for today readers.
Adios! Erin x