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Answers to Your Questions

As promised, here are responses to a few of the unanswered questions posed at the December 8 town all meeting, HIV/AIDS and the Right to Health: Leadership in the US and Globally. I encourage you to join the conversation by posting a comment or asking a follow-up question. As we continue to receive questions from you and answers from the panelists we will be posting them, so stay tuned!

Pat Daoust

Q. Do you think that the current global economic downturn will have a significant impact on bilateral and multilateral aid directed towards countries facing a challenging HIV epidemic, such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa? If so, what can we do to prevent a leveling or decline in funding for HIV/AIDS programs around the world?

A. The risk is very real, though it is encouraging that President-elect Obama has committed to doubling U.S. development assistance. We must not allow the weight of the economic downturn to fall on those who are already marginalized and economically and socially disadvantaged. We must redouble our efforts to insist that development assistance grows, even in these difficult economic times. As the global impact of this economic crisis becomes clear, the urgency of development assistance becomes all the more imperative. We should let our congresspersons and the Obama Administration know that funding global health must remain a priority, and remind them that funding HIV/AIDS and other global health programs will not only save countless lives, but will restore America’s global image, enabling us to more effectively work with countries around the world on a host of issues critical to our national interest. Garnering goodwill with governments and ordinary people around the world — including in countries like Pakistan — by giving people real hope, is vital to our national security interests.

Q. Every day, I see young people (many HIV+) who lack health insurance or lack the savvy needed to stay insured while working, growing, and attending college. PEPFAR and other international HIV programs promote reproductive health, human rights and social justice, access to care, and building health system infrastructures, decreasing the personal and social toll of HIV. Why not in US HIV policy?

A.You have laid out many of the issues that AIDS Action Committee believe are essential to address in the National AIDS Strategy. All of these issues must be addressed domestically. Many AIDS service organizations, like AAC, work to promote access to care, reduce barriers such as criminal records checks that may prevent people from accessing housing, and include issues such as reproductive health in our work. There is no doubt that HIV/AIDS is the very nexus of many human rights and social justice issues. This is what compels many of us to work tirelessly for those in need. If you are interested in volunteering, AAC would love to have you!

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These are the introductory paragraphs from the Physicians for Human Rights letter calling on President-Elect Obama and the United States to recommit to the full range of human rights the US accepted by endorsing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

December 10, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

Today we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the blueprint for the realization of rights and dignity for all people. The Declaration, crafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, has brought hope to millions across the globe. For many people, however, the rights enumerated therein have yet to be realized. Sadly, the UDHR’s vision of the interdependence of all rights (civil, political, social, economic and cultural) has been blurred for decades—first by the Cold War divide, and then by governments that have picked and chosen rights to suit their narrow interests or political ideologies. Even the civil and political rights that the U.S. embraced as preeminent have been abandoned since 9/11, as detainees in U.S. custody have been tortured, held in secret prisons, and denied due process of law.

Your election represents a triumph over prejudice and is a great stride in the long march toward equality and dignity. Our nation now has an opportunity to restore U.S. credibility and leadership in the struggle for the rule of law and for the absolute prohibition against torture, and also, for the first time, to embrace fully all the rights necessary for all people to live with dignity and realize their full potential as human beings. We urge your administration to commit to fulfilling the promise of the entire Declaration and its expansive understanding of universal human rights.

The full exercise of political rights can only occur with a foundation of health, security, and education. Those who are sick and lack medical care, for example, are unable to exercise their rights to full participation in society. In this context, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) places special emphasis on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. As you acknowledged during a campaign debate, you believe that we should view health as a right.

The right to health, grounded in Article 25 of the UDHR, and elaborated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, should be fully integrated into U.S. human rights policy both abroad and at home, along with all the other rights in the Covenant. At the same time, the U.S. must re-establish its commitment to core civil and political rights, which have been violated in recent years in the name of counter-terrorism.

The letter outlines six major action items for the Obama administration:

  • Ensure that the prohibition against torture will be unambiguously enforced and that health professionals are no longer involved in interrogations.
  • Ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other key international human rights instruments.
  • Reassert the U.S. role in the UN mechanisms on human rights.
  • Invest in global health, specifically addressing women’s rights and health, and the health workforce needs of disease-burdened countries.
  • Sign and ratify the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, take action to protect civilians from mass atrocities, and ensure that the U.S. does not offer safe haven for war criminals.
  • Commit to realizing the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the United States.

Download and read the full letter (PDF).

Community Unites for Town Meeting on Global AIDS and Human Rights

December 5, 2008


Senator Ted Kennedy To Be Honored for Leadership on Right to Health

BOSTON, Dec. 5, 2008 — On Monday, Dec. 8, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, community members and experts join for a landmark town meeting titled “HIV/AIDS and the Right to Health: Leadership in the U.S. and Globally.” The event, which commemorates World AIDS Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is underwritten by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) through the generosity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is co-organized by PHR, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC), Partners In Health, and the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights. More than 69 New England organizations, hospitals, and universities have signed on as event co-sponsors. With over 800 RSVPs to date at http://physiciansforhumanrights/udhr, event planners expect at least 500 in attendance.

HIV/AIDS experts, human rights advocates, community leaders, health professionals and students, and elected officials will discuss the current state of efforts to combat the AIDS pandemic both internationally and domestically — what has succeeded, what has failed and what must happen now.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino will open the event. PHR CEO Frank Donaghue will co-moderate the event, issue PHR’s “Call to President-Elect Obama To Fulfill the Promise of Universal Human Rights,” and present PHR’s Award for Outstanding Leadership on the Right to Health to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Joseph P. Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and great-nephew of Edward Kennedy, will accept the award on the senator’s behalf. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will present a keynote address via video.

Expert presenters include: Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, M.D., Co-Pastor of Bethel A.M.E Church, Director of Sisterhood For Peace and Chairwoman of Save Darfur Coalition; Rebecca Haag, President and CEO of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and Executive Director of AIDS Action Council in Washington, DC and one of the chief architects and leaders who called for a National AIDS Strategy for the U.S.; and Jim Yong Kim, M.D., Director of Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The meeting’s co-moderator will be Pat Daoust, MSN, RN, Director of PHR’s Health Action AIDS Campaign.

The Dec. 8, 12-1:30 p.m. town meeting – including a discussion and question and answer period – will take place at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur in Boston. A reception, Community Action Fair, and refreshments will immediately follow the program.

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Scientists and Human Rights

PHR President Len Rubenstein and his colleague Mona Younis, who is director of the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have published an op-ed, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the current issue of Science. The op-ed is about the role of scientists in upholding human rights.

On 10 December 1948, the world’s governments made history when they adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and agreed to ensure its “universal and effective recognition and observance.” Over the course of six decades, this declaration has generated both tremendous hope and a substantial body of law obliging governments to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights inherent to all human beings. Though reaffirmed at every turn, one lesson of the past 60 years is that governments’ commitment to human rights is only as strong as the demands of their citizens. As respected members of society, scientists are vital to securing governments’ adherence to human rights.

If you are a Science subscriber you can read the rest of the article online. You may also download this PDF version of the article.

UDHR Commemorations in Boston and Cambridge

By Frank Donaghue

On Human Rights Day 2008 – December 10 – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60. Physicians for Human Rights is marking this milestone by co-organizing two special events:

  1. Join elected officials, HIV/AIDS experts, health professionals, students and community leader—including invited guest Senator John Kerry—for a dialogue on US domestic and global AIDS policy and its connection to the fundamental right to health on Monday, December 8, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School. PHR will present a special award to honor Senator Ted Kennedy’s outstanding leadership on the right to health.
  2. Harvard University Committee on Human Rights, in collaboration with PHR and the American Repertory Theatre, observes the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR with a dramatic reading of the Declaration on Wednesday, December 10, from 6:00-8:30 p.m., at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum at 79 JFK Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge.

For the past year, leading up to the observance of the Declaration’s 60th Anniversary, the United Nations Secretary General has sponsored a worldwide advocacy campaign that celebrates the theme of “Dignity and justice for all of us.” This theme is close to my heart, as CEO of PHR, since our tagline is “Advancing health, dignity and justice.”

Right now, PHR is carrying out vital advocacy campaigns to realize the UDHR’s promises of the right to protection and the right to health in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Darfur and many other places—including here in the United States.

Help us be your voice for change. Join with us and more than 2,000 people from over  40 countries who have signed the PHR petition to the US Secretary of State urging an international crisis response to stem the collapse of the Zimbabwe health system. Thank you for helping us build the movement for health and human rights. Together, we can change the world.

Franks Donaghue is Chief Executive Officer at Physicians for Human Rights.