Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

The HIV/AIDS Pandemic and Human Security

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

The HIV/AIDS Pandemic and Human Security

Article excerpt

The panel was convened at 2:45 p.m., Friday, March 31, by its chair, Ellen Walker, who introduced the panelists: Obijiofor Aginam of Carleton University; Nikki Naylor of Interights; and Noah Novogrodsky of the University of Toronto School of Law. *


The HIV/AIDS pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on human life, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The speakers in this panel were asked: What are states' obligations in responding to this pandemic? Specifically, what are the respective obligations of sub-Saharan African states, and of other states, in "a just world under law"? What are the limits of the existing international human rights framework in protecting vulnerable individuals and groups? To what extent are so-called "second-generation" rights (social, economic and cultural rights), which include the right to health, justiciable?

First, Noah Novogrodsky provided an introduction to the pandemic, as he and Stephen Lewis typically do in their course on HIV/AIDS and human rights. He pointedly described the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS on societies and addressed the lack of interpretation of international human rights law vis-a-vis HIV/AIDS.

Apportioning state responsibility among heavily impacted African states and the rest of the world requires post-colonial perspectives on Africa's role in the creation and use of international law. The second speaker, Obijiofor Aginam, drew attention to the colonial roots distorting international law discourse and public health diplomacy, and emphasized the interrelatedness of generations of rights.

Third, Nikki Naylor drew on her experience advocating for women's rights in South Africa to discuss its approach to the right to health, and the limits of international human rights law in protecting women. She critiqued international responses and human rights approaches as inadequately accounting for the real experiences of women, for whom violence can create a disincentive to disclose HIV-positive serostatus.

One hopes this session will lead to increased examination of states' responsibility for HIV/ AIDS-related violations occurring around the world, which together constitute a continuing global human rights crisis.


By Noah Benjamin Novogrodsky ([dagger])

Why isn't the HIV/AIDS pandemic the seminal challenge of international human rights law?

Today, more than 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS; sub-Saharan Africa is home to slightly more than 10% of the world's population but contains more than 60% of all people living with HIV--25.8 million. In 2005 an estimated 3.2 million people in the region were newly infected while 2.4 million adults and children died of AIDS) The death toll from HIV/AIDS represents a tsunami per week.

These statistics speak to a public health crisis of almost unprecedented scale. It is that, of course, but it is also a rupture in the social, economic, and political present, and in the future fabric of many societies.

The impact of the AIDS epidemic can be studied for many reasons:

because it is an interesting phenomenon; because of a pressing desire

to help those in distress now and in the future; because it makes a

mockery of international development goals and prospects for progress

in some countries; because resulting poverty may be a threat to the

national security of the US; or yet again because of a fear that 'AIDS

refugees' may flood the countries of the north is search of

treatment. (2)

Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, whose work has been the inspiration for a seminar I teach at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, calls the pandemic an apocalypse. He has spent the better part of five years watching a continent die, knowing full well that life-saving treatments available in developed countries would forestall millions of African deaths. …

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