The UN General Assembly has banned three gay groups from participating in a meeting on HIV/AIDs after objections from homophobic governments, including Zimbabwe.
Assembly members Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica blocked the participation of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
According to a resolution passed last year, the president of the General Assembly was responsible for compiling a list of relevant civil society organisations, which member states reviewed and approved.
The three organisations were initially included on the General Assembly president’s list but denied accreditation after the General Assembly accepted their respective governments’ objection to their participation.
“This meeting is about expanding access to HIV prevention and treatment,” said Joe Amon, HIV/AIDS program director at Human Rights Watch.
“It’s hypocritical and counterproductive for UN member states to block organisations from attending who are working to ensure that HIV information and services are truly available to all.”
The UN meeting is intended to review global progress made in the fight against AIDS.
“J-FLAG is extremely disappointed by this move,” said Jason McFarlane, programme manager of J-FLAG. “The Jamaican government itself has acknowledged that homophobia is fuelling our HIV epidemic. Silencing J-FLAG – Jamaica’s only LGBT organisation – undermines Jamaica’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.”
This is not the first time that key human rights groups have been excluded from the UN high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS.
The South African government caused an uproar in 2006 by excluding the internationally acclaimed group Treatment Action Campaign, which has challenged South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for past statements questioning the efficacy of anti-retroviral medicines.
“If the United Nations is to allow member states to exclude organisations, they should insist that the process be transparent,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
“We applied for accreditation to attend the meeting along with dozens of other NGOs that we work with daily. All of these groups were approved while we were – without explanation – excluded.”
Human rights groups and international AIDS organisations – including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO), and the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) – joined the three excluded NGOs in appealing to the UN General Assembly to ensure that the rhetoric of “universal access” is matched with participation and inclusion, and to each individual government to withdraw their objections and allow representatives to attend the meeting.
“We are all in this fight together,” said Samuel Matsikure, programmes manager for GALZ. “To succeed in the fight against AIDS we must come together. We can not allow governments to divide and exclude certain NGOs.”