Michael Kirby speaks at the AIDS 2014 opening (Pic: International AIDS Society / James Braund)

Sunday’s opening of the 20th International AIDS conference (AIDS 2014) in Australia was marked by calls for counties to end anti-gay persecution.

High profile speakers at the opening ceremony highlighted the negative impact of these discriminatory laws on the global campaign against the pandemic.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the woman who first discovered the HI virus in 1983, insisted that more effort must be made to bring countries flouting human rights into line.

“We need again to shout out that we will not stand idly when governments, in violation of human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society,” she said.

“Let’s show the world that neither brutality nor hatred can stop us. Let’s join our forces to build a better future for all,” added the Nobel laureate.

Openly gay former Australian high court judge Michael Kirby remembered LGBT individuals who have been victims of “irrational, unjust and destructive” acts, and attacked anti-gay laws in India and in some African countries. 

He suggested controversially that continued international HIV/AIDS funding for governments that criminalise and oppress their LGBT citizens should be linked to human rights.

“They have talked, oh they have talked. They have attended conferences, they have received the subventions for antiretroviral drugs. But they have failed dismally to defend the human rights and lives of their most vulnerable citizens,” Kirby argued.


Some of the 12,000 delegates at the AIDS 2014 opening session (Pic: International AIDS Society / Steve Forrest)

“They cannot expect taxpayers in other countries to shell out, indefinitely, huge funds for antiretroviral drugs if they simply refuse to reform their own laws and policies to help their own citizens,” he said, adding, “We must turn off the taps.”

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, called for end to AIDS by 2030.

He imagined a world that would see: “Voluntary testing and treatment reaching everyone, everywhere. Each person with HIV reaching viral suppression, no one dies from AIDS or is born with HIV. People living with HIV live with dignity, protected by laws and free to move anywhere in the world.”

The Melbourne conference opened on a sombre note, as the six delegates who died in the tragic downing of flight MH17 were honoured and remembered. (Initial reports claimed that around 100 AIDS 2014 delegates were killed in the crash, but the figure has since been revised.)

Some 12,000 participants from 200 countries are taking part in the event.

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