AIDS poses human-rights issue, PU speaker says

Abuses are widespread according to author of 40-page report.

By: Jeff Milgram
   While they might be legal, many of the measures taken to control HIV/AIDS patients are human-rights violations, a human-rights expert told a Princeton University audience Wednesday.
   "The war against AIDS is being lost," said Joanne Csete, a 1977 Princeton graduate who is director of the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, the largest human-rights organization based in the United States. "Part of that battle is about human-rights abuses."
   She spoke in Robertson Hall on "The Mother of All Missed Opportunities: Human Rights and the Global HIV/AIDS Crisis."
   In December, she wrote a 40-page report on human-rights abuses against women and girls in Africa.
   "Women and girls face violence and abuse when they ask their partner to use condoms, and they’re already intravenous drug users," she said.
   Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s until this past December, 42 million people worldwide have contracted the disease. Of these, between 25 and 28.2 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, Ms. Csete said.
   Since the epidemic began, 27.8 million people have died, 21.9 million in Africa.
   Last year, AIDS killed between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people, she said.
   "We’re not at the end of this," Ms. Csete said. "We are nearer to the beginning."
   Part of the problem is keeping statistics, with China and countries that made up the former Soviet Union habitually underestimating the number of AIDS patients.
   "The people most affected by AIDS are marginalized and hard to count," she said. "Government officials are content to understate the problem. They don’t want to deal with the fact they have sex workers within their borders."
   While all HIV/AIDS patients face a stigma, and often state-sponsored abuse and violence by police, women and girls face additional dangers such as rape, sexual abuse and sexual coercion, she said.
   In India, police regularly attack or harass prostitutes, gays, bisexual men, drug users and AIDS educators, she said.
   "The rights abuses faced by people with HIV/AIDS are often legal," she said.
   "Official registration of drug users is a major issue," she added.
   She criticized the United States for tying money to fight AIDS to the teaching of abstinence before marriage.
   "Abstinence program are useless if you are being sexually abused," Ms. Csete said.
   "The human-rights movement has been very late to come to AIDS," she continued. "We have very little political courage to help the most at-risk. No one wants to help sex workers and drug users."
   She suggested that countries adopt Switzerland’s system of "safe drug-injection rooms," where addicts are given heroin for free and inject it under medical supervision in an effort to eventually wean them off the drug.
   But what is needed most, Ms. Csete said, is "the political courage to stand up to the U.S. — and the United Nations has to stop dropping the ball."
   The lecture was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and the Princeton AIDS Initiative.