Small Wins Amidst A High-Level Failure

Published: June 9, 2016

Several United Nations Member States Commit to Engage Key Populations During the United Nations High-Level Meeting to End AIDS

New York, New York — As we reported yesterday with our partners NSWP, IRGT, GATE, and the Global Platform to Fast-Track the HIV and Human Rights Responses Among Gay and Bisexual Men and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men, the United Nations High-Level Meeting to End AIDS (HLM) opened Wednesday amidst a storm of controversy with UN member states approving a very weak political declaration to set global HIV policy priorities for the next 5 years. While the political declaration claims to commit UN member states to “fast-track targets” to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, the document’s repeated omissions, exclusions, and misrepresentations of gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, and transgender people as key populations affected by HIV worldwide, lack of commitments to key populations programming, and failure to address legal and policy frameworks that stigmatize and criminalize key populations all raise new barriers and obstacles to achieving targets to end AIDS.

As occurred in May, when a political bloc of conservative UN member state delegations, including Russia, Egypt, and Iran prevented 22 LGBT and drug user advocacy community groups from registering to attend the HLM in New York City, coverage of yesterday’s controversy was picked up by multiple global media outlets, including the Associated Press (reprinted in over 130 publications worldwide including The New York Times and ABC News), The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, and Poz Magazine, among many others.

A Weak Declaration, With a Few Minor Positive Points

While the overall political declaration fails to make adequate commitments on key populations, the final text does include several paragraphs that can be used by advocates to push for stronger programming and inclusion of key populations in HIV epidemic responses. None of these paragraphs are ideally phrased, and advocates will in many cases need to work hard to ensure that policymakers apply these points in a comprehensive and meaningful, rather than tokenistic and insufficient manner. These include:

  • Paragraph 42, which defines men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender people, and prisoners as key populations globally affected by HIV;
  • Paragraphs 62a and b, which call for a focus on evidence-based and non-discriminatory access to HIV information and prevention services;
  • Paragraph 62e, which states the need to “promote the development of and access to tailored HIV comprehensive prevention services” for key populations; and
  • Paragraph 62j, which commits to “eliminate barriers, including stigma and discrimination in health-care settings” and “to ensure universal access to comprehensive HIV diagnostic, prevention, treatment, care and support.”

On Wednesday, multiple representatives of UN member states from the conservative bloc that fought to weaken key populations provisions in the political declaration made statements in opposition to the above paragraphs. Indonesia, Egypt, and the Holy See all objected to the lack of mention of abstinence and fidelity in the final document, and Sudan and Saudi Arabia expressed concerns regarding inclusion of references to sexuality.

UN Member States and Civil Society Make Statements in Support of Key Populations

Following adoption of the political declaration, UN delegations were offered the opportunity through Friday to make country position statements reflecting upon the declaration. As of the end of the Thursday morning session, multiple delegations had delivered statements affirming support for key populations programming and inclusion in national HIV plans. These delegations represented all world regions, including delegates from Australia, Canada, Barbados, El Salvador, France, Indonesia, Jamaica, Moldova, Myanmar, Netherlands (speaking on behalf of the European Union), Senegal, Vietnam, and the United States. In addition, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, Carlos Foradori, on behalf of a coalition of 49 UN member states, issued a joint statement to “reaffirm all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all,” including key populations. While we are deeply disappointed that these UN delegations did not do more to insert necessary language on key populations in the final declaration, the many country statements in support of key populations can still serve as an important reference for advocates to hold governments to account in the coming years.

In one additional item of good news, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced today at the HLM that it would create a $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund “to expand access to proven HIV prevention and treatment services for key populations.” This follows several recent PEPFAR Country Operational Plan reviews in April and May where the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) under Ambassador Deborah Birx committed to improve key populations programming in multiple PEPFAR country operational plans in 2016-2017.

While MSMGF commends PEPFAR, we commit to hold the U.S. government accountable for ensuring the new fund quickly supports community-based and key population-led organizations directly, rather than locking up resources in large international implementing agencies or UNAIDS, which are far too often not sufficiently well-connected to grassroots community organizations. This may require creative new partnerships and funding networks. MSMGF together with its partner networks will continue to advise as needed and as appropriate.

Finally, Thursday afternoon, during a panel discussion entitled “Leaving no one behind: ending stigma and discrimination through social justice and inclusive societies”, Paraguayan Somosgay Program Coordinator Sergio Lopez and Heartland Alliance International’s Nigeria Country Director Ochonye Bartholomew Boniface, delivered powerful statements concerning key populations concerns. Sergio received a standing applause in response to his statement, “if we learned something from the 20th century, is that when the world reaches a state of extreme inequality, minorities and affected communities are the ones who most suffer the costs of discrimination and exclusion…Today, more than ever, we must act up, fight back, and fight AIDS.”

Activist, Sergio Lopez

One More Day to Influence the High-Level Meeting!

The HLM continues through tomorrow in New York City, with several additional panels and plenary sessions that are anticipated to address key populations concerns.

Our allies can continue to stay informed and influence the process by:

  • Disseminate to your country delegation and partners at regional and local level the Global Civil Society Declaration that MSMGF signed with over 80 organizations expressing profound dissatisfaction with the final political declaration
  • For allies in New York City, keep raising your voices with us at rallies, protests, and side events outside the UN this week
  • Use social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to express outrage at UN delegations for adopting an unacceptably weak Political Declaration (Suggested tweets include: Exclusion kills!@UN#HLM2016AIDS)


For additional guidance or to provide feedback, please contact Nadia Rafif, Director of Policy, at


Yours in global solidarity,

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