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African civil society denounces UN political declaration on AIDS

PRESS RELEASE Issued by the African Civil Society Coalition on AIDS

Leaders at AIDS meeting have failed Africa, say activists

NEW YORK, June 2 2006: African civil society organisations have denounced a political declaration adopted today by world leaders attending a United Nations AIDS meeting in New York.

At the High Level Review Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, which closed today, member-states negotiated a political declaration, which African activists have described as 'utterly retrogressive' and 'a sham'.

AIDS organisations expressed their 'utter disappointment' at African leaders and negotiators at the meeting, for excluding key regional priorities and commitments in the political declaration.

"What has been signed on by African leaders at this meeting is a document that set us several years back, to the days of denial, complacency and a criminal refusal to act in the face of a consuming epidemic", said Prudence Mabele of the Positive Women's Network, a South African organisation that provides services to HIV-positive women.

"Our leaders have shown an utter lack of responsibility in standing up for the lives of 25 millions HIV-positive Africans", she added.

The activists particularly lamented the absence of any reference to the African Common Position on AIDS, adopted last month in Abuja, Nigeria, which lists targets, milestones and commitments which African states should meet to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support of HIV and AIDS by the year 2010.

"The political declaration has pushed Africa several steps back in our fight against AIDS," said Adenike Esiet of Action Health Inc, which runs youth reproductive health programmes in Nigeria.

"By refusing to push for inclusion of targets and commitments agreed to in Abuja, African leaders have shown that they are not to be trusted when human lives affected by HIV are concerned."

The activists are particularly angry at countries such as Egypt, South Africa and Gabon, which repeatedly blocked all references to the African Common Position, and removed references to specific populations that are most at risk of HIV, such as women and girls, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

But they commended Nigeria and Namibia, which spoke out in support of the Abuja commitments, even when other African countries were not in agreement.

Also criticised was the attitude of many African missions as well as the African Union, whose diplomats stayed away from the key negotiations that produced the political declaration.

"It's a shame that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are most affected by this epidemic were nowhere to be found when it came to protecting the interest of their peoples", noted Innocent, Laison of the African Council of AIDS Service Organisations, based in Senegal.

Civil society organisations are however resolute in defence of the regional and national targets as contained in the African Common Position. To this end, African CSOs have declared a Week of Action - from June 13 to 17 - to mobilize support at country and regional levels for the Abuja commitments.

"We will not allow this betrayal to stand," said Ludfine Anyango-Okeyo from Kenya. "We will work tirelessly to hold our leaders accountable to their commitments."



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