Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs
New York, New York
July 22, 2021
Thank you, Chair. I have the pleasure of delivering this message on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxemburg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal*, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and my own country, the United States of America. (*Portugal joined on the floor.)
Over 25 years ago the United Nations Joint Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was established by ECOSOC under the leadership of Member States, and incorporated a formal role for civil society within its governance structure, which is unique in its level of inclusiveness. ECOSOC recognized the crucial role civil society had played from the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, and enshrined its participation in global policy and program decision making through the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) governing body of UNAIDS.
Civil society continues to serve as the collective eyes and ears of the HIV response, providing critical information and perspectives on everything from HIV service delivery to the impact of discriminatory or unsupportive laws and policies. With and through the meaningful involvement of a diverse and independent civil society, key populations are served, individual human rights are upheld irrespective of age, social and economic status, religious belief or self-chosen gender identity, policies are monitored and the day-to-day realities of living with HIV/AIDS are illuminated. Without civil society, advancements in the global HIV response and ending the AIDS epidemic will be less effective and ultimately not succeed.
We notice, with concern, attempts in recent months to diminish the role of civil society in the debates and decisions of the UNAIDS governing board or in their participation in General Assembly meetings related to HIV and AIDS, such as the high-level meeting in June of this year. We will continue to champion their active and robust participation and engagement which is vital to our work. HIV affected communities, particularly key populations, have a crucial place in UN meetings, contributing to policy development and giving voice to complex issues. This is particularly the case as we direct attention over the next 5 years to reducing the inequalities that drive the HIV epidemic as outlined in the Global AIDS Strategy, prioritising populations who have been left behind in the response to date and ensuring services reach those who need them. This includes key populations as well as girls and young women and children. A reduced civil society role in governance ignores the ethical imperative that affected populations must be engaged at the global, regional, national and local levels if we are to reach the ambitious targets articulated in the 2021 Political Declaration and the 2030 goal of ending AIDS.
At the UNAIDS PCB, civil society, represented through the NGO delegation, is an invaluable voice, one that firmly—and necessarily— grounds us in the reality of the AIDS epidemic. They push each of us to do better as governments – voices who question or disagree with governments are important as they keep us accountable and shed light on problems, which left unaddressed will remain impediments to progress and reaching the goal of ending AIDS.
Civil society also calls attention to and brings passion to neglected and contentious issues. They are the face of HIV, persistently advocating for the most challenging of problems while highlighting the diversity of the contexts and communities they serve. As such they are a direct reflection and representation of communities most vulnerable to HIV, bringing a unique perspective on how those communities can be reached, actively involved and served effectively with HIV prevention, treatment and care services.
This ECOSOC resolution speaks to issues of governance and is therefore an opportunity for us to again reiterate our commitment to support, protect, and celebrate the unique and essential role of community and civil society in the UNAIDS governing body.