President of the Republic of Fiji


Tanoa Hotel Wednesday, 17th April, 2013

• The United Nations Secretary General Special Envoy for HIV/Aids in Asia and the Pacific and India, Mr Prasada Rao

• The UNAIDS Regional Director for the Asia Pacific, Mr Steve Krauss

• The UNDP Resident Co-Ordinator, His Excellency Mr Knut Ostby

• The UNAIDS Coordinator for the Pacific, Mr Tim Rhabuhemba

• Your Excellency the Tuvalu High Commissioner, Mr Lutelu Faavai

• Justice Nazhat Shameem

• The Heads and Members of Delegations from the participating Countries including Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Fiji

• Representatives of UNESCAP, ILO, the Community of the South Pacific and UNAIDS

• Resource Persons

• Distinguished Guests

• Ladies & Gentlemen

Good morning, ni sa bula vinaka, asalam alaykum, namaskar

I bid you all a most warm welcome. For those of you who are visiting our country, Ii bid you an especial warm welcome.

I trust that for all of you, this consultation will be rewarding, enjoyable, educational and a success.

I am delighted to be opening this most important consultation for several convincing reasons.

The first reason is that it is a critical step in implementing our shared vision and commitments for achieving targets of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015, concretised in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific roadmap towards universal access.

The Pacific Island Countries have a history of leadership in the response to HIV, and have played a crucial role in mapping out the vision for the Asia and Pacific region and building on the momentum for progress towards shared goals.

In a clear demonstration of Pacific leadership and commitment to strengthening the HIV response in Asia and the Pacific, and in contributing to the global vision of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths, the Pacific Island Countries co-sponsored ESCAP resolution 66/10 on a regional call for action to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support in Asia and the Pacific and also resolution 67/9 on the Asia-Pacific regional review of the progress achieved in realizing the declaration of commitment on HIV/AIDS and the political declaration on HIV/AIDS.

In February 2012, I was honoured to chair the ESCAP Asia-Pacific High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Assessment of Progress against Commitments in the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals in Bangkok.

The regional framework agreed at that meeting to set out the key steps for governments, which were to take place between then and 2015, when we will join world leaders in New York to report on the achievements towards the global targets set at the June 2011 High Level Meeting. This consultation to discuss the review of laws and policies hindering access to HIV services for People Living with HIV and key populations is one of the steps that was agreed to in the ESCAP Regional Framework.

As the first countries in the Asia Pacific region to hold the consultation, we are again showing our leadership and commitment to effective responses to HIV and to the human rights of those living with or vulnerable to HIV. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, the participants at this consultation, together with our UN partners, to ensure that the objectives of this consultation are fully met.

This will set a ringing example to other countries in this region that will soon be holding similar consultations.

In 2014, we will report back to the other ESCAP member states on our progress on these key commitments. Let us use this consultation to focus our efforts individually, nationally and in support of each other to eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination, including laws and policies that hinder effective HIV responses.

The second reason is because this is an opportunity for us to build on our efforts to identify key aspects of the legal environment – laws, law enforcement practices and access to justice – that are hindering access to HIV services for PLHIV and key populations, and to map out a time-bound action plan to address these. We have only 1,000 days left until the deadline for achieving HIV targets. The time for leadership and action in the Pacific is now.

As identified through the ground-breaking work of The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, punitive legal environments impede the effective implementation of programmes which target people living with HIV and key populations at higher risk including men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who use drugs, young people, prisoners and women and girls.

Differences in culture, lifestyle and behaviour contribute to building barriers which people think will protect them and this leads to the denial of the existence of behaviours outside of our own personal or cultural norms.

In the Pacific, in the area of legislation and reform, much has been done – legal environments have been reviewed, declarations have been made, for example the Auckland and Suva Declarations.

However, as we know progress towards legislative amendments has been slow, because HIV-related law reform can be a monumental challenge, given the punitive approach and the high levels of stigma and discrimination. Sex workers and men who have sex with men face the constant threat of arrest, conviction, and incarceration in the Pacific and in countries in other regions as well. Programmes to reduce stigma and discrimination and increase access to justice remain under-funded and at a small scale.

In February 2011, the Fiji government had enacted the Fiji HIV/AIDS Decree 2011. The purpose of the Decree was to provide human rights based measures to assist HIV prevention and in HIV/AIDS care and support.

The Decree addresses human rights violations that fuel social marginalization, such as stigma and discrimination which remain as barriers to the HIV/AIDS response in Fiji, and in other Pacific Island Countries.

However, the decree was not perfect and the process for its review began immediately with further consultations with our friends and partners and resulted in the HIV/AIDS (Amendment) Decree 2011 which was enacted just six months later in August 2011 making the decree internationally compliant.

There was an amendment, by deletion, of the section on travel related restrictions involving people living with hiv and clarification of the sections referring to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and members of the uniformed services. And the amendment by repeal of part six on dealing with unlawful acts namely deliberated or attempted infection.

An extension of the decree is the regularisation of my appointment as Fiji’s Ambassador and special representative for HIV and AIDS.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bainimarama government has, in fact, provided unprecedented support towards the management of HIV and AIDS issues in Fiji.

However, our work in Fiji is far from over. Stigma and discrimination remain an issue, and the protective power of laws – recognised by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law – must be harnessed to eliminate these.

But more importantly for us in Fiji, our draft constitution is currently being debated and discussed Fiji wide so the timing of this consultation for us is perhaps premature.

I trust that when the draft constitution procedure is over that we will have corrected some of the areas where we have fallen short in the past.

There is no doubt that strong leadership is stronger than stigma and discrimination. A number of countries in the Asia and Pacific region are now showing strong leadership by challenging and reducing HIV-related stigma, discrimination and human rights violations.

In mid-2012 the Republic of Korea confirmed that it had eliminated HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence.

In January this year, Mongolia’s amended HIV law came into effect, eliminating HIV-related travel restrictions and strengthening legal protections against HIV-related discrimination in all settings.

In the Philippines, where the national law-making process is slow, several cities have passed local ordinances that expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of health status (including HIV),

Sexual orientation and gender identity and provide funding for mechanisms to monitor rights violations and strengthen redress.

Vietnam and China are taking steps to move away from punitive approaches to sex work.

Malaysia and China are moving away from punitive approaches to people who use drugs.

In India, old Commonwealth laws criminalising same sex practices have been struck off for violating constitutional rights of non-discrimination.

In Pakistan and Nepal, the rights of transgender people have been recognised and protected.

In countries across the region, national human rights institutions are becoming increasingly engaged in actively protecting people living with HIV and vulnerable populations including men who have sex with men and transgender people from rights violations.

The third reason is because this consultation presents a great opportunity to strengthen the critical partnerships that are not only essential for achieving zero stigma and discrimination and other HIV-related goals, but that are also the backbone of social justice and the equal enjoyment of human rights and development by all.

An Aids-free generation in each of our countries, in the Pacific, and in the world is within our grasp.

Scientific progress has made this possible. Yet we know that this will not be achieved without broad partnerships, including with key populations and civil society, and multisectoral co-operation including law-makers, justice, law enforcement, drug control and social protection to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that prevent key populations from benefiting from scientific developments, including timely HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

Government representatives at the ESCAP Intergovernmental Meeting in February 2012 benefited from the attendance of over 50 civil society organizations representing key populations and people living with, and affected by, HIV. Through the valuable contributions of those communities, we have been able to deepen our understanding of the urgent issues that need to be addressed.

The regional framework agreed at that meeting is a roadmap to fast-track our progress towards HIV-related targets and commitments. Strategic partnerships are recognised as key to our success.

The regional framework calls for increased collaboration among government ministries, including health, justice, law enforcement, drug control and social protection, in partnership with civil society and key populations, including people who buy and sell sex, Men who have sex with men, transgender populations and people who use drugs. It also emphasizes the need to share good practices and lessons learned in implementing the measures and commitments related to HIV.

This consultation is a step forward in implementing these recommendations and commitments. But in reality it is much more than that.

It is a tremendous opportunity to share successful strategies for addressing stigma and discrimination, to identifying those barriers that continue to hold back our responses, and to forging new and powerful alliances for positive impact on laws, law enforcement practices and access to justice in your countries.

But we must not stop here. So, I urge you to use your influence and leadership skills to engage the expertise, resources and networks of new partners to support the implementation of actions agreed at this consultation to move beyond rhetoric and deliver on human rights, HIV and development commitments. This takes courage.

In some cases, it requires challenging pressure groups in society that do not bear the responsibility of implementing human rights and ensuring public health for all.

Ladies and gentlemen and friends, an aids-free generation is within our grasp. Together we, the Pacific Island Countries represented here today, can lead our global neighbours down the road to success.

We can end Aids. We must end Aids. That should be our resolve as we walk together to 2015 and beyond.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, sukuria, bahoot dhanyavaad.