Human Rights: A La The European Union Style

In a significant development, the European Parliament (EP) has linked the Kashmir dispute with the signing of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India. According to a news (Source: The Nation, 14 June 2011), the para-33 of the resolution passed by the European Parliament on May 11, 2011, over the FTA between India and European Union, states that "Human rights, democracy and security are essential elements of the relationship between EU and India. Therefore we call on both the sides to ensure that dialogue on open issues is stepped up with particular reference to Kashmir".

It is heartening to note that the EU is giving top priority to human rights, democracy and security in all its dealings, especially in relation to its Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with India. But why single out Kashmir? Surely this must be applicable to other countries as well, which are in the process of signing these agreements with the developed countries.

The Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS issued at the end of the recently concluded High Level Meeting on AIDS also reaffirms that "the full realization of all human rights for all is an essential element in the global response to the HIV epidemic, including in the areas of prevention, treatment, care and support”, and recognizes that  “addressing stigma and discrimination against people living with, presumed to be living with HIV is also a critical element in combating the global HIV epidemic."

But then, human rights are applicable to human beings. If certain components of FTAs result in a systematic extermination of communities affected with HIV/AIDS or for that matter any other disease requiring prolonged and subsidized treatment, it would be the worst form of human rights violation - snatching away the right to live at all. This is no exaggeration, but a warning sign of the times to come, and warrants immediate action.

According to Sarah Zaidi Executive Director, International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) Secretariat, "While patients in developed countries have treatment options, the same cannot be said for those in developing countries where 95% of the 33.3 million HIV-infected people worldwide, live. Most of these people will need to be treated with ARVs if they are to live healthy and productive lives. However, the main barrier for accessing treatment to better drugs is TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), as TRIPS patent protection has limited the competition for newer generic drugs and has impeded access to improved treatment options for HIV-infected persons in developing countries. Most of the newer drugs are protected by patents held by pharmaceutical companies and are unaffordable."

I am tempted to quote here from the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Intensifying Our Efforts to Eliminate HIV and AIDS adopted by the General Assembly at the end of the recently concluded UN High Level Meeting on AIDS that brought together 3,000 participants, including 30 heads of State and government, to chart a path for the future of the AIDS response: "We recognize the critical importance of affordable medicines, including generics, in scaling up access to affordable HIV treatment; and further recognize that protection and enforcement measures for intellectual property rights should be compliant with Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of the right of Member States to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all; we also note with concern that regulations, policies and practices, including those that limit legitimate trade of generic medicines, may seriously limit access to affordable and good quality HIV treatment and other pharmaceutical products in low- and middle-income countries."

The HIV epidemic remains an unprecedented human catastrophe inflicting immense suffering on communities  throughout the world, with more than 30 million people dying from AIDS, and another estimated 33 million people living with HIV. Also, over 7000 new HIV infections occur every day, mostly among people in low- and middle-income countries. Although providing access to anti retroviral (ARV) treatment to over 6 million people living with HIV in low and middle-income countries, and a more than 25 per cent drop in the rate of new HIV infections, coupled with over 20% reduction in AIDS-related deaths in the past five years can be taken as a major achievement, there are still at least 10 million people living with HIV who though medically-eligible, lack access to start on ARVs.

With evidence now available that FTAs do indeed adversely impact production and supply of generic medicines, the EU, and other developed countries would do well to support access to safe, effective and affordable generic medicines. They need to recognize the danger that FTAs pose to the sustainability of treatment of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. EU needs to allow governments to use public health safeguards when they face intellectual property (IP) barriers in producing or purchasing affordable medicines for HIV/AIDS, and also keep the TRIPS-plus provisions out of FTAs, instead of pushing their intellectual property agenda.

Then only would they become true human rights crusaders and have the moral right to hold to account other countries for human rights violations—whether it be Kashmir or elsewhere-- with the aim of the promoting universal respect for, and the observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments relating to human rights and international law.
Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website:

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