HIV Scotland is often described as a “health charity” – one which can sit neatly within one specific policy portfolio. However as a policy issue, HIV spans across many topics – education, stigma, discrimination to name a few – and it must be first and foremost viewed as a human rights issue.
Human rights are more than abstract concepts found within international treaties, they bring about real improvements to people’s lives and provide communities with frameworks to challenge discrimination and ill-treatment. By exercising their human rights, people affected by HIV have fought for and won the right to access health care, to receive adequate support and be included in decisions that directly impact them.
The present Human Rights Act has been integral in ensuring that people can defend their rights through the UK courts, and that public organisations treat everyone with fairness. For LGBT people in particular, the Human Rights Act means it is unlawful for the state to discriminate in the way people enjoy these rights.
As a human rights-centred organisation, HIV Scotland participated in the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review which assesses the human rights record of countries every four years. In May 2017, the UK was subject to a review by other nations and with the support of other HIV organisations based in the UK, HIV Scotland authored an evidence submission calling for an end to HIV-related stigma and discrimination; access to sexual health education for all young people; a social security system that better supports people living with HIV. We were delighted that all three recommendations were included in the UN Civil Society Report which was presented to nations ahead of the UK’s review.
The recognition of the relationship between HIV and human rights at an international level will hopefully provide HIV Scotland and other organisations with extra clout when calling for change within our domestic decision-making institutions. One of the biggest challenges facing the next UK Government will be to take urgent action to begin the process of establishing new structures that will both strengthen existing rights and ensure these rights are universally applied.
Brexit will see the UK no longer subject to rulings from the Court of Justice which upholds the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Whilst we will remain members of the European Convention on Human Rights, a removal from the EU does pose a real threat to existing rights in the UK. As the Human Rights Consortium Scotland report, Rights at Risk states: “There can be no doubt that leaving the European Union puts human rights in Scotland and the UK in a precarious position.” Whilst the impending General Election is mostly focused on the fall-out of last year’s EU referendum, the future of our human rights is being silenced.
The importance of human rights and HIV cannot be understated. Advances made in treatment, support and the involvement of people affected by HIV has only been made possible through exercising human rights. If Brexit is to dominate this General Election, political parties need to put forward solutions to enhance human rights – the clock to polling day and leaving the EU is ticking.