The United Nations High-Level Meeting (HLM) on HIV/AIDS is an extremely significant event taking place every five years. The HLM includes a wide-variety of meetings and opportunities for both advocacy and learning. The process of the HLM began long before the “official” start date of the High Level Meeting on June 8th, with the 8th and the adoption of the Political Declaration representing more of a culmination than a beginning. 

The Multistakeholder Meeting is the most significant component of the HLM for civil society, certainly in terms of advocacy opportunities, and this took place back on April 23rd. In advance of this, Youth RISE worked closely with a number of other youth organizations to formulate a Youth Statement outlining the key needs and demands of young key affected populations ahead of the meetings.

The Multistakeholder meeting is the main opportunity to put forward our main priorities as civil society and attempt to influence the Political Declaration. Following the Multistakeholder Meeting negotiations on the Political Declaration are held behind closed doors, access is restricted and advocacy opportunities are limited to interactions with specific government delegations – if you can access them.

The adoption of the Political Declaration on June 8th is the end point of all this work, and represents a very significant landmark in the work of the United Nations and their attempts to end AIDS by 2030. This year, the Political Declaration proved to be particularly significant. For the first time, the Political Declaration was adopted without consensus. With a quartet of member states spearheaded by Russia voting against its adoption. Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua were the other countries breaking consensus. 

This vote was certainly unprecedented, although not overly surprising – the plenary was told during the course of the debate that 73 changes had been made to the document in order to accommodate Russian concerns. On top of that, Russia made a number of last-ditch attempts to overrule the document entirely, with a number of Russia-proposed amendments being voted down on the day.

What we have been left with (despite the best attempts of the aforementioned countries) is actually the most positive, progressive, and ambitious Political Declaration to date. Harm reduction has become more prevalent, as has community engagement, as well as a number of specific targets and commitments that have improved greatly on the 2016 Political Declaration.

While all the focus was on Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria, a number of other countries also took the opportunity to distance themselves from certain components of the Political Declaration. Many citing “family values” and “cultural norms”. These are the same reasons we now see a Political Declaration which, despite the positive steps, “does not measure up” per the delegate of the United States of America, who were steadfast in their criticism of the compromises made to get the document to vote. The US delegate specifically mentioned the protections given to “national sovereignty” which led to a watering down of the document, including a clause allowing each nation to self-define the key populations in their country – a clause which can only result in the most marginalized in society being left further behind in the HIV response. 

Following the adoption of the Political Declaration, Youth RISE contributed to the publication of this additional Youth Statement.

Around the HLM, a number of side-events also took place, including one on June 7th which Youth RISE co-organized. Maria, our IWG from Kyrgyzstan spoke effectively in her brief allotted time on the main issues facing young people who use drugs when accessing services, and the significance of making youth-friendly services available. Considering the HLM only takes place every five years we felt it was important to cover a wide-base, so the side-event included a number of speakers from a range of regions and representing a variety of key populations discussing the significance of youth-friendly services within their context as well as giving some key recommendations. Watch this short video about Maria’s experience speaking at the side event here.

Among the other side-events one of particular significance included one organized by our main funder the Robert Carr Fund for Civil Society Networks where commitments were made to the funding of the Robert Carr Fund. We were very thankful to see a number of increased commitments made to fund the Robert Carr Fund, following on from commitments made in the Political Declaration itself to fully fund the HIV response. 

What happens next remains to be seen. With no consensus it is hard to know what comes now for the implementation of the Political Declaration, especially as Russia will likely look to further undermine the reaching of targets. As many countries also distanced themselves from certain components of the Political Declaration, leaving many questions lingering about how effective this document might prove to be. One thing is clear though, there is a gap emerging between those who are committed to Ending AIDS by 2030 and those who are committed to further demonizing marginalized communities in their society in the name of upholding traditional values.

Watch our Executive Director discussing her experience at the HLM in video format here.