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Hastings International and Comparative Law Review

Abstract

A health and human rights framework provides a comprehensive perspective for understanding complex interactions between HIV/AIDS, human rights, and the health of individuals and communities. By helping to identify a broad range of social factors that affect health, such a framework also facilitates the development of interventions and policies that maximize both health and human rights benefits. In this Article, we discuss the various linkages between health and human rights and review the literature on HIV/AIDS and human rights, with a focus on under-resourced settings. In particular, we examine how the framework is relevant to the specific epidemics in Botswana and Swaziland, based on the findings of populations-based studies in the two countries conducted by Physicians for Human Rights in 2004 and 2005.

In Botswana and Swaziland, which have the world's highest rates of HIV/AIDS, HIV transmission occurs primarily through sexual practices rooted in women's disempowerment and lack of human rights, and is further facilitated by poverty and food insufficiency. The legal system in both of these countries discriminates against women and limits their autonomy through restrictions on property ownership, inheritance and other rights. Social, economic and cultural practices create and enforce these legalized gender inequalities in all aspects of women's lives. Neither country has met its obligations as signatories to treaties and covenants under international human rights law. As a result, women continue to be disproportionately vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Once infected, women experience a host of further violations of human rights, including those enumerated in international treaties, covenants and laws to which both Botswana and Swaziland are signatories. To address the epidemic effectively and eliminate such violations, states must incorporate a comprehensive health and human rights framework. Respect for human rights is not optional in the struggle to prevent and alleviate the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS; it is a moral and legal imperative.

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