Human Rights and HIV


Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that are inherent to everybody, regardless of who they are. People with HIV have human rights and should be able to enjoy them on an equal basis with everyone else. Human rights can empower individuals and communities to respond to HIV, reduce vulnerability to infection, and lessen the impact of HIV on those affected.

In Scotland – as elsewhere in the world - people with HIV can face violations of their rights, and it leads to lowered health outcomes. For example, a breach of privacy in a doctor’s office may leave a person unwilling to return for treatment, or discrimination at work could make someone unable to afford proper food or housing.

Human rights are legally protected in Scotland under the UK Human Rights Act 1998, which protects the rights outlined in the European Convention, and provides a court system within the UK to address rights concerns. These rights are also upheld in the Scotland Act 1998, which prevents any Scottish legislation from acting against the interests of human rights.

We can use international human rights standards to push for change, and challenge governments if their programmes and policies breach people's rights. This is why they are important and relevant to people living with HIV.

Several international human rights treaties have been developed since the first human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which focus on more specific concerns or on the protection of vulnerable groups. Examples of UN treaties signed by the UK include the:

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
  • Convention of the on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006)

Although none of these treaties focus specifically on HIV, they contain rights which are relevant to HIV. The Human Rights Act focuses on protecting civil and political rights, but international treaties go much further to include our economic, social and cultural rights e.g. the right to health and to social security.

Which human rights are relevant to HIV?

A few human rights that may be of particular importance to those with HIV are as follows:

  • Every human being has the inherent right to life.
  • The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.
  • All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.
  • The right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.
  • The right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.
  • To promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities in the rights recognized in the present Convention so as to better provide the assistance and services guaranteed by those rights.
  • The rights of persons with disabilities to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to age-appropriate information, reproductive and family planning education are recognized, and the means necessary to enable them to exercise these rights are provided.

Our Priorities

Action is required in Scotland to make clear the links between HIV and human rights, promote the human rights of people living with and at risk of HIV, and ensure that they can enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with others. Human rights form the bedrock of empowerment, enable people to advocate for themselves and have meaningful involvement in Scotland’s response to HIV. By adopting a human rights framework for our laws, policies and services, people living with and at risk of HIV can be empowered to make choices about their own lives and to participate fully in their communities.

HIV Scotland takes a human rights approach in its work by making links between HIV and human rights, engaging with human rights bodies and producing reports, consultations and guides on HIV and human rights. There needs to be a greater understanding of what human rights are, how they are protected, how human rights can be used to ensure an effective HIV response and what to do of things go wrong.

Our priorities are to:

  • Increasing understanding of the needs of people living with and at risk of HIV within a human rights context.
  • Ensuring that human rights protections are built upon and not eroded in Scotland.
  • Bring about improvements in relation to sexual health and blood borne viruses in Scotland using International human rights processes.