Washington International Law Journal


Many commentators suggest that states have a human rights obligation to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS within their borders. Specifically, state HIV/AIDS prevention obligations are often premised on the “right to health” contained within many international human rights documents. Other approaches encourage states to implement AIDS prevention measures by emphasizing the detrimental effects of AIDS on economies and national and international security instead. Many commentators who adhere to the health-and-human-rights model, however, reject such other approaches as overly concerned with the interests of developed countries and lacking the ethical focus that underlies health and human rights. Implicit in such arguments is the suggestion that the health-and-human-rights approach is, or should be, the exclusive or preeminent way to encourage states to comply with suggested AIDS prevention measures. The health-and-human-rights approach, however, is not universally relevant to the development of AIDS prevention measures. This is particularly evidenced by Burma, a country that has failed to take any significant steps to abate its quickly accelerating HIV/AIDS crisis despite the government’s official statements and actions manifesting an intent to combat the epidemic. Burma’s failure is especially disquieting in light of the proven success of measures suggested by international health and AIDS organizations, and models offered by countries such as Thailand with similar epidemics and winning prevention strategies. International human rights law lacks the binding or enforcement power to compel the state’s compliance with international HIV/AIDS agreements, and the abysmal health and human rights record of the Burmese government suggests that Burma is unlikely to be swayed by the ethical call of a health-and-human-rights approach. Thus, Burma serves as an example of where the health-and-human-rights approach fails to bring about compliance with HIV/AIDS prevention measures, highlights the weaknesses of the approach, and compels the conclusion that the right to health is not a model that is universally applicable or useful in encouraging state compliance with AIDS prevention measures.

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