Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court and one of the world’s most prominent people living with HIV visited China for the second time this January. This four-day visit aimed to build on the outcomes from Justice Cameron’s initial visit in 2008, and to move forward the AIDS and rights agenda in China.
Justice Cameron was welcomed to China by the Vice Minister of Health, Mr. Yin Li. The minister reaffirmed that the Chinese government is working to lift all forms of travel restrictions to China for PLHIV. The minister discussed China’s national AIDS response with Cameron and informed him that the government are considering plans to include education on HIV in the elementary school curriculum. The Minister also brought with him a copy of Justice Cameron’s book, “Witness to AIDS”, which he said was enjoying great popularity at the Ministry of Health.
Vice Minister Yin Li reaffirmed the Chinese government’s commitment to lifting all forms of travel restrictions for PLHIV.
Dialogue with Civil Society
While in Beijing, Justice Cameron participated in two key seminars. The first of these seminars was with representatives from Chinese civil society, and was organised by the Dongjen Center for Human Rights Education and action. The civil society meeting covered a number of issues, mainly focussing on the right to health and intellectual property rights.
Justice Cameron spoke about his experiences from South Africa, where he helped to ensure that patent protections for crucial medications were overruled, allowing millions of people living with HIV to access antiretroviral treatment. During the seminar, civil society representatives discussed the situation in China, and the lessons which can be learnt from the South African experience.
At the second seminar with representatives from the international community, Co-hosted by the Embassies of the Netherlands and South Africa and UNAIDS, Justice Cameron spoke about the importance of guaranteeing the rights of people living with HIV and working to reduce stigma.
“When I was diagnosed with HIV it was an awful thing” said Cameron, “at the time it was a disease with no cure, a death sentence. But worse than that was the sense of fear of discrimination; the sense of dreaded anticipation of others’ rejection and ostracism.”
A key point of consensus from the seminar was the importance of providing support to civil society in China. Participants argued that civil society often lack capacity and direction and that a well functioning civil society requires encouragement, guidance ,financial and technical support in order to realise its full potential according to the meeting participants.
Justice Cameron at the international seminar: “At the time it was a disease with no cure, a death sentence. But worse than that was the sense of fear of discrimination; the sense of dreaded anticipation of others’ rejection, opprobrium and ostracism.”
AIDS and Rights in China
During his visit, Justice Cameron was invited to participate in a working session with Chinese government and Ministry of Health officials to discuss the role of rights in the AIDS response. It was attended by Dr. Wang Longde, former Vice Minister of Health and Chairman of the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association, Mr. Qi Xiaoqiu, Standing Vice-President of the Chinese Association of STD & AIDS Prevention and Control, and other officials and experts from the Ministry of Health, and legal profession.
This was followed by a round table discussion on AIDS and rights with prominent Chinese academics, civil society representatives, government officials, UN representatives and, for the first time, representatives from the legal and legislative sectors. Participants discussed how China’s stance towards AIDS has changed. It was suggested that the AIDS epidemic provides an opportunity to further understand the role of rights and their enforcement in society and this can lead to development in other areas of society.
Justice Cameron at the Round Table discussion on AIDS and Rights
Highlighting Sexual Minorities and other Vulnerable Populations
During his visit, Justice Cameron was invited to participate in a famous political talk show on national television, where he spoke about the rights of gay and lesbian people, and shared his personal story of living as a homosexual person with HIV. He met with the famous Chinese actress and National AIDS Ambassador Jiang Wenli, who invited Justice Cameron to meet her husband Gu Changwei, a famous Chinese film director. Mr Gu is currently shooting a new movie and documentary on AIDS in China. Jiang Wenli and Gu Changwei also invited Justice Cameron to contribute to the documentary with a feature on his visit and an interview.
“In order to combat AIDS, we need two things. One is political leadership, as President Hu Jintao has shown. The other thing is the support of volunteers” said Cameron.
Justice Cameron attended an award ceremony for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention volunteers, organised by the Beijing Health Bureau. During the event, awards were presented to volunteers of all ages who have exhibited an outstanding commitment to the response to AIDS. Justice Cameron presented one of the awards where he commended the work of the volunteers and the commitment of the Chinese government to the AIDS response.
"In order to combat AIDS, we need two things. One is political leadership, as President Hu Jintao has shown. The other thing is the support of volunteers,” Judge Cameron said.
The Chinese government has strongly promoted volunteerism in recent years, and sees volunteers as a key element of the Chinese response to AIDS.
Justice Cameron’s visit to China served as an excellent opportunity to engage in discussion on the many issues relating to AIDS and rights. His rich experience both of legal and rights-related issues, and also of living with HIV, proved invaluable, and helped to spur rich and productive debate.
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