Message of the Regional Director for UNAIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, Luisa Cabal

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Message of the Regional Director for UNAIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, Luisa Cabal

On this March 1 st , as we celebrate the Zero Discrimination Day, I want to remind all of you of this year’s core theme: “Remove laws that harm, create laws that empower”. Through this theme, UNAIDS is highlighting the imperative to act against discriminatory laws.

Unfortunately, millions still live under laws that result in people being treated differently, excluded from essential services or being subject to undue restrictions on how they live their lives, simply because of who they are, what they do or who they love.

Such laws are discriminatory—they deny human rights and fundamental freedoms. And this is where this debate becomes important: we must strive collectively to change these laws and policies so that the rights of everyone are protected:

  • The right to equal treatment before the law.
  • The right to education.
  • The right to economic opportunities.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right to dignity.
  • The right to health.
  • The right to association.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • Among so many other rights.

As pioneer human rights advocate for the HIV movement Jonathan Mann once said: The rights of everyone are protected by ensuring that the rights of some are protected. This means that if the rights of some are violated, the rights of all are affected.

At UNAIDS we believe that more deliberate action is needed fight discrimination against those who have historically been left behind, migrants and refugees, indigenous communities, women and girls, as well as key populations—gay men and other MSM, transgender people, sex workers, drug users, people in prisons—and people living with HIV in this region.

A recent report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) called New threats to human security in the Anthropocene: Demanding greater solidarity, states that “Even when groups are formally protected against discrimination, social, political and cultural practices of exclusion can still erode people’s dignity.”

This means that our collective efforts to reform laws and policies must be accompanied by a sustained work to change the norms and behaviors that fuel discrimination. Passing laws or reforming them is a necessary step in ensuring that we can achieve transformational cultural and social change anchored in the principles of respect to the rights of everyone. This demands that we work harder together to garner the necessary political will.

We know that when there is political commitment and resources to ensure institutions protect human rights real change can happen. We must celebrate progress that sets the tone for what is possible to end discrimination.

In El Salvador, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice has recently ordered the Legislative Assembly to issue a reform so that trans people can change their name to be compatible with their gender identity, a historical struggle of the LGBTIQ+ community salvadoreña.

In Colombia, a historical decision by the country’s Constitutional Court in February decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. By ruling in favor of eliminating abortion as a crime, the Court recognizes the "freedom and autonomy of women to decide about their bodies and life projects, fundamental characteristics of full citizenship, according to civil society movements.

And in Peru, since 2020, adolescents can now access sexual and reproductive health and services, including contraception and HIV testing, without parental consent thanks a collective effort and support of civil society and UN organizations, such as UNICEF and UNAIDS, and the Ministry of Health.

In Trinidad and Tobago, in 2018, a court ruled that laws banning gay sex were unconstitutional.

States have a moral and legal obligation to remove discriminatory laws and to enact laws that protect people from discrimination. We all can commit to call for change and contribute to efforts to remove discriminatory laws.

On this Zero Discrimination Day, let’s get together to commemorate the right of everyone to live their lives with dignity and free from discrimination.


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