The controversy over whether HIV positive individuals should be deployed as peacekeepers took a new turn this week when Sergeant Sipho Mthethwa of the South African National Defence Force was deployed as a peacekeeper to Sudan. Originally, the SANDF had refused to deploy Sgt. Mthethwa, who is a musician, because he was openly living with HIV. Assisted by the AIDS Law Project of South Africa, Sgt. Mthethwa challenged his exclusion in court and won, on the basis that this amounted to discrimination in employment and hence was contrary to the South African constitution. The medical criteria for deployment on UN peacekeeping missions include ‘fitness to serve’, and the UN leaves it to the discretion of the troop contributing country to determine the medical fitness of any individual soldier. In many countries, living with HIV is not considered a medical condition that should debar a soldier from active service, provided the required medical facilities are available on mission.
Today, the report of the AIDS, Security and Conflict Initiative is launched. Almost ten years after the UN Security Council first discussed HIV/AIDS as a threat to international peace and security, the agenda has moved on. Rather than projections made on the basis of alarm, anecdote and surmise, there is now solid evidence on which policy can be made. Early fears that the epidemic heralded political and social collapse have not transpired. But a sense of alarm was not misplaced: there are many reasons for worry. Ten years on, the issue has matured, and evidence demonstrates that with good policy and appropriate programmes, the dangers posed by the epidemic to peace and security can be successfully overcome. Two sets of challenges are especially relevant to Sudan. One is the risk of HIV transmission during post-conflict reconstruction and security sector reform. The other is the need for strong HIV/AIDS policies among peacekeeping forces. The ASCI report addresses ten specific challenges for how peacekeeping, peacebuilding and humanitarian response efforts should be better attuned to the risks of HIV/AIDS. Among them are the following: • How to make the military preference for excluding HIV positive soldiers from demanding operations compatible with human rights […]
In the early days of AMIS deployment, the Sudan government raised fears that peacekeepers from sub-Saharan Africa would be bringing HIV/AIDS into Darfur, and talked about screening incoming troops for HIV. At the time, Khartoum was opposed to increasing the AU peacekeeping presence, and these statements must be interpreted in that light. Nonetheless, there are genuine concerns over HIV/AIDS and international peacekeeping operations, including the fear that peacekeepers living with HIV may fall sick while on peacekeeping duty, or may transmit the virus to local people. A recent article, drawing upon evidence about HIV prevalence, the HIV policies of troop-contributing countries, and modeling of transmission risks, suggests that the likelihood of peacekeeping troops contributing to HIV epidemics in host countries is very low. (Massimo Lowicki-Zucca, Sarah Karmin and Karl-Lorenz Dehne, ‘HIV among Peacekeepers and its Likely Impact on Prevalence on Host Countries’ HIV Epidemics,’ International Peacekeeping, 1743-906X, 16.3, 2009, 352-363.) The authors’ argument has the following steps. First, fear that peacekeepers posed a public health risk was founded upon unfounded scares about ultra-high levels of HIV in African militaries. In fact, HIV prevalence in soldiers is often not dissimilar to their civilian peers. Of the 15 top troop-contributing countries, only […]
(The following essay is posted on behalf of Selma Scheewe. The author based this essay on her Thesis titled “Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS in Conflict-ridden Darfur”, at the University of Groningen.) Introduction Sexual violence is a prominent aspect of many recent conflicts. In the media and the reports of humanitarian agencies, this sexual violence is often linked to the possible consequence of infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In the case of Rwanda, HIV/AIDS has even been identified as a "weapon of war," which is transmitted to women intentionally by using rape. The importance of addressing the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission in conflict and other emergency settings is increasingly recognised by humanitarian organisations. However, the relationship between sexual violence in conflict settings and HIV infection has rarely been studied, even though a recent literature review concluded that conflicts are specific contexts which exacerbate vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS as well as gender-based violence (GBV), and that anecdotal reports suggest a strong relationship between these factors. For example, as a consequence of the genocide in Rwanda there is a disproportionately large number of women infected with HIV/AIDS amongst rape survivors, these numbers together with anecdotal evidence suggests that their infection is a […]