New Zealand: Body Positive and the Asia-Pacific Network Of People Living With Hiv/Aids (Apn+) Lobby to Defend New Zealand's PLW

Body Positive, the largest peer-support organization for PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS) in New Zealand, and APN+, the Asia-Pacific Network of PLWHA, urgently seek your support in lobbying against New Zealand Minister of Immigration Tuariki Delamere's proposal to restrict the entry of PLWHA into the country as tourists, refugees, or immigrants.

According to Body Positive and APN+, New Zealand currently has no restrictions on PLWHA entering the country as tourists, and neither immigrants nor refugees are required to undergo HIV tests before entering the country. If immigrants or refugees are found to be HIV-positive after arrival, they are offered treatment under the same conditions as New Zealand citizens.

However, Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere has declared that all refugees and immigrants should be required to provide documentary evidence that they are HIV-negative before admission into New Zealand. He also recommends adding a mandatory question to immigration forms that asks whether the applicant has HIV; those who answer 'yes' would face automatic denial of the application.

New Zealand has proven very successful in reducing the rate of HIV infection within its borders. The development of effective public education and prevention campaigns and the creation of supportive environments for PLWHA encourages people at risk of HIV infection to seek testing. Under the guise of offering added "protection", Mr. Delamere advocates adding immigration restrictions to an otherwise sound public health policy.

Body Positive, APN+, and others working in HIV/AIDS prevention and care consider this a grave and vindictive mistake. A move to exclude PLWHA from entry into New Zealand not only blatantly discriminates based on HIV serostatus, but also has no basis in public health.

Please write to Delamere and tell him that his proposals would be unfairly punitive toward PLWHA, as well as ineffective in protecting New Zealanders. Please urge him to preserve New Zealand's humanitarian and good-sense policies with regard to HIV/AIDS and not turn the clock back to the stigmatization of PLWHA as a danger to the rest of society. A sample letter and addresses are included at the end of this message.

For further details and background about the situation, please read on:

The World Health Organization and United Nations Commission on Human Rights have strongly condemned policies of mandatory HIV screening and travel restrictions. According to the United Nations International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, restrictions on liberty of movement or choice of residence based on suspected or real HIV status have no public health rationale, with yellow fever the only disease warranting certificates for international travel, and prove blatantly discriminatory (Source: HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: International Guidelines, 2nd International Consultation on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, United Nations Publication E.98.XIV.1).

Activists from New Zealand decry not only this policy's unjust singling out of PLWHA, but also its creation of a false sense of security among the New Zealand population, encouraging more people to engage in unsafe sex. Moreover, since its creation in 1949, the World Health Assembly has emphasized that each nation should develop internal resistance to disease, rather than rely on measures taken at its borders.

In early 1986, Saudi Arabia adopted the first prohibition of entry for HIV-positive people. The United States followed suit the next year, when the United States' Public Health Service added AIDS to the list of 'dangerous contagious diseases' for which persons could be excluded and denied admission to the country. Indeed, the United States' policy of mandatory HIV testing and discrimination over education and prevention programs to halt the spread of HIV internally set a notorious international precedent--one which apparently served as a green light for multiple other countries to adopt similar policies. Today, at least 60 nations prohibit the entry of refugees, immigrants, and/or travelers on the basis of HIV/AIDS status.

With a shrinking list of countries willing to accept refugees without a test to show their HIV-negative status, PLWHA who are trying to escape from persecution, imprisonment, torture, or other predicaments in local environments have limited places to go. According to members of Body Positive and APN+, rather than denying them refuge, New Zealand should be working to persuade other countries to accept them, too.

Largely in response to progressive measures such as the Human Rights Act of 1993, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association is planning to hold a symposium in Wellington, New Zealand in September. The Human Rights Act of 1993 protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV-status; immigration, however, is specifically exempted from this law. Local activists are deeply concerned that despite the town's gay-friendly administration, Delamere's plan might open opportunities for human rights violations and make New Zealand a hostile destination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trangendered tourists, especially those living with HIV/AIDS.

Please write to:

Mr. Tuariki Delamere
Minister of Immigration
Parliament House
Wellington
New Zealand

Please send copies to:

APN+
3/29 Mahara Avenue
Birkenhead
Auckland
New Zealand
e-mail: edw@ihug.co.nz

A sample letter might read:

Minister Delamere,

I am writing to express my deep concern about your proposal to restrict the entry of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) into New Zealand as tourists, refugees, or immigrants. Your recommendation that all refugees and immigrants should be required to provide evidence of their HIV-negative status before entry into the country, and your call for automatic rejection of all applicants answering 'yes' to a mandatory question about HIV status, unfairly discriminate against PLWHA and violate international public health and human rights guidelines.

You have stated that you intend to adopt this measure to "protect" New Zealanders from infection, but it is imperative to note that since its inception in 1949, the World Health Assembly has emphasized the development of internal resistance to disease within each country, rather than draconian measures taken at its borders. Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have issued strong condemnations of mandatory HIV screening and travel restrictions. The UN International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights declare that restrictions on the liberty of movement or choice of residence based on suspected or real HIV status have no public health rationale.

As pointed out by activists from Body Positive, the largest peer-support organization for PLWHA in New Zealand, and APN+, the Asia-Pacific Network of PLWHA, the measures you have proposed, instead of protecting New Zealanders, carry the strong possibility of creating a false sense of security among the population, passively encouraging people to engage in unprotected sex. The suggested measures imply an outdated stigma that HIV-positive people are unqualified dangers to society, in need of containment.

I strongly applaud New Zealand's successful efforts to reduce the rate of HIV infection within its borders, its remarkable human rights record demonstrated in the Human Rights Act of 1993, which protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status, and its current policy of no testing or restrictions on PLWHA entering the country. Instead of making New Zealand a country hostile to PLWHA, I hope that you can be a positive model to the more than sixty countries that have followed the United States' notorious precedent of restricting immigrants, refugees, and visitors with HIV/AIDS to accept them--choosing effective education and prevention programs over ineffective and discriminatory mandatory HIV testing and exclusion policies.

Sincerely,