Organisations representing gay and drug user voices banned from UN High-Level Meeting

20 May 2016
UN building in New York

More than 20 organisations representing the voices of people who use drugs and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities have been banned by their countries from attending next month’s United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.

A letter from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to the President of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, stated its members were blocking the participation of 11 LGBT organisations from the meeting. The letter, penned by Egypt on behalf of the 51 Muslim states that make up the OIC, gave no indication as to why this might be.

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN declared that the move was likely to be the result of these organisations’ involvement in LGBT advocacy.

She wrote to Lykketoft, on behalf of the USA stating: “Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

Europe and Canada are also said to have penned letters to Lykketoft, protesting the decision by these countries.

Inclusion of all voices in the High-Level Meeting is critical to ensure that the roadmap to end AIDS is fully representative and evidence-informed.

Outside of the OIC, some other countries have made similar moves. Cameroon has blocked the participation of Actwid, a group representing people living with HIV in the country. In Jamaica, the Colour Pink, a group representing LGBT communities in the country was also banned from attending. Russia has blocked organisations that advocate for harm reduction, including the organisation, Esvero.

Members of civil society are concerned that culture wars are impeding the UN process. “The movement to block the participation of NGOs on spurious or hidden grounds is becoming epidemic and severely damages the credibility of the UN”, says Power.

Dr Kapya Kaoma, senior religion and sexuality researcher at the Political Research Associates think tank, and author of Globalising the Culture Wars, and Colonising African Values, told the Guardian: “It is unspeakable. To try and bring in politics when they are dealing with another person’s health and life is inhuman. This is not about politics. This is about the common good of the human race.”

The UN High-Level meeting is being convened from 8-10 June to discuss how to Fast-Track ending AIDS by 2030, and devise a roadmap for the next five years. 

Photo credit: