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Anti-Gay Muslim Nations Delay UN AIDS Declaration

Arguments Center on Gays, Prostitutes and Drug-Users

Egypt Leads: Demanding Silence about Affected Groups

Compiled By GayToday

United Nations New York-United Nations health conference officials bent on tackling the AIDS pandemic have run into a roadblock erected by a group of conservative Muslim nations. The Muslims, led by Egypt, are asking that references to same-sex relations, prostitution, and drug use be expunged from the text of a special UN AIDS/HIV declaration.

Only last week GayToday reported on the arrests of 55 Egyptian males in a Cairo discotheque. They were charged, apparently, with "Satanism". Kept incommunicado, efforts have since been launched to determine the whereabouts of those arrested and to secure their releases. Fears that the Egyptian government is planning to use gays as scapegoats have been widely expressed. Cairo newspapers hinting that Egyptian gay males parlay foreign influences suggest gay collaboration with the Israelis.

The United Nations' five day AIDS/HIV conference had been scheduled to end Friday, but the Muslim countries' objections made Friday's closure impossible.

The UN declaration on AIDS/HIV, according to Harri Holkeri, president of the UN General Assembly, is to be presented to a special session of the Assembly to be held June 25-27 for heads of government.

Australia's ambassador to the United Nations-a co-facilitator of the special session, referred to "serious cultural and religious sensitivities" blocking acceptance of the declaration. "For the moment," she told reporters, "we haven't seen a way to find the middle ground." She said she expected some "pretty bumpy passages" prior to any compromise on the declaration

HIV/AIDS "is no longer just a health problem," she continued, " it is a development catastrophe."

"Because this pandemic is spreading, and spreading rapidly," she said,, "is why we have to focus as much on prevention as we do on treatment and care for those affected."

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"There is a very strong wish on the part of many member states to focus on protecting and promoting the health of the groups that are most vulnerable and at greatest risk to HIV infection."

"That would include children in especially difficult circumstances, men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, drug users and their sexual partners, persons confined in institutions and prison populations, refugees, internally displaced persons and people separated from their families due to work or conflict."

Gilles Raguin of the French non-governmental organisation Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) revealed: "Egypt is leading the dance." Nations following Egypt's lead are Iran, Libya, Malaysia, and Syria.

Difficulties finding common language about women's empowerment, giving women the capacity to make decisions about their own sexuality, were also sticking points among the Muslims.

One UN diplomat said the Muslim states had been eager to change the wording about people separated from their families to include the phrase "due to foreign occupation"--a reference to Israel.

The joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) showed that at the end of the year 2000, 36.1 million people were found living with the disease or the virus that causes it.

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