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The TAC is barred by South African government from New York UN session


Finally skeptics have the power to put activist barking dogs outside

We hear from South Africa that the pro-drug company, pro HIV Treatment Action Campaign has been prevented by the HIV-cautious South African government from participating in the upcoming UN session on AIDS, the UN general assembly’s Special Session on Aids (Ungassa), scheduled for May 31 to June 2 in New York.

Our correspondent writes rather disdainfully that “the TAC is pitching a hissy fit” in response. The news report is from the Sunday Independent, April 2, Sun:

The Ungassa organisers said they had submitted a list of organisations that would take part in the session to all national governments, but due to objections from South Africa’s department of health the TAC and ALP were excluded when the list of delegates was finalised on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy on HIV/Aids in Africa, said it was “absolutely outrageous” for the TAC to be excluded from the global gathering. “The TAC is the single most credible non-governmental Aids organisation in the world. It carries enormous credibility with NGOs and governments and enjoys credibility with everyone – apart from the South African government.”

Lewis said the decision was an error of judgment. “How do you keep the leading voice on Aids from the country with the highest infection rate in the world [from speaking]? It makes no sense,” Lewis said.

“It is a real loss to South Africa, Africa and the world. Zackie Achmat and the TAC will one day win the Nobel Prize: they belong in any meeting that discusses Aids.” Lewis said he hoped colleagues at the UN would discuss the exclusion in a general assembly and make it possible for the TAC to be included in the forum.

We applaud this action, even though it completely contravenes the principle of free speech which is one of the lynchpins of this blog.

In other words, because we believe the views of the TAC are so prejudiced and uninformed and predictable that they would just muddy the waters of any discussion without any compensating benefit, we support the censoring of the activist organization on the grounds of wilful misinformation.

This is the well known “Crying Fire! in a crowded theater” justification of censorship, for we compare the activities of the TAC to the crying of Fire! in a crowded theater when they should know that there is no fire, at least, if they were capable of reading the scientific literature for themselves, which it seems clear they are not.

Hard to be sure whether this justification for censoring them stands up to examination or not, though. After all, the TAC people presumably believe what they are saying when they fiercely promote AIDS drugs and attack the doubts of the HIV naysayers with the rhetorical equivalent of flamethrowers. Why shouldn’t they be allowed in? Don’t the HIV skeptics have as their chief complaint that they are not allowed to give their views on any major establishment platform? How can they then bar the TAC from UN deliberations?

It will be interesting to see if the South African government can make this stick. A lobbying campaign has already been started by the TAC.

The Larry Kramer syndrome

Meanwhile, we have to admit tha we hope that the barring is a first step to removing activist influence from all HIV?AIDS policy deliberations, particularly the issue of whether the paradigm should be reviewed by outside parties.

For it seems pretty clear that almost all activist influence since the beginning of HIV?AIDS twenty years ago has been anti-scientific, starting with the desperation of ACT-UP to wrench AZT and other dangerous drugs from the hands of those administering trials before they could be properly evaluated, to their current hostility to reevaluating HIV as a cause and their promotion of current drug regimens and their export to Africa regardless of significant indications that trials have not be properly done.

We pointed out to ACT UP founder Larry Kramer at the Montreal AIDS Conference years ago that if it made sense to him to challenge the goodwill and integrity of officials at the NIH dealing with drug trials, surely he should view the scientists promoting HIV with the same suspicion. All the playwright could say in response was “Oh you make me feel so ashamed!” and he wandered off to get some coffee, never to return.

Years later, he appeared on stage at Rockefeller University to discuss the state of HIV?AIDS and in the green room afterwards confided that his recent liver transplant had been paid for by others. “That’s because you are a national treasure, Larry!” we assured him, but we couldn’t help wondering to ourselves whether if he had read the scientific literature with more attention, and viewed science more cynically as internally subject to the manipulations of politics and human nature in the way we had recommended, he might not have had to endure a transplant at all.

Of course, this is an example of the odd tendency we all have of recognizing weaknesses in authority where we know a lot about the subject, and failing to see them when we know little. Everybody who reads the New York Times on a topic in which they are expert, for example, is often disconcerted by finding errors and misunderstanding in the coverage by the excellent and amiable reporters of the Newspaper of Record.

But do we remember this caveat when we read about subjects we do not know very much about? Rarely, we find. Instead we treat the reporting as gospel.

Knowing nothing about science, in fact being intellectually allergic to it in many cases, liberal activists and commentators on HIV?AIDS typically view scientists who promote the consensus view as authorities who with the backing of their huge institutions are as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica, and not as mere mortals who have all kinds of social and personal pressures to affect their judgement.

This unalloyed faith in experts who work in areas which are unfamiliar to us is a syndrome which can have dire consequences.

In their blind trust of the scientists in HIV?AIDS, partly driven of course by the politics of a cause of AIDS which absolved the hyperactive drug taking and night clubbing gay community from mainstream blame for their unconventional lifestyle, those who became casualties of HIV?AIDS in the US may have cooperated in their own victimization under a paradigm which was and is still scientifically unjustified and according to repeated scientific review, invalid.

This is one consideration that makes it horrendously difficult for so many of those involved in HIV?AIDS to even conceive of the possibility that they have made a mistake. The prospect is that when the history of HIV?AIDS is written, the leaders of the gay community will have to answer for ignoring the warnings they should read science’s literature fully for themselves, and in their anxiety to win public support and blame a harmless virus for the new plague, leading their own friends and family to their doom by acquiescing in a murderous scientific con game.

Small wonder that the responses of the activist community in HIV?AIDS suggests an underlying hysteria and fury that prevent any objective discussion of the situation.

Given that reality, it is all the more remarkable and creditable that Larry Kramer recently reached out to Peter Duesberg to help him in reassessing the situation in the wake of the Harper’s piece.

Fury as SA bars Aids lobbies from UN discussion

(show)

Sunday Independent

April 2, 2006

Fury as SA bars Aids lobbies from UN discussion

By Edwin Naidu

The ANC government has been strongly condemned for barring South Africa’s foremost Aids lobby group from participating in a major international United Nations Aids forum.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and its affiliate, the Aids Law Project (ALP), were this week prevented by the government from attending the UN general assembly’s Special Session on Aids (Ungassa), scheduled for May 31 to June 2 in New York.

The Ungassa organisers said they had submitted a list of organisations that would take part in the session to all national governments, but due to objections from South Africa’s department of health the TAC and ALP were excluded when the list of delegates was finalised on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy on HIV/Aids in Africa, said it was “absolutely outrageous” for the TAC to be excluded from the global gathering. “The TAC is the single most credible non-governmental Aids organisation in the world. It carries enormous credibility with NGOs and governments and enjoys credibility with everyone – apart from the South African government.”

Lewis said the decision was an error of judgment. “How do you keep the leading voice on Aids from the country with the highest infection rate in the world [from speaking]? It makes no sense,” Lewis said.

“It is a real loss to South Africa, Africa and the world. Zackie Achmat and the TAC will one day win the Nobel Prize: they belong in any meeting that discusses Aids.” Lewis said he hoped colleagues at the UN would discuss the exclusion in a general assembly and make it possible for the TAC to be included in the forum.

Thami Mseleku, the director-general of health, told The Sunday Independent the department objected to the presence of the TAC and ALP at the global forum because they had on previous occasions used such platforms to vilify the government and, particularly, President Thabo Mbeki.

“We would like to present a united voice at the conference, but past experience has taught us that they use such platforms to rubbish what we are doing to tackle the problem,” he said.

In court papers for a case pending in the Cape high court over the government’s responsibility to act against false claims made about vitamins, Mseleku says the TAC wants to embarrass Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, “at all times”.

“They have a democratic right to express their views, but it borders on anarchy when they call for the president to be tried for genocide in an international court,” he said.

“This is a government platform; we do not think they would contribute anything constructiveÅ  Their views are already known around the world.”

Mseleku said the department would rather resolve its differences with the TAC inside the country: “We are not opposed to them expressing their views as vigorously as they want, but we are not going there to talk to the TAC. We are going there to talk to the world.”

The decision had been made by the department without consulting the president’s office, Mseleku said.

Concerning its exclusion from the UN forum, Nathan Geffen, the TAC’s spokesperson, said: “We do not want to enter into a fight with the government, but they need to grow up. We live in a democracy, and the government has to accept that it will be criticised for some of its policies.”

Geffen said the TAC had never said Mbeki should be tried for genocide by an international court: “We never said that. That is a lie.”

The TAC had agreed with the government on common points. “The government is autocratic and intolerant without realising that this will lead to more adversity,” Geffen said.

Fatima Hassan, an attorney for the ALP and TAC, said there was a difference between vilification and constructive criticism.

“No civil society movement in the world would agree to take part in such a conference with conditions attached. That’s crazy,” she said. “We have never criticised the president personally, but the government’s policies.”

The TAC and ALP did not wish to be seen as obstructionist groups, because they had constructive input to offer. “But government is bent on blocking us,” Hassan said.

On Thursday the TAC said the exclusion was one of a number of intolerant actions by the health ministry. Another was the department submitting its country report on Aids to the session without consultation, which was against Ungassa policy. “The country report describes an inaccurate, rosy view of South Africa’s response to the HIV epidemic,” the TAC said.

Pragati Pascale, the spokesperson for the president of the UN general assembly, said the forum list of about 800 civil society representatives was drawn up according to instructions from member states.

“The government of South Africa sent a letter objecting to the inclusion of the TAC, Friends of Treatment Action Campaign and the Aids Law Project,” Pascale said.

Published on the web by HIV-Aids on April 2, 2006.

© HIV-Aids 2006. All rights reserved.

5 Responses to “The TAC is barred by South African government from New York UN session”

  1. DB Says:

    As a gay man who’s lived through this “pandemic” since the very early days, I’m loathe to view Larry Kramer as a “national treasure”.

    Mr. Kramer’s actions have been instrumental in creating the nightmare we still endure as gay men.

    It’s my opinion that Mr. Kramer is the archetypical self-hating gay man. He’s a tortured soul that has unfortunately had the ability to spread his misery with so many other gay men.

    As far as “AIDS” is concerned, he’s done EVERYTHING BUT question if he might be completely wrong. Instead he’s become a role model for self-hating gay men who must be “punished” for their sexuality via “HIV” and/or “AIDS drugs”.

  2. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with DB. Over the last month, I have spoken out publicly against the HIV=AIDS paradigm, and ever since I started doing so, I have been repeatedly attacked by those who wish to protect that useless paradigm’s continued existence. I only anticipate these attacks increasing once the next issue of Harper’s comes out and people read my Letter to the Editor. At this point, I’m seriously contemplating going completely silent on the issue. The fact that these people would take the time to viciously attack someone like me, who is positive and was formally under the sway of their influence, is rotten to the core. No dissidents allowed from without, no dissidents allowed from within. I feel like my right to maintain and express my own opinion has been effectively silenced by these highly personal attacks. Free speech, when it comes to AIDS, is dead in this country.

  3. DB Says:

    Mark,
    I hope you don’t decide to go silent. We need as many as people as possible openly questioning the “HIV=AIDS” hypothesis.

  4. Dean Esmay Says:

    Mark: A thing to remember about free speech is that it includes the right of other people to speak in criticism of you. It slices both ways. It’s a hard lesson, but if you can learn to keep your spine straight in the face of withering criticism, the strength you gain is enormous.

    Don’t go silent. After all, silence = death, right?

    I’d love to interview you for my readers, by the way.

  5. No Name Says:

    Kramer would seem to be confused about what he has said in the past.

    “I never took the cocktail and my HIV viral load is 700 and my T cells are 300 plus and pretty much always have been. The only anti-HIV drugs I’ve ever taken are AZT [Retrovir] and 3TC [Epivir], both of which I still am on. It was my developing resistance to Epivir that caused my hepatitis B, previously pretty dormant, to fulminate into the liver disease that now is requiring a new liver. Talk about side effects!”

    http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hep_b/news/082901b.html

    Then in a 2002 article after his transplant he says he was on Viracept:

    “John got me a great liver with no viral complications. I’m lucky. All the pills are tolerated well, except for I guess the Viracept [an HIV protease inhibitor], which gives me a lot of diarrhea. I am working hard to get back into shape…”

    http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hiv_hbv_co_inf/0116002a.html

    As a gay man misdiagnosed with “HIV” I agree that Kramer shows an element of self-loathing. It is worth noting however than dissidents use Kramer’s early book as document to prove the extent of promiscuity and drug use in the 70s gay community. Dissidents should be aware he is not necessarily an accurate source (and nor is self-loathing Randy Shilts) and that they tend to repeat the author’s own homophobia when they unquestionably accept his fiction as an historical document.

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