The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the National Department of Health are set to lock horns again – and this time it is over the exclusion of the HIV / AIDS activist group and its allies from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS).

The TAC and Aids Law Project (ALP) have been excluded from gaining accreditation to the critical meeting because the South African government had objected to its participation. It is two of only six international organisations who were denied accreditation.

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.

Another regional non-governmental organisation, the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA) was also excluded, a move activists said was motivated by the fact that the ALP sat on its board.

According to United Nations procedures, the General Assembly president draws up a list of civil society representatives.

It needs to take into account UNAIDS recommendations and the principle of equitable geographical representation. The list is then submitted to member states for consideration on a “no-objection basis” for a final decision by the General Assembly.

”It appears that TAC, ALP and others were excluded by specific objection from member countries. In the case of TAC and ALP, we suspect this objection was made by the South African government,” said TAC spokesperson Nathan Geffen. Geffen said the move was the latest in a long list of intolerant actions by the Ministry of Health.

“For example, the South African country report submitted to UNGASS was sent without consultation of other NGOs, in contradiction of UNGASS policy. The country report describes an inaccurate rosy view of South Africa’s response to the HIV epidemic,” said Geffen.

The TAC and ALP also sent a letter to the minister of health and foreign affairs on Tuesday expressing concern that their exclusion was an attempt to “silence truthful and widely held opinions about the real character of our country’s response to the epidemic”.

The letter asks the minister to (within 24 hours) either confirm or deny the allegations.

By Anso Thom

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