The first Regional Judges’ Forum on HIV, Human Rights and the Law in the Europe and Central Asia region will be held 3-4 October 2019 in Chisinau, Moldova to explore how the law can better protect the rights of people living with HIV, key populations of HIV and those living with tuberculosis. It also looked at the social and structural factors that increase the vulnerability of these populations and the development of jurisprudence on HIV and TB related cases.

The forum will bring together over 50 participants from seven countries (Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Ukraine), including judges, government representatives, academics, civil society organizations, key population representatives and UN agencies.

While there have been significant improvements in the legal environment relevant to HIV and TB in the region, legal barriers persist. The rights of people living with HIV, key populations at risk of HIV and of people experiencing TB are not sufficiently and effectively protected.

“The situation in the region is critical and judges in the region are well positioned to instigate change and contribute to the further using the law to protect the rights of these populations,” says Gerd Trogemann, Manager of UNDP’s Istanbul Regional Hub. “We hope that the Forum has provided a very much needed platform for judiciary members to communicate, deliberate, and share information.”

The rate of new HIV infections is decreasing globally, however in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the HIV epidemic continues to grow. According to UNAIDS, there are approximately 1.7 million people living with HIV in the region. The HIV epidemic in EECA has grown by 29 percent since 2010, reflecting insufficient political commitment and domestic investment in national AIDS responses across much of the region.

Additionally, the legal, policy and regulatory frameworks that govern national efforts in prevention, treatment, care and support need significant strengthening. Some key obstacles include the criminalisation of or increased punitive measures against HIV transmission, sex work, and drug use or possession for personal use; the introduction of homophobic and transphobic laws usually presented as “anti-propaganda” legislation;  punitive “prevention” measures against people with HIV as those more likely to commit crimes; forced and coerced HIV testing; prosecution of the people who are not able to or willing to undergo TB treatment;  and a shrinking space for civil society organizations to provide services for those living with HIV, TB and other key populations.

“Our role as judges is not limited to just ensuring correct procedures, following national legislation or executing judgements, but rather should build on latest scientific evidence in-line with international standards and practices and human rights principles,” stated Judge Olena Volkova, Ukraine, at the opening panel.

Also presented and discussed were up-to-date medical evidence pertaining to HIV prevention, treatment and care and co-infections, the latest international and regional guidance on HIV, co-infections, law, human rights and addressing stigma and discrimination. Judges shared the experiences and challenges in HIV-related litigation.  

“I know how it’s important for a person like me to be sure that my rights are protected in all public institutions including the court,” said Anastasia Eva Domani, a transgender activist. “I’m very glad to see progressive judges who are ready to learn more about the HIV and TB epidemics, key populations and the best international practices. As an activist and defender of the rights of transgender people, I’m sure that this is just the beginning of our cooperation. It will be crucial to nurture good dialogue with judges in the future.”

The role of judges goes beyond ensuring compliance with legislation and legitimizing the procedures, but also applying international practices to the national context and successful implementation, especially in the context of protecting the rights of key populations, such as people living with and affected by HIV and tuberculosis.

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