Judges from Eastern Europe and Central Asia affirm critical role in protecting the rights of people living with HIV and key populations

November 11, 2021

The first Regional Judges’ Forum on HIV, Human Rights and the Law in the Europe and Central Asia region was held in 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. Photo: Eduard Bizgu / UNDP Moldova

Kyiv/ Bishkek/Dushanbe and online -
On 11 and 12 November 2021, the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Judges’ Forum on HIV, Human Rights and the Law (hereafter - the EECA Judges’ Forum), held its third annual meeting in hybrid format. Forum participants from Tajikistan and Bishkek met face-to-face and other participants joined the event online. According to the EECA Regional Forum’s tradition, the annual meeting takes place in a different country of the region each year. This year’s event was hosted by Ukraine and organised by UNDP in partnership with the National School of Judges of Ukraine.

Building on the legacy of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and its 2012 and 2018 Reports as well as the first and second annual forum meetings, the meeting focused on further raising awareness of judges of HIV, key and vulnerable populations, supporting and expanding the regional platform for information and experience exchange on different aspects of adjudication of cases related to HIV and co-morbidities, as well as  enhancing cooperation between the judiciaries and other state and non-state actors for better protection of human rights.

The event brought together over 70 judges from eight countries of the region (Albania, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan), as well as government representatives, civil society organizations, experts, key population representatives, and UN agencies.

The first day of the EECA Regional Forum was dedicated to criminal matters and the second day focused on a number of civic law topics. The event covered the following issues and sub-topics:

Day 1:

  • Access of people living with HIV, affected by TB and key populations to justice in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • International standards and guidelines related to decriminalization of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure (existing documents, their status, gaps)
  • International experience with HIV decriminalization
  • HIV status in criminal procedure
  • Risk levels in the context of HIV criminalization and other offenses

Day 2:

  • HIV-status in the context of civil litigation: access to justice
  • Civil law and HIV:
    • a) the right to confidentiality – enforcement mechanisms, claiming moral damage for disclosure of HIV-status
    • b) claiming moral and material damage for HIV infection
    • c) HIV and employment: labour disputes
  • Family law and HIV:
    • a) custody and adoption by people living with HIV
    • b) the right to confidentiality
    • c) HIV as a barrier for marriage and a ground for divorce.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia remains one of only three regions where the HIV epidemic continues to grow; it is also one of only two regions in the world where the annual number of AIDS-related deaths has increased since 2010. According to UNAIDS, there are approximately 1.6 million people living with HIV in the region. Most new infections in the region are among key populations (PDF), who must contend with punitive legal environments, social ostracization and discrimination. High rates of co-infections are prominent, with tuberculosis (TB) increasingly linked to HIV infection and drug use, while hepatitis C infection is approaching 80 percent prevalence amongst people who use drugs. Nine of the world’s 30 countries with a high burden of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) are within the EECA region.

While there have been significant improvements in the legal environment relevant to HIV and TB in the region, legal barriers persist,” said Gerd Trogemann, Hub Manager, UNDP Istanbul Regional Office.

The rights of people living with HIV, key populations at risk of HIV, and of people experiencing TB are not sufficiently and effectively protected. Additionally, the legal, policy and regulatory frameworks that govern national efforts in prevention, treatment, care and support need to be further strengthened.

In situations when the law cannot ensure sufficient levels of protection, functional and effective judicial systems are imperative to ensure effective protection of the rights of key populations and people living with HIV. In this regard, the judiciary in a number of the EECA countries has been quite progressive also through a number of initiatives implemented both at national and regional levels and adoption of important enabling court decisions on criminal and non-criminial matters.

“We as judges need to understand that our decisions impact people's lives. Hence, they need to be fully based on the latest science and evidence,” said Oksana Koval, Judge of Svyatoshin district court of Kyiv, Ukraine and Member of the Forum Steering Committee.

For more information about the EECA Regional Forum, please consult its website.

For more information contact:
Dr Rosemary Kumwenda, Regional Team Leader for EECA, UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub

Laurence Lessire, Regional Team Leader for Communications, UNDP Istanbul – laurence.lessire@undp.org