Results of the EHRA General and Regional meetings to elect new Steering Committee members

During May 24 – June 6, 2021 Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) conducted online General and Regional members’ meetings in Russia and South-Eastern Europe. Quorum for the General and Regional meetings to elect new Steering Committee members needed no less than one third of the members for General meeting and no less than one third of the members from the particular region.

GENERAL MEETING. EHRA has 316 organizational and individual members, who were eligible to vote. From 316 members – 132 participated in the General meeting. It means, that quorum was met, because 41,77% of members participated in it.

The results of approval of EHRA financial report for 2020 year:

  • 123 members confirmed EHRA financial report for 2020;
  • 9 members abstained;
  • 0 members did not confirm.

EHRA financial report for 2020 year is approved.

REGIONAL MEETINGS

RUSSIA. In total the region has 46 official EHRA members, who were eligible to vote. From those 46 members – 26 participated in the meeting and cast the vote for their candidate, which means, that quorum was met, because 56,52% of members from the region participated in the elections of the SC member.

The results of voting:

  • Aleksey Lakhov – 8 votes (30,8% of all valid votes)
  • Aydana Fedosik – 7 votes (26,9% of all valid votes)
  • Natalya Sidorenko – 7 votes (26,9% of all valid votes)
  • Aleksey Korolkov – 4 votes (15,4% of all valid votes)

Aleksey Lakhov is elected for 3 years term as EHRA Steering Committee member to represent Russia region.

SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE. In total the region has 26 official EHRA members, who were eligible to vote. From those 26 members – 10 participated in the meeting and cast the vote for their candidate, which means, that quorum was met, because 38,46% of members from the region participated in the elections of the SC member.

The results of voting:

  • 10 participants voted for candidate Denis Dedajic (100% of all valid votes)

Denis Dedajic is elected for 3 years term as EHRA Steering Committee member to represent South-Eastern Europe region.

Give a helping hand, not handcuffs: Social decriminalization campaign in Lithuania

This year “Young Wave” has focused small grant activities on the development of the social campaign. Why have you chosen such kind of activity?  Could you please tell us what your campaign is about?

Even though it was a small grant, for us it was a big project! In Lithuania, we knew that the Parliament is due to discuss drug decriminalization amendments this year. As the only NGO in the country focused on drug harm reduction for young people, we decided that it is our responsibility to start raising awareness and understanding on how drug criminalization disproportionately affects young peoples’ lives. Over the past 3 years, alarming indicators have shown that drug policy in Lithuania is focused only on criminalization of people who use drugs and those, who possess small amounts of drugs without intent to distribute. For example, possession of drugs in small quantities without intent to distribute accounted for 77% of all drug related crimes committed in 2019. 63 % of offenders were under the age of 29. Each year, about 750 people are serving sentences in prisons, which cost Lithuania around 10,5 million Euro per year. These are just a few indicators, that prompted us to create a social campaign on the harms of drug criminalization. The campaign is called “Give a helping hand, not handcuffs” (in Lithuanian – “Ištiesk ranką, ne antrankius”).  

Why this campaign was developed, what were the expectations, main expected results/changes?

This campaign was developed in recognition of the fact that the political process to achieve drug decriminalization would be very contested, and our opposition would mobilize in the media and social networks. We realized that we also need to strengthen our message so that politicians feel that young people and society at large are concerned about the harms of drug criminalization. If we don’t take action, who will? The expectation was that our campaign would get featured publicly  in the media, social networks, and at least will offer a counterpoint to the narratives of the political right wing in our country. Obviously, the main expected change would be for the drug decriminalization law to pass the vote in the Parliament, but we still have some time before the vote. If it doesn’t pass, at least we would have mobilized the community and got it ready for the next response. During the campaign we have found new allies and new stakeholders for us to grow and be more impactful in the future.

What were the main activities in your campaign?

The main activity of the campaign was the launch of three posters placement on 50 advertising spaces in the country’s capital over two weeks. These posters presented stories from people that have suffered harm from the drug criminalization laws. For example – the man who was sentenced 25 times, but received access to opioid substitution treatment instead of going back to prison for the 26th time. It all happened with the support of a police officer, who listened to the person and understood that incarceration was not a solution. Police officer helped the man to receive referral to the opioid substitution treatment. In another example, we had an image of a young woman who spent her 23rd birthday in a correctional facility just because she was caught with marijuana joint during the party. Once these posters were released, we had to write press releases and engage with various media for interviews and discussions, as well as foster involvement in the campaign through social media.

What was the public reaction to the campaign?

We actually had a lot of engagement with the public. Our Facebook social media posts had over 200,000 organic reach and around 30,000 engagements. Our campaign was covered in all major news channels and portals in the country. We had an overwhelming support from various public figures, but also the public. Especially notable were people who were sharing their personal stories of harm they have experienced from judicial and police systems. One story in particular stands out where a 16-year old girl was forced to strip naked and squat after 0.3 g of cannabis was found in a car by the police and she admitted that it was hers. She ended up spending 7,000 Euro on legal bills and had no money to attend university. Another notable story was where a person was arrested for possession of cannabis only to be bailed out by her parents (it was kind of blackmail from the police). She then described the following months of stigmatization due to the investigation which caused suicidal thoughts.  Many of these stories really highlighted the importance of who we are. There was also a large wave of negative interactions with our detractors as it’s a very controversial topic in the eyes of the public. Such comments would basically say that drug users are degenerates and they got what deserved. A lot of people seem to believe that drug use is a crime on a par with a murder and calls into question a person’s moral character. Other more consistent interactions focused on why there is a need for decriminalization when we should be focusing on people using less substances. These talking points were not unexpected and we hoped to facilitate dialogue between the two sides. The more people are talking about it, the more the Parliament feels that their decision has weight.

Some well-known public figures ultimately formed more concrete responses to our position based on moral representation and demonstration of virtue such as opposition leader Ramūnas Karbauskis and media figure Rūta Janutienė, to which we responded in dedicated social media and blog posts deconstructing their positions and correcting misinformation.

What challenges did you face? What was the hardest one? Were there any unexpected issues?

I would say the biggest challenge we faced was the management of negative online interactions in social media. The non-trivial amount of these interactions was potentially hate speech, and we took necessary precautions in order to moderate a safe and tolerant online space for dialogue. Other challenges we faced were communicating with various interest groups regarding our messaging – the journalist ethics commission and the Lithuanian youth telephone helpline in order to assure that our messaging is respectful, legal but powerful. It was also difficult to find people to share their stories and faces for the campaign, because of the overwhelming drug-related stigma associated with drug use, which this campaign tries to mitigate.

Opponents of drug decriminalization were always using confusing language in their communication. For example, they have always publicly stated that drug decriminalization is the same as drug legalization. And sometimes they even deliberately “legalization” rather than “decriminalization”, although they knew the difference between these two words. This tactic was used to confuse public and spread more misinformation so that this law does not pass in the Parliament.

The law project is already in the Parliament and soon will be discussed in the main committee. What are your thoughts about it? Will the law pass or not? Why?

It’s hard to say. Of course, the Parliament heard our message and our cases, however the opposition also took similar steps. Some of the main discussion topics are that the law should stay punitive, and that small fines can’t be imposed, as they don’t prevent drug use. Another argument was that instead of decriminalization we should offer people rehabilitation and/or treatment in order to avoid being charged with a criminal offense, however existing criminal offences would make them ineligible for this waiver. What is more, if a person would not agree to undergo a course of treatment, she/he would be punished with the criminal liability. So, this “alternative” seems more like a compulsory treatment in case of avoiding criminal liability. Some parliamentarians believe in the distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs and believe that marijuana decriminalization is more acceptable, but ‘harder’ substances should remain criminalized.

The debates seem to be very heated, and we hoped to facilitate evidence-based discussion, however the rhetoric used by our detractors still contains mostly misinformation and moralization. Ultimately, I believe we have a real chance, but it seems likely that the opposition will be able to somehow change the law so that we don’t get everything outlined in the initial law proposal. But we welcome every step in the right direction at this point.

What are the main lessons learnt? If you start the campaign tomorrow with the experience you already have, what would you do differently?

I think thanks to the campaign we have much more confidence in ourselves. Initially we were afraid that we would struggle to get recognition and support, however there was no shortage of that. In fact, it was probably the most successful project in terms of public engagement we have ever made. I think we would focus more on the messaging and spreading out powerful stories based on concrete examples from legal cases, so that we can point to certain procedures that caused harm, which would make our common cause more convincing. We will definitely consider doing it again in the future, subject to funding.

Eurasian Harm Reduction Association Code of Ethics

The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) Code of Ethics (the Code) is a set of fundamental principles, standards and policies to govern decisions and behaviour at EHRA. The Code clarifies an organization’s mission, values and principles, linking them with defined standards of professional conduct, as well as gives specific guidance for handling issues like compliance, integrity, anti-fraud, non-discrimination, anti-harassment policy and Conflict of interest.

The Code is intended primarily for EHRA’s employees and members, and together with the EHRA Code of Conduct the Code is a main guide and reference for employees and governing bodies to support day-to-day decision making. The Code also serves as statement of organizational values internally for EHRA members, as well as for partners with whom EHRA has contractual and partnership relations. The Code shows EHRA commitments for external stakeholders such as advocacy allies, potential EHRA donors, UN agencies, other national and international organizations.

EHRA requires governing bodies, members and employees to observe high standards of business and personal ethics in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities. As employees and representatives of the EHRA, we must practice honesty and integrity in fulfilling our responsibilities and comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

The Code is made up of 4 policies:

  1. Compliance, Integrity and Antifraud policy
  2. Conflict of Interest policy
  3. Non-discrimination, Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure
  4. Whistleblowing policy

The Code was formulated and adopted by EHRA Steering Committee and included input from EHRA members.  The Code should be revised depending on needs, but not less than once in 5 years. All revisions and amendments should be approved by the Steering Committee. 

FULL TEXT OF THE EHRA CODE OF ETHICS

 

Extended: We are looking for consultants to conduct the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national governments in the context of country transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding

We are looking for the consultants to conduct the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national governments in the context of country transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding in the following countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia

Background

Being a partner of the Alliance for Public Health, the All-Ukrainian Network of PLWH 100% Life and other regional and national partners in the implementation of the Global Fund funded regional HIV project “Sustainability of services for key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia”, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) is aimed at the improving the financial sustainability and allocative efficiency of HIV programs in EECA countries.

To contribute to this objective, EHRA is planning to conduct the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the governments of 5 EECA countries in the context of their transition from the Global Fund‘s support to national funding. It is expected that based on the results of such assessment the key civil society regional and national partners working in those selected countries, will be able to adjust their advocacy efforts and actions to improve the financial sustainability and allocative efficiency of HIV national programs.

For that purposes in 2020 EHRA has developed a methodology and tools to conduct such assessment on a periodic basis.

EHRA is looking for 5 national consultants (1 per each country) to help with conducting such assessments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, the assessments will be conducted retrospectively, taking into account that the implementation of the last Global Fund HIV grants ended in these countries in 2016 and late 2017 respectively.

 Key tasks to be conducted by the consultants

 The consultants are expected to conduct in each of 5 countries the national assessment process in accordance with the Assessment Guide “Benchmarking Sustainability of the HIV Response in the Context of Transition from Donor Funding” to be provided by EHRA. The assessment process should include the next stages:

  1. Scoping: Identify and collect a set of strategic and programmatic documents, including national laws and regulations relevant to the transition process through desk review and interviews with key stakeholders.
  2. Conduct a review of those documents with the purpose to identify the government’s commitments with regards to transition; formulate and group commitments per the guidance provided by EHRA. The consultant should also identify where public/government’s commitments are deficient to properly address transition challenges or to be monitored.
  3. Coordinate and work with the national reference group to be composed of community representatives and national experts and engage them in (i) selecting priority commitments for the monitoring; (ii) define formulation of commitments if those are not sufficiently elaborated in public documents; and (iii) elaborate additional commitments if considered absolutely necessary for transition process monitoring.
  4. Collect data through desk research and/or key informant interviews aimed to measure progress for the selected set of commitments.
  5. Input selected indicators into the Transition Monitoring Tool to calculate the score; and,
  6. Write an analytical report to summarize the findings.

A Sample Outline of the National Report is provided in Annex 5 to the Assessment Guide. The report should include contextual sections, findings, and conclusions for each of the assessed commitments as well as general conclusions and recommendations for key national stakeholders.

 Deliverables:

1.A. Repository and mapping of documents relevant to the transition process (placeholders) and containing the government’s obligations with regards to transition (intentional or officially approved).

1.B. Repository of commitments, which the country (relevant public/governmental agencies) has committed to implement in support of transition of HIV response.

  1. Filled in Transition Monitoring Tool.
  2. Analytical Report on the results of the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national government in the context of the country transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding.

The language of the resulted documents should be English.

The total contract cost for the work of one consultant under this ToR should not exceed 3,000 USD (including all taxes). 

Full ToR please find here

How to apply

The individual consultants are invited to submit their CV and the Letter of Interest by e-mail referenced under title “Consultant to conduct the assessment of transition related commitments in [name of the country you are interested to conduct the assessment in]” to ivan@harmreductioneurasia.org by COB 22 of January 2021 24:00 EET.

New words in 2020

Looking back over the past year, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association has found that several words have become solidly integrated into everyday use.

We have learnt a lot this year and we have a lot to look forward to in the New Year, 2021. You can call us eternal optimists, but we believe that we will make it through the difficulties, safe and strong! May we all have a strong spirit and new achievements!

This year we really want to greet everyone personally and wish something unique and unusual. We have hidden our wishes in a gift, and it takes only one click to receive it!

In progress: Drug consumption rooms in Croatia

FLIGHT

Life Quality Improvement Organization “FLIGHT” or just “FLIGHT” (in Croatian: LET) was registered in early 2003 and has been implementing needle exchange programs since its beginning. Besides direct work with people who use drugs, FLIGHT was always focused on promoting the effectiveness of harm reduction programs, conducting research, developing publications, working at EU level at number of networks, including the EU Civil society Forum. FLIGHT is the only organization providing programs for sex workers, twice per week at night hours in the center of Zagreb.

Organization has 4 staff members, including two social workers and two outreach workers, and has been implementing so called mobile outreach (with two vehicles) and has established 22 sites where users can come and exchange their used needles and syringes with the new ones, as well as ZAGREB ZOVI- where we deliver syringes to the users that live outside of those 22 sites.

Could you please share, why you decided to focus on drug consumption rooms as harm reduction service in Croatia?

Drug consumption rooms were included as a possibility or one of the measures in the National guidelines on harm reduction. So, we thought that now was a great moment to work and develop more detailed information on it, because governmental bodies are planning a review of the guidelines. And it would be great if drug consumption rooms are better explained in the guidelines.

During the project, you conducted a needs assessment among PWUD in Croatia. Could you please share the main results from this assessment? How people are reacting to the suggestion to start opening DCRs in Croatia?

We collected responses from 120 people who use drugs from 5 cities. Most of them are in favour of safe injecting rooms. During needs assessment, 80% of them answered that DCRs are needed. What is more, they would like additional services to be provided in DCRs, such as: opportunity to get a coffee or soup. Also, it would be useful to have an access to psychosocial counselling. The only issue, that might occur with opening the site is the local neighbourhood and its residents, who wouldn’t be happy about DCR.

1

Another activity which was implemented by you – development of the policy paper on safe consumption rooms. Could you please share what this policy paper includes and for whom it’s developed?

This policy paper provides answers if DCRs should be opened in Croatia and what are the main obstacles. It includes a theoretical basis about injection rooms, data on injection rooms in Europe, analysis of legislation, and recommendations for further work. It will be used for the development of new Guidelines on harm reduction in Croatia. The policy paper will be presented to representatives of national and local authorities to raise the issue of DCRs opening.

Are there any legal barriers to open DCRs in Croatia? If yes, could you briefly share what they are, and are there any possibilities to overcome it.

According to the existing criminal legislation in the Republic of Croatia, it is not possible to implement a harm reduction program that includes the establishment and operation of drug injection. Criminal Code, Article 191 criminalizes venues that enable consumers to use drugs. We were working together with a lawyer in producing the analysis and came to conclusion that there are two options: 1) an Ireland model- they made a lex specialis on DCR in 2017 or 2) change the Criminal code (Article No. 191)- where the questionable issue in providing the venue for injecting is raised. In that specific article all types of assisting in injecting drugs are mentioned and some would argue that even existing needle and exchange programs are illegal, there has been a national consensus since 1996 that giving new equipment to users wouldn’t be seen as assisting in drug use. There are adjusting national documents such as strategy on drug abuse and HIV prevention that mention harm reduction in a positive manner. But the issue of “venue” remains problematic.

What do you think should be the next steps in starting/ promoting safe consumption rooms in Croatia? And what should be civil society’s role in all this?

We need to continue to lobby and raise awareness on the positive aspects of the DCRs. NGOs that implement harm reduction programs are very important in raising awareness and educating other stakeholders.

We have updated the website www.smanjenje-stete.com as well as our main website www.udruga-let.hr and will continue to promote the need for DCRs. Policy paper and leaflets will be available for raising awareness and I will be speaking at the national conference and presenting the work we have done with support from the Robert Carr Foundation and EHRA.

We have now access to international documents provided by our international speaker at the conference and desk review we did.As each developmental project it might take time to open a DCR but at least we have a good starting point:

  1. Users are eager and would like this kind of service
  2. Analysis was provided and will be included in the National guidelines on harm reduction
  3. Capacities of FLIGHT and BENEFIT organizations have been developed and
  4. We are talking and promoting harm reduction and its efficiency.

United and effective in challenging times: the Annual Meeting 2020 of the Steering Committee and the Advisory Board of the EHRA held on-line

In the challenging year of 2020, when we all have to keep social distance, mutual support and jointly, coordinated actions are significant to ensure that people who use drugs in the CEECA region have access to medical, legal, and social help. This unity of EHRA leadership was mostly felt on November 19-20 during the Association’s Steering Committee and Advisory Board’s annual meeting. The on-line meeting was attended by 10 of the 13 members of the Steering Committee and EHRA Advisory Board members John-Peter Kools and Rick Lines. The session was led by Marina Chokheli, chair of the Steering Committee from Georgia.

On the first day, the Steering Committee and the Association Secretariat discussed the program activities’ results and planned the main events and products for the year 2021. When harm reduction funding and effectiveness is under serious threat in most countries of the region, an honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t in regional advocacy is very important. On behalf of organisations and activists in Southeast Europe, the co-chair of the Steering Committee from Bulgaria, Yulia Georgieva, initiated the creation of a specific EHRA workgroup to respond effectively to harm reduction closures and more systematically organise regional support for the national efforts of activists and community leaders for harm reduction funding.

It has become a good tradition to plan in detail approaches to mitigate organisational, political, and reputational risks in the Association’s work by the Steering Committee. Discussed steps to minimise the following risks that have the most significant impact on the implementation of the Association’s 2021 strategy:
– The COVID-19 crisis: COVID-19 crises: rapid changes in advocacy priorities, cooperation with state, access to services.
– Changes in state policy in CEECA countries, military conflicts between nations, revolutions within the region’s countries.
– Prohibition of EHRA members’ activities in CEECA countries, including a ban on disseminating information in the Russian language due to the implementation of “drug propaganda” laws.
– Significant decrease in the number of organisations/activists working in the field of drug policy at the national level, due to lack of support or repression.
– Closure of harm reduction programs in CEECA countries.

I remember when I first joined the Steering Committee, I kept emphasizing the need to work in countries that are difficult to work in, where few donors support programs - like Russia. And over the past year, I have seen that EHRA is doing a lot to support programs in "uneasy" countries, and there is much more to be done to protect activists and develop programs. We must not duplicate human rights defenders' efforts, but we need to organise help to activists in "crises"
Maxim Malyshev
Member of the Steering Committee from Russia

During the meeting, the Steering Committee discussed and made several important decisions for the work of the Association:
– To support further editing of the EHRA Code of Ethics, which will regulate the relationships and compliance with the key policies for all EHRA members and partners. The finalised Code in two languages will be published on the website, included in the admission procedure for new members and the EHRA contracts. 
– To organise elections of the new Steering Committee members by regional meetings and community in January, May and October, following the current Steering Committee members’ mandate in 2021.
– Make the practice of virtual regional gatherings of the EHRA a regular practice, to be held at least once every six months.The next EHRA regional members calls will be organised in February 2021.

Andrey Rylkov Founation will be able to continue its harm reduction work with the help of the ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action Harm Reduction HIV Challenge Award

Starting November 1, 2020 Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (ARF) will be able to continue its harm reduction services in Moscow through the Positive Action Harm Reduction HIV Challenge award by ViiV Healthcare.

While funding for HIV prevention work in key populations became almost impossible to secure either through international or domestic sources, we are happy that we will be able to continue our work. ARF received the Positive Action Challenge Grand Award in the amount of 75 000 GBP in June 2020. The decision to award ARF was announced at a Virtual AIDS-2020 Conference the same month. Positive Action Challenges seek to find innovative solutions to a particular issue or challenge. The Harm Reduction Challenge sought innovative ideas for community or peer-led initiatives or programmes that provide comprehensive, innovative and accessible harm reduction services at the community level for people who inject drugs.

Winners of the Positive Action Harm Reduction Challenge enact community or peer-led approaches to non-stigmatising, inclusive and comprehensive harm reduction and HIV care. Approaches like these help to meaninfully engage and involve people who inject drugs and help to address the rising HIV epidemic in the community,“ said Jennifer Carpenter, ViiV Healthcare Positive Action Breakthrough Manager.

The award will help ARF cover core harm reduction services to people who inject drugs on the streets of Moscow and keep exploring ways to improve key populations access to HIV prevention and treatment by placing more focus on mental health support, with a specific objectives to:

  • continue ARF daily outreach work on the streets of Moscow providing comprehensive services on HIV, HCV, overdose prevention, human rights redress, legal aid and mental health support;
  • ensure the accessibility of PWID to case management on the issues of health and rights;
  • expand the access of HIV-positive people to ARV treatment by improving mental health support systems;
  • develop and pilot the monitoring and evaluation system that would integrate the health and human rights indicators.

The Andrey Rylkov Foundation is a grass-roots organization based in Moscow working since 2009. Our mission is to promote and develop humane drug policy based on tolerance, protection of health, dignity and human rights. In advancing its mission, ARF engages in 5 key strategies:

  • direct service provision on the streets, including health and legal aid;
  • advocacy and public campaigns;
  • human rights monitoring and documentation;
  • strategic litigation;
  • PWUD community systems strengthening

While the award will help to cover essential services and staff, ARF donor funding for harm reduction has decreased by 40% in 2021. We are compensating with the ever growing contribution of our amazing volunteers network and through crowdfunding. We therefore use this opportunity to thank once again our volunteers and supporters for providing key support to our activities which becomes even more essential in these challenging times.