It’s been 6 years since the publication of the report on legal barriers affecting the HIV epidemics by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. The report stated that “… criminalization of drug use undermines HIV prevention and treatment programs based on human rights, including harm reduction programs” . It also contained recommendations to promote laws, policies and practices that ensure effective and sustainable measures of HIV response based on human rights. During this period only a few countries out of many in EECA and the Baltic region have taken steps in the direction of implementing progressive drug policy. Ukraine increases the minimum amount of marijuana from 5 grams up to 25 grams. Moldova and Estonia are developing a referral system and consider options to introduce alternative practices to imprisonment for drug use. Lithuania has finally introduced methadone programs in prisons, after we’ve been fighting for it in courts for seven years. However, methadone is only available for those who’ve already used it before being put behind bars.
The Global Dialogue, held this year, made it possible for governments, civil society, people living with HIV, representatives of key populations, as well as donors and international organizations provide the information on:
- Progress in implementing the recommendations of the Commission, the exchange of best practices of reforming repressive laws, policies and practices that impose barriers to effective HIV response and protection of human rights;
- The role of political leadership in the eliminating repressive laws and introducing protective laws, policies and practices to solve the remaining legal and regulatory barriers to treatment of HIV and co-infections such as tuberculosis and viral hepatitis;
- Changes in funding in the field of HIV, human rights and changing drug policy; and
- New emerging issues in the field of HIV science and lessons learned related to HIV and the law based on human rights based responses to HIV, including co-infections, such as tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, as well as general coverage by health services in the context of achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
EHRA, together with its partner organizations led by people who use drugs / OST patients, have provided descriptions of situations in 5 EECA countries to show how granting the maximum level of authority to law enforcement agencies in terms of influencing harm reduction programs, such as social or medical services, can negatively affect lives of people who use drugs. For example, how humane drug policy approach can make people sell their house to pay a fine. And if your don’t have a house to sell when you’re arrested for a second time, you’ll be incarcerated.
EHRA and its partners have filed five complaints showing the problems in our region for the whole world to see, describing what had already been done by the expert communities to change the situation and what steps it’s necessary to take in the future.
Belarus. Sergey Kryzhevich, the leader of “Tvoy Shans” ( “Your Chance”) – the national organization of participants in the substitution therapy program, filed a complaint based on evidence that OST clients are vulnerable because of the bureaucratic system of medical care in his country. The evidence is based on the strategic litigation case, a community-led field study and the results of advocacy actions of OST patients community and their partners in the Republic of Belarus.
Kazakhstan. EHRA spoke on its own behalf about the threat of closure of the OST program in the country. The appeal is based on well-documented facts of rights violation of current and former participants of OST programs by the police officers who wanted to “find out” the information that would support the negative attitude of the police to maintaining OST programs in Kazakhstan. (The Document is in Russian).
The Kyrgyz Republic. Sergey Bessonov and Harm Reduction Association attracted the attention of the international community to the risks associated with introducing new Misdemeanor and Criminal Codes in Kyrgyzstan in 2019, that will raise the fines for possession of small amount of drugs, which consequently means possible incarceration for 5 years if a person fails to pay a fine of 4 800 euros for possession of up to 3.1 grams of cannabis within one month.
Lithuania. Possession of minimum amounts of drugs without intent of further sale has been criminalized again since 2017. “Molodaya Volna” (“The Young Wave”) spoke about the alarming situation of new cases of HIV and medical care in prisons. The organization also presented an individual case, showing the impact of criminalization on lives of people who use drugs.
Estonia. The Estonian Association of People who Use Psychoactive Substances (LUNEST) spoke about the human rights violations of women who use drugs. Two female representatives of the community filed individual appeals with the description of their stories.
We don’t know yet what cases will be included in the new report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, as it took 18 months to create the previous report and it had to pass several stages of examination and approvals. Therefore, we will continue our work with the members of the Commission during the AIDS2018 Conference to make sure that the issues of decriminalization, human rights and evidence-based drug policy are taken into account and included in the discussion and, perhaps, in the new report. It is also important to ensure that the report will include descriptions of the situation in our countries. The documented cases will help us submit reports on protection and implementation of the rights of people who use drugs to treaty and advisory bodies of the United Nations and use them for advocacy purposes in the future.
All our actions, performed at the international level, are aimed to show the real state of human rights systems and availability of programs for people who use drugs in the countries of our region. This information will assist the international committees and commissions in forming their position and providing arguments for dialogue with our governments.