Good intentions, bad results: How inadequate laws in Central Asia violate human rightsPublished on Monday, 15 September 2014 09:47
I have lived and worked in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for most of my professional life. As a human rights lawyer, I am always happy to observe when adequate legal solutions are found, paving the road to progress and development in our region. It is equally difficult for me to see the process in reverse: unnecessary, inadequate laws enacted to deprive people of their rights. It is especially worrying when we talk about people living with, or at high risk of getting HIV. They not only deal with a chronic health condition, but often must also bear the added injuries of rejection, stigma, and discrimination.
Enabling, human rights-driven laws could be an immense boon in ensuring adequate national HIV responses. Two years ago, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law acknowledged this fact and criticized punitive laws which criminalize HIV transmission, or further discriminate against key populations most at risk. This includes men who have sex with other men, people who inject drugs, and sex workers. The Commission emphasized that while some of these laws may be well intended, they almost universally bring about dreadful results.
Unfortunately, I have recently seen a new crop of inadequate initiatives targeting key populations in countries of Central Asia. These acts directly undermine human rights. In fact, they are likely to make successful responses to HIV even more difficult. In Uzbekistan, a law which listed people with HIV and certain key populations as “likely to commit crimes and misdemeanors” was passed, giving broad powers to police to investigate them without due process.
The law has attracted a lot of criticism from the international community, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In Kyrgyzstan, a homophobic bill on “gay propaganda” was withdrawn after civil society and the international community pointed out that it violates not only international commitments, but the Kyrgyz Constitution as well.
Unfortunately, after minor changes, the bill resurfaced and now it is back in Parliament. I can only hope that Kyrgyz parliamentarians respond adequately and vote against this scurrilous legislation. It is heartening to see MPs, such as Irina Karamushkina, publicly speaking out against it. Kyrgyzstan has also introduced more restrictive measures against sex workers. A so-called morality department was recently established to fight “prostitution” with several raids being carried out against sex workers. Similar recent events in Tajikistan have targeted gay men and sex workers, as part of these alleged “morality” campaigns, again without any forms of legal representation or due process.
It is always easier to blame someone else for HIV and exclude people at risk from society. It can be much more difficult to recognize the flaws of a government’s own response to the epidemic. Enabling legislation may be slow to adopt and hard to enact; but, punitive laws always fail.
Global evidence and the weight of history prove this fact; it is not worth our collective efforts to prove it anymore. With the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, it is important that our region invests in enabling and inclusive, rights-driven laws and policies, and abandon punitive initiatives.
It is our task as international community, together with civil society, to always point out the flaws of those measures and support the progress towards better legislation. The stakes – the lives and rights of millions– are simply too high.
Source: UNDP Voices from Eurasia Blog