RTI International Co-Hosts Consortium to Improve Legal Access for People Living with HIV, Populations at Higher Risk of HIV in Asia and the Pacific

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – RTI International co-hosted the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on HIV-related Legal Services and Rights, February 9–10, 2012, in Bangkok, Thailand.

The consultation brought together more than 40 delegates from 11 countries, including representatives from three USAID-supported HIV projects in which RTI has a role: USAID Health Policy Initiative in the Greater Mekong Region and China, USAID Pathways for Participation in Vietnam, and Scaling Up for Most-at-Risk Populations (SUM II) in Indonesia.

Community advocates, lawyers and government representatives exchanged best practice approaches and shared achievements in scaling up legal aid and access to justice models for people living with HIV and key populations at higher risk of HIV. Across the region, different strategies have been employed to improve the legal framework for HIV responses. These include strategic litigation to change discriminatory laws and practices, focusing legal resources on mobilizing cross-government support to address HIV discrimination, and working with communities to mentor paralegal advocates and build legal knowledge among at-risk and vulnerable communities.

People living with HIV and key populations are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and rights violations and tend to have limited access to justice systems. These populations—specifically, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who use drugs, prisoners and migrants—often report stigma, discrimination, harassment, sexual assault and violence from family, society and state actors. Compounding this are job dismissals, denials of educational opportunities and housing insecurity, which all negatively impact access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

Dong Duc Thanh, community liaison officer for the USAID Pathways for Participation Project in Vietnam, stressed the vital role HIV legal services play. "Before we had HIV legal services in Vietnam," he says, "people did not know their rights, and they were scared to access services they desperately needed because of fear of discrimination. With the introduction of HIV legal support, the situation has improved, but we still need to scale up and make legal support available to everyone living with and affected by HIV."

RTI staff members led panel discussions that addressed questions related to current and future improvements to legal services for people living with HIV and key populations. Topics included the role of legal services and the experience of people living with HIV and affected communities, sustaining and improving HIV-related legal services, and access to justice programs. There was special emphasis on issues faced by women living with or vulnerable to HIV, including those who are doubly disadvantaged when HIV discrimination and oppressive gender norms and values combine.

Conference participants shared examples of successful outcomes negotiated for clients, discussed how to strengthen the capacity of lawyers and the judiciary to respond to HIV-related legal issues, and emphasized the importance of working closely with communities. Delegates also discussed resource constraints, intellectual property and free-trade agreements.

Participants affirmed that legal services have a vital role to play in HIV responses, acknowledging the larger role that the law, law enforcement and access to justice have in creating an enabling environment and increasing access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. At the close of the meeting, participants made commitments to follow through on the consultation, including convening follow-up meetings in their home countries to further the role of legal support in HIV responses.

Highlights

  • RTI International co-hosted the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on HIV-related Legal Services and Rights
  • The event was held February 9–10, 2012, in Bangkok, Thailand
  • The consultation brought together more than 40 delegates from 11 countries to exchange best practice approaches and shared achievements
  • RTI staff members led panel discussions on improving legal services for people living with HIV