Talking about human rights in the context of HIV in Russia
Mikhail Golichenko is a lawyer, a leading human rights analyst for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (an organization with special advisory status at the UN Economic and Social Council). In the past he had been working in the Moscow office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. He focuses on human rights promotion, including the removal of legal barriers to the access of injecting drug users and prisoners to exercising their right to health and efficient programs for the prevention, treatment and care of HIV/AIDS. Mikhail is an Associate PhD in Law.
– Recently the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of AIDS was commemorated. What does this day mean for you?
– This is a good reason to think about the victims of HIV. But at the same time, it makes us think about our role in ensuring that these people did not die in vain.
If I remember correctly, in 2012 in Togliatti, on this day people traditionally went out into the park, distributed condoms, literature on HIV, lit candles. The event took place next to the monument to the fallen heroes of the Great Patriotic War. Togliatti is a small city, and there are not so many places suitable for public events. It happened that the container with condoms was placed next to the ever-burning fire and journalists misinterpreted this fact. As a result, the organizers were fined for holding mass events in close proximity to the monuments of WWII heroes. There is such a local regulation in Togliatti.
This symbolizes the fact that we are on different sides of processes: a society that is aware of the problem, and a state that does not do anything to consider the problem from the right perspective.
– Could you please tell us about the situation with human rights in Russia and about its connection with the HIV epidemic?
– The main factor in the development of the HIV epidemic in Russia is the violation of human rights, which increase the vulnerability of certain populations to HIV. People who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people and migrants are deprived of the opportunity to receive adequate HIV prevention, treatment and care in connection with other socially significant diseases.
Human rights act as a social “clothing” of a person in the modern society. They are enshrined in the law, which imposes certain duties on the state. The set of human rights keeps a person comfortable and protected from all aggressive factors of the social environment. As for certain groups, such as drug users, some of their “social clothing” was simply taken off them. These people, in fact, stay naked outside at forty-degree below zero. Of course, they will become ill. There is no place for illusions, even if we have sterile needles and syringes available at every corner tomorrow, this, of course, will improve the situation, but not much. The repressions, persecution of drug users will continue and prevent people from seeking medical help.
The situation with sex workers is the same. They know that they need to use a condom. But they also know that if a client who insists on having sex without a condom suddenly beats them, no one will protect them. The police will first and foremost blame the sex worker for sex work. Sometimes it is easier not to use a condom and hope that they avoid infection, rather than get beaten, knowing that there is no sense to apply to the police.
I would also point out the problems with MSM rights. The Parni-Plus website was closed, which published information about HIV prevention among men who have sex with men. There are practically no other similar sources in Russia. Where will the people, whose sexual identity is an integral part of their life, obtain this information from? They well become more vulnerable, more stigmatized. There is direct connection between these phenomena. In Russia, the HIV epidemic is an epidemic of disrespect to human rights.
– Tell us about your speech at the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. After it, there was a recommendation to reconsider the approach to drug policy in Russia …
– There were already a lot of such recommendations. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the Human Rights Committee, then the Women’s Rights Committee, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have already provided their recommendations, will be the Committee against Torture will take its turn. The committees are aware that Russia’s drug policy is one of the drivers of systematic violations, and they give these recommendations.
In my opinion, the main recommendation dates from October 2017, when the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended that Russia decriminalizes the possession of drugs without the purpose of selling them. The development of harm reduction methods, substitution therapy legalization, dissemination of correct information about drugs, overdose prevention, introduction of substitution therapy for pregnant women, stopping torture of drug users in the police, including discontinuation of the practice of using withdrawal syndrome as evidence – all these recommendations fit in the same context. Russia does not follow all these recommendations, but I hope that continuous pressure would finally yield positive results.
The efforts to involve the government in the dialogue is our main tool, we wish that people would albeit slightly understand the need to change specific things. There is a set of absolutely clear recommendations that need to be implemented. And it will definitely work. Where human rights are violated, there is no stability, there is always a place for internal conflict, there is no development.
– What actions should Russia take to stop the epidemic, in your opinion?
– We just need to remember that we are all humans. There is no need for any specific laws, there is the Constitution and it is enough. Successful coexistence the ultimate value without which a society cannot function. This is possible only if there is love, understanding and mutual assistance.
Autor: Anastasia Petrova