Response stories

Helping hand of Kyrgyz street lawyers for women living with HIV

More than 25 years have passed since the first case of HIV was registered in Kyrgyzstan. As of August 1, 2021, there are 10,807 people living with HIV in the country. And although the presence of the virus has long been no longer a sentence, for all the time only a few have revealed their status. The reason lies on the surface – a greater number of PLHIV are in no hurry to speak openly about themselves, as they are afraid of discrimination, humiliation and insults in their direction. In 2020-2022 alone, the REAct system in Kyrgyzstan registered more than 2,000 complaints about violations of the rights of representatives of vulnerable groups. Of these, over 20% (483 cases) where the victim is a person living with HIV. REAct, together with the Partner Network Association and the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, is working on documenting cases and providing real assistance to representatives of key groups in order to protect and defend their rights. 15 NGOs that participate in the Street Lawyers project and are located in different cities and regions of the country are constantly monitoring the situation and looking for ways to successfully resolve them.

You live in my flat, so you owe me!

This fall, one of the street lawyers was approached by Safiya (name changed). The girl lives with HIV, worked as an assistant cook in a cafe, but she did not tell anyone at work about her status. Due to the fact that there was no own housing, at some point she moved to a young man with whom she had been in a civil marriage for the past few years.

One evening, her drunken husband came to her work, called her out of the kitchen and demanded that Safiya “arrange” him a table with barbecue and liquor. The client said that she would not do this, because this is an expensive cafe and she does not want to work off this money later. The man began to shout that she lives in his flat, which means she owes him. The security guard of the cafe reacted to it and asked him to leave the place and not draw attention to himself. However, the man refused to leave, ordered 200 grams of cognac and sat down at the bar. Safiya returned to the kitchen and continued to work. Two hours later, the man, having got pretty drunk, made a scandal, started shouting that HIV-positive people, drug addicts and prostitutes work in the institution. The security guard, thinking that the girl could convince her man to leave the cafe, turned to her. The client went into the hall, tried to talk to him. In response, he started beating Safiya and publicly disclosing her HIV status. The guards came running to the screams. The girl was hidden in the kitchen, the police were called, and when they arrived at the place, the guard told them about everything that happened.

Instead of recording everything and taking testimony, the law enforcement officer refused to accept the girl’s statement, citing the fact that in the morning the man would wake up sober and good, and the girl would come running to collect the statement. She will also accuse police officers of inappropriate treatment of her husband. Therefore, he suggested that the administrator of the cafe write a statement against the man and he was only charged with the article “hooliganism”. The fact that he publicly beat the girl and revealed her HIV status, no one even began to take into account! The administrator of the institution refused to write a statement, she said that she did not want trials. The next morning, Safiya was fired from her job, and the man kicked her out of the house.

Real help is nearby

The street lawyer provided the girl with consultations on the topics: “Know your rights”, “Eradication of stigma and discrimination”, “Criminal liability for public disclosure of HIV status”. After that, he arranged for her temporary residence in a shelter that accepts women who suffered from violence. In his own car, the lawyer drove with the client to the house where she lived, so that Safiya took away personal stuff. Later, he gave her a food package and took her to a shelter, where the girl was provided with free accommodation and consultations with a professional psychologist. Now the client is involved as a volunteer of the organization and as a paid employment she is offered to clean the offices of several friendly organizations, thanks to which she can earn about 7,000 soms per month. Alas, she refused to write a statement, because she does not believe that the laws work, that this can give a result and her former partner will be punished. Although the case of Safiya is a violation of human rights in terms of the failure of police officers to fulfill their duties to detain the culprit for hooliganism. The situation can be changedwhen people living with HIV are confident that their rights are similar to others, and stigma and discrimination in society are prevented by raising public awareness, passing laws that protect human rights, and developing free legal services and access to them by members of the community.

For reference:

The Street Lawyers initiative was launched in 2016 in response to actual problems of vulnerable groups. Street lawyers are trained employees of non-governmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan, representing and defending the interests of vulnerable groups, key in the context of curbing the HIV epidemic. In the future, street lawyers were renamed “public defenders”.

This project helps people who are in a difficult life situation. Difficulties in obtaining documents, problems with access to medical services, abuse of authority by law enforcement officers are the main of the many barriers faced by representatives of key populations. A successful case is when a person realizes that his violated rights have been restored. He feels like a full citizen. The problem was solved through negotiations and achieve for the client the restoration of his rights. The main task of street lawyers is mediation. Public defenders act as a conductor between the client and government agencies.

Also read:

It’s good to be alive or why self-stigma is such a high price to pay for violence against sex workers

The first judgment for discrimination based on sexual orientation in Bosnia and Herzegovina