News Response stories

Solidarity and action: International AIDS Candlelight Memorial

International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is held annually on the third Sunday of May in many countries around the world. This day was first celebrated in 1983 in the American city of San Francisco. At that time, a symbol of the movement against this disease appeared – a bright red ribbon attached to clothing and colorful quilts made of fabric scraps in memory of people who died prematurely because of AIDS. The red ribbon was created in 1991 by California artist Frank Moore. Every year on this day, people around the world pin it to their clothes to express solidarity with those affected by AIDS and to support efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

According to the latest UNAIDS statistics, approximately 40 million people are living with HIV worldwide. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic disease: antiretroviral therapy (ART) allows people with HIV to live full lives. Nevertheless, in 2022, AIDS will claim the lives of 600,000 people worldwide. The situation with HIV remains particularly challenging in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region. According to UNAIDS, about 1.7 million people are living with HIV, and in recent years there has been an increase in new infections, with ART coverage available to only about 60% of those in need. Despite the existence of treatment and national strategies to ensure access to ART, many barriers remain in EECA that limit ART coverage and lead to an increase in the number of new HIV cases. The main causes of this phenomenon include:

– Stigma and discrimination: high levels of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV discourage many from seeking medical care. People fear disclosure of their HIV status and negative consequences, which prevents timely testing and initiation of treatment. For example, this year in Kazakhstan, REActors recorded a case of a woman disclosing her status in one of the city hospitals. Nursing staff were instructed to put bracelets with personal data, including information on HIV status, on patients’ arms. After investigating the situation, the REActor filed a complaint with the chief physician of the hospital. As a result, an immediate order was issued to remove the confidential information from the bracelets, and the head of the department was reprimanded and then fired due to multiple previous violations, including disregard for patients’ rights. In North Macedonia, an attempt was made to prevent a man living with HIV from continuing to work in his position at a city hospital because of his status. Thanks to the work of national REActors, two complaints were filed: one with the director of the hospital where the man works, and one with the public Health Insurance Fund. As a result, the man was allowed to return to work and his issue has now been fully resolved.

– Limited access to health services: In some countries in the region, health services, including HIV testing and access to ART, are underdeveloped or difficult to access, especially in remote and rural areas.

– Information deficit: lack of information and education on HIV/AIDS leads to many people being unaware of treatment options and the importance of timely testing, as well as the disease itself. In Uzbekistan, a couple was found to be HIV-positive while preparing documents for a civil registry office. This fact, which had not been previously registered, was unauthorized disclosed by medical professionals, causing rumors and condemnation in the surrounding society. National REActors provided comprehensive support to future spouses, including counseling, information, psychological, and legal assistance (they were helped to protect their rights and deal with the responsibility of violators for improper disclosure of confidential information).

– Economic barriers: financial constraints and lack of resources make it difficult to ensure stable and widespread access to ART. In some countries, financial support from international donors is declining, which affects treatment availability or slows down the implementation of effective HIV programs.

These factors combine to create a complex situation in which, even with the availability of programs and the willingness of states to provide treatment, a significant proportion of the population remains unassisted. Greater intersectoral collaboration, increased awareness and reduced stigmatization, and improved access to and quality of health services are needed. An important aspect to improve the situation is to draw public attention to the problem, as on the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. Let us remember those who are no longer with us and support those who can be helped!

Also read:

United for equality: IDAHOBIT and the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Empowering equality: fighting discrimination against HIV in Bosnia and Herzegovina

News Response stories

United for equality: IDAHOBIT and the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) is observed annually on May 17. This day serves to coordinate global efforts to raise awareness about the ongoing violations of LGBTQIA+ rights and to promote actions aimed at their protection. The date commemorates the removal of homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization on May 17, 1990. And since 2004, IDAHOBIT has been a crucial platform for highlighting the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals globally.

This year’s theme, “No one left behind: equality, freedom, and justice for all”, calls for unity and solidarity, especially in the face of rising anti-democratic and anti-rights movements. Many LGBTQIA+ individuals continue to endure violence, stigma, and discrimination worldwide. Sixty-two UN member states criminalize consensual same-sex relations, either through laws or practices. At least 59 countries impose restrictions on freedom of expression related to sexual and gender diversity issues, with an alarming increase in such provisions over the past two years. While hate crime laws based on sexual orientation exist in 59 UN member states, only 38 protect against hate crimes based on gender identity, 9 on gender expression, and 5 on sex characteristics.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, LGBTQIA+ rights remain precarious. In 2023 alone, national REActors documented 1109 appeals from representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community in the region. The most common violations of the rights are discrimination, insults, harassment, threats, and, alas, often even assaults. In 2024 already in Armenia, the case was registered when the client met a man on Telegram from an LGBTIQ dating group and agreed to meet him, but the man drove off with the client’s belongings. The next day, he reported the incident to the police but faced harassment about his positive HIV status and military service, authorities’ representatives pressured him to reveal his meeting’s true nature. Only with the REActor’s support, the client was eventually released, and a preliminary investigation was initiated based on his complaint.

Many countries maintain laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and societal attitudes are often deeply conservative, leading to widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals. In some nations, LGBTQIA+ activism is met with significant resistance, and legal protections are minimal or nonexistent. Governments in this region have been slow to adopt reforms, and in some cases, have actively curtailed LGBTQIA+ rights. For instance, russia’s “gay propaganda” law, enacted in 2013, prohibits the distribution of information about LGBTQIA+ issues to minors, effectively silencing advocacy and increasing stigma. And in 2023 russia’s government unanimously supported new legislation to further restrict freedom of expression regarding sexual orientation and gender identityIt prohibits sharing positive and even neutral information about LGBTQIA+ people with hefty fines for noncompliance. In 2023, the President of Kyrgyzstan signed a law prohibiting the dissemination in the country of information that may be harmful to children. The document states that such information is defined as that which “denies family and traditional social values, promotes non-traditional sexual relations and forms disrespect for parents or other family members. A worrying situation has emerged in Georgia: the ruling party has proposed changes to the constitution that would restrict LGBTQIA+ rights. These measures could jeopardize the country’s accession to the EU. If the constitutional amendments are adopted, any LGBTQIA+ related gatherings will become illegal. The legislative initiative would also ban same-sex marriage, sex reassignment and adoption of children by same-sex couples.

Nevertheless, there have been positive strides. According to the Rating Sociological Group, in Ukraine, as of 2023, the level of tolerance in society during the war has increased: positive and neutral attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community have increased from 53% to 64%. A petition in support of registered partnerships for same-sex and different-sex couples in support of draft law No. 9103 “On the Institute of Registered Partnerships” as of April 26, 2023, has collected the required 25 thousand votes. Now it is up to President Zelenskyy to consider it.

Worldwide, 16 UN member states have implemented national bans on so-called «conversion therapies», and 9 have nationwide restrictions on unnecessary interventions for intersex youth. Seventeen UN member states recognize legal gender changes based on self-determination, and 35 have legalized marriage equality.

In light of these challenges, this year’s IDAHOBIT theme underscores the importance of solidarity in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. The push for equality, freedom, and justice is fundamental to building a democratic society where everyone is valued, respected, and is not left behind.

Also read:

A test of strength: fighting for truth and justice in Armenia

Empowering equality: fighting discrimination against HIV in Bosnia and Herzegovina

News Response stories

Combating violence against women in Tajikistan: a path to change

In Tajikistan, violence against women remains one of the most serious social problems. According to various international and governmental organizations, between 50% and 80% of women and children in the country face this problem. Economic violence is the most common type of violence against women, accounting for 31%, followed by psychological violence (21%), physical violence (20%) and sexual violence (6%). Total control over married women is particularly dangerous.

A 2022 Project Spotlight study found that more than three-quarters of the women surveyed agreed that violence is widespread in society. However, only 45.6% say that violence is prevalent in their communities.

According to a 2023 study by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS, legislation in Tajikistan does not always protect women facing gender-based violence. While there is no prohibition on women living with HIV or using drugs from seeking help, in practice these groups cannot always access shelters when experiencing domestic violence. Nor does the law provide for adolescents to access HIV testing and treatment without parental consent.

Regarding mechanisms for documenting and responding to cases of gender-based violence, according to REAct data for 2023 in Tajikistan 175 women who sought help reported domestic or intimate partner violence, with 342 women who were abused by others. In 2023, in Tajikistan, REActors documented 566 of women’s complaints about stigma, discrimination, and domestic violence.

To improve the situation, an expert on achieving strategic changes or amendments to legislation or procedures to prevent documented violations was engaged and a case study analysis was conducted. Based on this analysis, it became evident that the most common cases documented in the program are manifestations of violence, including domestic violence, against all members of key groups. Several suggestions were made to improve the situation. In particular, to conduct advocacy activities focusing on the problem of limited access of women from vulnerable groups to shelters after incidents of domestic violence. Currently, such women face difficulties in accessing shelters, as well as problems in the area of social benefits and digital security, as well as violations of the digital rights of members of the community of key population groups. In Tajikistan, there is a particular difficulty in effectively punishing perpetrators, as many victims, feeling regret or fear of disclosing their status, are reluctant to file complaints or refuse to file complaints against perpetrators at all. Women do not want criminal penalties for partners so that a criminal record will not affect the family and children in the future. Also, it is necessary to conduct information campaigns among inspection staff on the prevention of domestic violence, for example, as part of the campaign “16 Days Against Violence”, and to hold working meetings. Involved in these activities are employees of public services who work with the prevention of violence and identified cases of violence. Conduct training on violence prevention for key population groups and on crisis counseling for psychologists and lawyers working in public organizations with key population groups. It is recommended to organize shelters and low-threshold service centers in these NGOs to reduce stigma and discrimination against key population groups, as this assistance cannot be fully provided in other organizations.

As a result, the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan also approved a developed Memo for the staff of social service centers (available in Russian) assisting victims of domestic violence, and people in difficult life situations, to prevent the denial of social services for particularly vulnerable groups. The document stipulates that the provision of social services, including services in the conditions of the day or 24-hour centers for victims of all forms of violence, including domestic violence, is justified and considered necessary, and should have the social status of accessibility for all. The existing view, whereupon admission to such centers, people listed in the category of “practicing risky behavior” cannot be recipients of this service, is improper and illegal!

Violence against women in Tajikistan remains a serious problem affecting women and children. Despite the efforts of the government and international organizations, many victims continue to face difficulties in accessing assistance and protection. However, it is important to continue to work towards ensuring that all victims of gender-based violence have access to assistance and protection, regardless of their social status or the nature of the violations, to bring about meaningful change and create a safe and secure environment.

Also read:

“I have my right to work”: the resilience of a person living with HIV working in a hospital in North Macedonia

Entitlement or preference? The world celebrates Health Day

Response stories

“I have my right to work”: the resilience of a person living with HIV working in a hospital in North Macedonia

A person living with HIV who takes antiretroviral medications can work. In North Macedonia the Law on Labor Relations and the Law on the Prevention and Protection from Discrimination both prohibit discrimination based on health status, which includes HIV. However, in this case, an attempt was made to prohibit a person living with HIV from continuing to work at his place of employment, a city hospital in one Macedonian town.

“Don’t come to work.”

In August 2023, the person underwent an HIV test at the hospital where he works as auxiliary medical staff. When the test came back positive, the information was shared with all of his colleagues. That same day, he received a call from a doctor informing him that he should not report to work the following day. At the same time, the individual had other health issues, so he sought medical assistance at the same hospital where he had worked for almost 35 years. The same doctor who informed the individual that he should not report to work declined to examine him. The individual left to seek medical assistance in another place. In the meantime, the person started taking antiretroviral medicines. 

After the visit to the hospital, the person took medical leave due to additional health conditions that necessitated bed rest. After his health issues were resolved, he wanted to return to work. However, his family doctor and the medical commission, which is in charge of awarding medical leave, continued to extend his medical leave without his consent and any specific reason, citing the fact that he is a person living with HIV. Soon after, he was directed to a doctor, who specialized in labor medicine, to evaluate his ability to work. According to the relevant legislation, if a person living with HIV is on medical leave for 10 months or less, he or she must have an assessment to determine his or her ability to work.

REAction and outcome

A REActor met with the individual and suggested he obtain a report from his doctor at the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions, stating that he is well and has no reason not to work. After receiving the report, the Association Stronger Together from Skopje filed two complaints: one with the director of the hospital where the individual works and one with the state Health Insurance Fund. The letter to the director described the violations committed by the staff, such as the denial of healthcare, the disclosure of medical data, and insults directed at the employee, and demanded that the hospital should initiate an investigation and punish the perpetrators, while also undertaking measures to stop the harassment of the employee. The Hospital was also notified that Stronger Together and other civil society organizations would be ready to provide legal support to the person with HIV should he decide to take the matter to court. The letter to the Health Insurance Fund indicated that the family doctor and the medical commission are providing medical leave to those who don’t need it and by default, spending the Fund’s money without justification; additionally, the letter enunciated that the extension of the medical leave was without the patient’s consent. Following the complaints, there was a reaction by the Hospital, which allowed the person to return to work and he has not reported any other breaches of his rights afterward.

Also read:

Victory in the protection of privacy: the history of dormitory housing in Uzbekistan

Let’s stop discrimination: protecting children’s rights in kindergartens in Uzbekistan

Response stories

Bridging borders: battling stigma in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a married couple faces a complex legal battle with profound implications. Bekir (name changed) and Aurore (name changed), originally from Bosnia and Rwanda respectively, have encountered unexpected challenges in their quest to build a life together in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This story unfolds against the backdrop of immigration laws, health problems, and the pursuit of justice.

Their journey began with a serendipitous meeting in Rwanda, where Bekir was engaged in a construction project. Following their marriage in Rwanda, the couple encountered bureaucratic hurdles as they sought to establish a life together in Bosnia. Despite obtaining visas, Aurore’s HIV-positive status became a stumbling block in her application for permanent residency, with authorities citing concerns about public health.

Undeterred, the couple sought legal assistance to navigate the asylum process, recognizing it as a lifeline for their future together. With the support of a knowledgeable immigration lawyer, they are now advocating for refugee status based on principles of family reunification and the best interests of their child. Their case underscores the humanitarian imperative of preserving family unity and upholding international human rights standards, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. By leveraging international human rights principles, they aim to secure refugee status and a pathway to a secure future in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Moreover, Aurore’s HIV status not only adds a layer of complexity to their case but also highlights pervasive discrimination and stigma. Beyond legal battles, the couple is fighting for access to adequate healthcare, submitting requests to relevant authorities to ensure Aurore’s right to tertiary medical care following international standards.

Their journey epitomizes resilience in the face of adversity and the transformative power of legal advocacy in safeguarding fundamental human rights. Through perseverance and strategic legal maneuvers, Bekir and Aurore remain steadfast in their pursuit of asserting rights and a brighter future in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Also read:

Finding support: Vardan’s story from Armenia

“I have my right to work”: the resilience of a person living with HIV working in a hospital in North Macedonia

News Response stories

Entitlement or preference? The world celebrates Health Day

April 7 marks World Health Day, founded by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1950. This day recalls the importance of health for all people in the world and emphasizes the need for access to skilled health care as a fundamental human right. In this context, providing life-saving services such as opioid substitution therapy (OST) to people from key populations is critical. This approach enables patients to manage physical dependence, reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases (e.g. HIV or hepatitis), and improve quality of life.

However, despite the proven effectiveness of OST, many people around the world (including in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region) face barriers to accessing this treatment due to stigmatization, lack of access to health services, or legal restrictions. This creates serious obstacles for those in need of assistance.

For example, recent changes to the Ministry of Health’s January 24 Order to the opioid substitution therapy program in Georgia have made significant adjustments. Under the previous rules, patients participating in the program had the opportunity to receive a two-day dose of medication if they were unable to visit a healthcare facility, and this dose could be picked up for them by a family member or other authorized person. However, under the changes made, this right has been limited and patients or their authorized representatives must now visit the service center daily.

The changes also affected the ability to provide patients with pharmaceuticals in special cases. Previously, there was an option to receive a five-day supply of medication when long-term home treatment exceeding two months was required, or a seven-day supply for those with a pronounced disability or active tuberculosis. However, the amendments have completely abolished this exceptional regulation. Under the previous regulation, patients could also be given a dose if they had to move around the country (the principle of business travel). The innovations have abolished this regulation and now, even in cases of exceptional need such as business travel or ill health, patients can only be given a one-day dose.

Kazakhstan also has a serious problem with violations of the rights to health care and health maintenance for people who use psychoactive substances. These problems have been identified, including through the REAct, on appeals related to obstacles in accessing medical services for clients. This situation covers several aspects:

– Lack of access to free medical care, including tests and abortions, for persons without compulsory social health insurance.

– Limited access to a guaranteed amount of free medical care for people who use psychoactive substances.

– Insufficient drug supply and diagnosis of diseases among persons in detention centers.

According to the Order of the Minister of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan from September 23, 2020, № KR DSM-108/2020, treatment of people who use psychoactive substances is carried out within the guaranteed volume of free medical care in regional Mental Health Centers (MHC). Anonymous treatment is available only on a paid basis. However free medical care does not provide the necessary range of services for social, psychological, pedagogical, labor, cultural, economic, and legal support for people from the community.

The theme of this year’s World Health Day is “My Health, My Right” and aims to support and recognize the right of everyone, wherever they are, to access high-quality health care, education and health information, and freedom from discrimination. This means that it is worth taking another opportunity to draw public attention to such violations of people’s rights to quality and timely health care and the need to develop a model that complies with human rights principles and international standards while taking into account the needs of patients, their families and the interests of organizations providing addiction treatment services. And legislate to guarantee the provision of a full range of assistance for the treatment and rehabilitation of everyone who needs it. 

Health is everyone’s right, as is equal access for all people to qualified care.

Also read:

Showing strength: International Transgender Day of Visibility

March 8 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: the struggle for the rights of women from vulnerable groups continues


Showing strength: International Transgender Day of Visibility

March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is dedicated to supporting, recognizing, and raising awareness of the rights of transgender people around the world. It is a time to raise important issues related to the transgender community and stimulate public dialog about the importance of respect and equality.

In the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region, the visibility and rights situation for transgender people remains complex and multifaceted. Laws and policies in individual countries restrict community rights, including access to health care, gender reassignment, and protection from discrimination. In 2023 alone, national REActors documented 1,109 complaints from members of the LGBTIQ community in the region. The most common violations of the rights of transgender people are discrimination, insults, harassment, threats, and, alas, often it even comes to attacks. An example happened in Armenia with a transgender girl, an activist, and an employee of a local NGO. While testing and counseling a client for HIV, she was attacked by a stranger. With the participation of REActors, it was possible to record the facts of the crime and ensure the initiation of a criminal case. Another egregious case occurred in Tajikistan – a transgender woman was detained without reason by law enforcement officials and her personal belongings were confiscated. Interrogations began. This put the victim in an extremely difficult situation. REActors were able to provide legal defense by finding a lawyer willing to take on the case and defend her rights. They were also able to raise the necessary funds for the client to leave the country safely. Thanks to their support, after two months, the case was closed and the belongings were returned.

The fight to protect the rights of transgender people in the EECA region remains relevant and important. A lot of work is still needed, but the situation is gradually changing for the better, mainly due to the active role of transgender people themselves in this process. They invest a great deal of interest in creating changes that directly affect their lives and well-being (because for the majority of authorities, who are usually people who are not uncomfortable with gender conformity, alas, these issues may seem less important or irrelevant). Local non-governmental organizations and community groups are also actively working for the benefit of transgender people in the EECA region, providing them with support, information, and protection from discrimination and violence. These efforts play an important role in raising awareness and creating a safe and supportive environment for transgender people. It is important to continue to mobilize public opinion, give support to the transgender community, and work to create laws and policies that protect their rights and dignity.

On International Transgender Day of Visibility, each of us can do something important to show our support. Here are a few ways you can do that:

1. Education and awareness: learn more about transgender issues, history, and the fight for transgender people’s rights. The more we know, the better we can support their fight for equal rights and opportunities.

2. active listening and support: listen to the stories and experiences of transgender people without judgment. Support them by expressing your support and solidarity. Have an open dialog and be willing to listen to their needs and experiences.

3.         Participate in events: take part in events to commemorate International Transgender Day of Visibility. These can be rallies, public lectures, marches, or other events to raise awareness and support for the transgender community.

4. Utilize social media: share transgender people’s stories, relevant articles, and resources to spread the word about March 31 and the importance of supporting this community.

5.         Financial support: support organizations and charities working to benefit the transgender community. You can make donations or participate in fundraisers to help fund support and advocacy programs.

6.         Fight for rights: engage in active resistance to discrimination and violence against transgender people. Support legislative initiatives and policies to protect their rights and ensure equality before the law.

7.         Respect Identity: respect and recognize everyone’s gender identity. Use correct pronouns and respect their choice of name and expression of their gender.

Showing support and solidarity with transgender people is an important step towards creating a society where everyone can feel respected and protected, regardless of gender identity.

Also read:

March 8 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: the struggle for the rights of women from vulnerable groups continues

HIV Criminalization Awareness Day: fighting for justice and understanding

Response stories

Protecting the rights of HIV-positive couple in Uzbekistan: comprehensive assistance and solutions

The AIDS Center approached ISHONCH VA HAYOT with an unusual case that became a challenge for a young couple about to get married. In the process of preparing documents for the civil registry office, the two of them were found to be HIV positive. This fact, which was previously unreported, was unauthorized disclosed by medical professionals, causing rumors and condemnation in the surrounding community.

The couple approached the NGO ISHONCH VA HAYOT to ask for help. National REActors provided them with comprehensive support:

– Counseling and information: the young couple received detailed counseling about HIV infection, treatment options, and available support resources. This helped them realize that they were not alone in their situation and that there are many resources for people living with HIV.

– Psychological support: the NGO provided the young couple with psychological support to help them cope with emotional stress and fear of public opinion. This was an important step towards restoring their self-esteem and confidence.

– Peer support group: REActors referred them to a peer support group for people living with HIV where they could socialize and share experiences with others facing similar challenges. This created a strong supportive environment for the couple.

– Legal assistance: the young couple received legal assistance from NGO specialists who helped them protect their rights and deal with the liability of medical professionals for improper disclosure of confidential information.

This story demonstrates the importance of supporting and protecting the rights of young people facing HIV, as well as the role of NGOs in providing comprehensive assistance and addressing such situations.

Original Source (in Russian)

Also read:

Georgia’s new legislation on substitution therapy program raises public concerns

Victory in the protection of privacy: the history of dormitory housing in Uzbekistan


March 8 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: the struggle for the rights of women from vulnerable groups continues

March 8, International Women’s Day, a time not just for congratulations, but an opportunity to once again draw the attention of global society to key issues related to the protection of women’s rights. In the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), women from vulnerable groups face daily (!) special problems specific to this region and challenges in fighting for their rights. These include access to health care, education, protection from discrimination and violence, and the ability to participate in public life. In the last year alone, REActors documented 1,109 referrals, the majority of which were from women from vulnerable groups.

Women facing HIV often face double discrimination – because of their gender and the stigma associated with the virus. A woman can be evicted without explanationunfairly accused of HIV infection, and psychologically traumatized. In many countries in ЕЕCA, access to adequate medical care and social support for this group remains inadequate.

Female sex workers also face serious challenges, including violenceassault by partners or relatives, exploitation, and lack of protection from government authorities. Sexual violence crimes, particularly when the victim is a sex worker and the perpetrator is a government official, are exceptionally difficult due to the complexity of provable charges, which remain largely victim-dependent, and the lack of the necessary framework to reduce the risk of retraumatization of the victim. Laws about sex workers often discriminate against them and fail to provide the necessary rights and protections. To date, none of the Central Asian countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention.

In EECA countries, LGBTIQ women often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation due to double discrimination based on gender and sexuality. They may be intimidated, physically abused, threatened and harassed.

Women who use drugs also face the threat of violence, poverty, and lack of access to health and social services. In many countries in the EECA region, drug policies put additional pressure on women and their rights.

March 8 is not just a holiday, but also a day of struggle for rights. It should be noted that it is important not only to be aware of them but also not to be afraid to fight for them. Many women from vulnerable groups may feel isolated or helpless due to stigma and discrimination, but uniting and solidarity can make their voices stronger.

Reaching out to national REActors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) specializing in women’s rights and the protection of vulnerable groups is also important. They are the ones who can provide counseling, legal, and psychological support, and other services to help protect women’s rights. Through prompt intervention, the woman is not left alone with the problem or her abusers. Her voice becomes stronger and the fear of fighting for herself recedes because she has much-needed, relevant support. 

Also, in addition to individual action, organizing into collectives and social movements is important. Collective strength can be decisive in fighting for changes in laws, policies, and public opinion about women’s rights and interests.

It is important to remember that no one should be left alone in the fight for their rights. March 8 is not just a tradition from the Soviet past to give flowers. It is a real opportunity for women from vulnerable groups to find support, inspiration, and strength to continue their struggle. Together, we can make greater progress towards equal rights and opportunities for all women, regardless of their social status or identity.

Also read:

Global challenges, local responses: how the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region fights discrimination

HIV Criminalization Awareness Day: fighting for justice and understanding


Global challenges, local responses: how the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region fights discrimination

On March 1, Zero Discrimination Day is celebrated around the world to draw attention to the problem of discrimination in all forms and manifestations and to take action to overcome it. It was initiated by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and was first observed in 2014. And 10 years later, this day again reminds us of the need for a more just and equitable society where everyone can feel protected and respected regardless of their characteristics and identity.

Zero Discrimination Day is important not only as a moment of awareness of discrimination but also as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of protecting human rights for all without exception. The key message is that everyone, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or other characteristics, has inviolable rights that must be protected and respected. This day helps to mobilize public awareness and strengthen the efforts of citizens, human rights organizations, government agencies, and other stakeholders to combat discrimination and promote human rights. Today, in all regions of the world, various activities, including educational campaigns, seminars, conferences, forums, and rallies, are organized to raise awareness of the problem of discrimination and promote respect for differences. This includes the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region.

According to the latest data presented in the REAct Regional Digest for 2023, the issue of discrimination remains one of the most pressing challenges for representatives of vulnerable groups to HIV/AIDS. Based on referrals in all 14 countries in the region where REActors work, the key trends and areas where this offense has been most acute over the past year include:

– Social exclusion and stigmatization: members of vulnerable groups face social exclusion and stigmatization by those around them. They may be rejected by their families, friends, and society at large due to misunderstanding, prejudice, and lack of provable information. 

– Denial of health care: some health care facilities or medical personnel may refuse to provide services to people from the community because of fear of infection, bias, or lack of training on issues such as HIV or viral hepatitis.

– Problems at work: according to national REActors statistics, vulnerable people may also face discrimination in the workplace, including dismissal and denial of benefits or wages.

– Access to education: key populations are sometimes denied access to educational institutions because of their (or a close relative’s) HIV status, which can lead to restrictions on learning and career opportunities.

– Biased public opinion: communities may face biased opinions and myths, for example, about HIV status or the LGBTIQ movement in society, which leads to additional disadvantages and discrimination.

The fight against discrimination requires a comprehensive and systemic approach at different levels of society. According to REAct observations, in the EECA region the main focus should be on:

– Legislation and reforms in the justice system: the adoption of laws and policies that protect rights and prevent discrimination based on any characteristic, including race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc. These laws must be effectively implemented and accompanied by training and monitoring measures. As should ensure fair and impartial adjudication of discrimination cases in the courts.

– Education and awareness: conducting educational campaigns and programs that will help raise awareness of discrimination, and develop tolerance and respect for differences. This includes inclusive lessons in schools, training for employers, and events for the public.

– Supporting victims of discrimination: promoting support and protection mechanisms for those who experience discrimination. This can include legal, and psychological support and access to social services and medicine.

– Working with communities and civil society: it is important to create conditions for active participation, such as supporting non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights.

– Working with employers and businesses: ensuring equal opportunities in the workplace and preventing discrimination in hiring, promotion, and dismissal. This includes educating employers about the principles of equality and fairness and establishing mechanisms for employee complaints and appeals.

On Zero Discrimination Day, human rights advocates actively advocate for effective laws and policies to prevent discrimination and protect the rights of all people, including vulnerable groups. But let us remember that not only on March 1, but every day is an opportunity to draw attention to this issue and promote a society based on equality, justice, and respect for human rights.

Also read:

HIV Criminalization Awareness Day: fighting for justice and understanding

Celebrating LGBTIQ history month in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a journey of resilience and progress

News Response stories

Celebrating LGBTIQ history month in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a journey of resilience and progress

February is LGBTIQ History Month – a time to shine a spotlight on the actions and achievements of members of the LGBTIQ community throughout history. While the recognition and celebration of history are global, it’s essential to acknowledge the unique experiences and challenges faced by LGBTIQ individuals in different regions, particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

The history of LGBTIQ rights and activism in EECA is complex and varied. Discrimination, violence, and harassment remain widespread, fueled by cultural, religious, and political factors. In some countries, laws targeting LGBTIQ individuals continue to exist, restricting their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

There are 57 organizations in the REAct system providing health services to members of the LGBTIQ community. In 2023 alone, 1,109 referrals were documented and this number remains among the leaders:

Registered casesOther countriesUkraine
Key group (people, who use drugs)1279707
Key group (people living with HIV)16831152
Key group (sex workers)1054347
Key group (LGBTIQ)1109437

Main types of perpetrators (by countries where REAct works and for all years). As a rule, violence against victims is perpetrated by private individuals.

Family, relatives300
Hate group175
Husband/wife, intimate partner137
Other specialised doctor, NOT related to HIV/AIDS and TB101
Client of sex worker82
Representative of the same key group72
AIDS center or other doctor related to HIV/AIDS65
Business, shops, service sector56
Hospital, inpatient facility57
Homeowner or landowner42
Special law enforcement services35
Military, army25
Political representatives21
Migration service (state service15
Border guards13
Media and journalists13

Main types of violations (by countries where REAct operates and for all years)

Hate speech, verbal abuse913
Threatening, intimidation, harassment867
Violence by individuals based on hatred571
Extortion, blackmail260
Public outing, defamation208
Eviction, coercion to leave the residence188
Arbitrary arrest or detention167
Misuse of power by law enforcement165
Other breach of privacy151
Sexual assault/abuse148
Domestic/intimate partner violence130
Excessive use of force by law enforcement118
Destruction of property, motivated by hatred108
Dismissal, denial of employment99
Denial of protection and investigation by the police81
Refusal to provide hospital care and other medical service74
Psychological mistreatment in public health facility68

Thus, in modern Tajikistan, representatives of the LGBTIQ community face serious violations of their rights. Detentions under Article 241 of the Criminal Code (distribution of pornography) have become more frequent in the country. The grounds for such charges are personal intimate photos found on the phones of the accused or intimate correspondence. Renata’s story is an important example of the continuing struggle for rights and freedom and emphasizes the need to support and protect those who face discrimination and persecution because of their gender and sexual identity.

Kazakhstan recorded an incident involving Danara, a 25-year-old queer woman and LGBTIQ activist. Her story was a powerful example of the struggle to ensure equal rights and non-discrimination in the workplace, regardless of their sexual orientation.

In Armenia, a trans woman, activist, and employee of a local NGO was attacked. Thanks to her courage and determination, her attacker was apprehended and a criminal case was opened. Her story served as a reminder that everyone can and should fight for their rights and the rights of others.

However, despite these challenges, there have been significant strides towards equality and acceptance in recent years. One of the key aspects of LGBTIQ history in this region is the resilience and courage of activists who fight tirelessly for their rights from grassroots movements to organized protests. To challenge discriminatory laws and societal attitudes. The visibility of LGBTIQ issues has increased thanks in part to the efforts of activists, organizations, and allies. Pride events, film festivals, and other cultural initiatives have helped to raise awareness and foster a sense of community among LGBTIQ individuals.

Moreover, there have been notable advances in terms of legal recognition and protection for LGBTIQ rights in certain countries. For example, Estonia has legalized same-sex partnerships, while others have introduced measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s also important to recognize the role of international organizations and human rights bodies in promoting LGBTIQ rights in EECA. The European Union, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations have all called on countries in the region to respect and protect the rights of LGBTIQ individuals. These efforts help to push for legislative reforms and provide support to local activists and organizations.

By standing in solidarity with LGBTIQ individuals and supporting their rights, it is worth noting that LGBTIQ History Month provides an opportunity to honor the achievements and contributions of community in EECA, while also acknowledging the challenges it continues to face. However through activism, advocacy, and solidarity, we can strive to create a world where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can live with dignity, equality, and respect.

Also read:

Tajikistan has taken the first step to protect the rights and eliminate discrimination of citizens living with HIV

Empowering social justice in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a call to collective action

News Response stories

Empowering social justice in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a call to collective action

The World Social Justice Day, observed annually on February 20th, stands as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle against unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty. This globally recognized day, as mandated by the United Nations General Assembly, underscores the critical importance of social development and justice in fostering peace and security within and among nations. As we navigate through the complexities of the modern world, it is increasingly evident that social development and justice are not only fundamental rights but also indispensable prerequisites for sustainable peace and prosperity. As the International Labour Organization points out in its latest World Employment and Social Outlook report, as of 2023

– 241 million workers lived in extreme poverty. 

– 423 million workers lived in moderate poverty. 

These alarming numbers underscore the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the root causes of working poverty and boost economic opportunities globally.

It resonates profoundly across Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) as well, where socio-economic disparities, conflicts, and institutional weaknesses have strained the fabric of social cohesion. Against this backdrop, there is a pressing need to galvanize efforts towards fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

As we approach the halfway mark towards realizing the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda, it becomes imperative to intensify our endeavors toward promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all. Central to this endeavor are the four interconnected dimensions of social justice: ensuring universal human rights and capabilities, facilitating equal access to opportunities for employment and productive activity, promoting fair distribution outcomes, and facilitating just transitions amidst significant societal transformations.

Despite pockets of resilience observed in labor markets during the preceding year, the global economic landscape remains fraught with uncertainties, exacerbating structural inequalities and leaving millions marginalized. Projections indicate a further deterioration in the global unemployment rate in the 2024 year, with EECA bearing a disproportionate burden. Alarmingly, millions within this region continue to grapple with extreme or moderate poverty, highlighting the urgent need for targeted interventions to address the root causes of working poverty and enhance economic opportunities.

In response to these challenges, governments across EECA must prioritize initiatives aimed at bolstering domestic economies, fostering regional cooperation, and providing targeted support to vulnerable economies. Furthermore, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive approach that leverages education, social protection, and environmental sustainability as catalysts for transformative change.

In the context of the rights of working representatives from key groups such as people living with HIV, sex workers, and LGBT+ individuals, there is a need for special attention to their vulnerability and protection of their rights in the workplace. In many countries in EECA, these groups face systematic discrimination and stigma, which creates additional barriers to obtaining decent employment and protection in the labor market.


Case: A woman was fired because of a history of incarceration and drug use, although she had already been reinstated. After she was accused of stealing a cell phone, she was fired and deprived of her full salary.

Solution: The client was provided legal advice by REActors and accompanied at her place of employment. After negotiations and the presentation of camera video proving her innocence, she was reinstated and received compensation for moral damages.


Case: A man living with HIV came to REActors after he was denied employment (as a massage therapist) at a private medical center. He was rejected because of his HIV+ status and was also neglected.

Solution: The client was counseled on the rights of PLHIV patients and the Labor Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The REActors accompanied him to the medical center, where they drafted a pre-trial statement and spoke with the head doctor. After explanations, they apologized and offered him a job (but the man refused).


Case: REActors were approached by a client who was working on a construction site. He was supposed to be paid 15 manat per day (about 8 euros), but he received only 5 manat and the remaining 10 manat was to be paid every 2 weeks. At the end of the term, he was fired and paid nothing, with the excuse that he was from a community of people, who use drugs.

Solution: After consulting with a lawyer, the REActors met with the foreman and explained to him that illegal dismissal is punishable, regardless of whether the worker was officially employed or not. He agreed to pay the man 140 manat and the client dropped further complaints.

In light of these (and other) cases, regional and national human rights programs should include measures to protect the rights of workers from these key groups. This includes ensuring workplaces free from discrimination based on HIV status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as well as ensuring equal access to employment opportunities and social protection.

Human rights organizations and government bodies should collaborate to develop and implement policies aimed at strengthening the rights of workers from key groups. This may involve awareness campaigns about workplace rights, training for employers and employees on non-discrimination principles, and creating mechanisms for recourse for rights protection (as REAct instrument).

To ensure the successful integration of these groups into the work environment, attention must also be paid to their specific needs and vulnerabilities. This may include providing access to HIV and LGBT+-related medical services, as well as creating safe and supportive working conditions for sex workers.

The commemoration of the 2024 World Day of Social Justice serves as a rallying cry for renewed commitment and collective action. By bridging existing divides and forging strategic alliances in support of the Global Coalition for Social Justice, societies can unlock their full potential and pave the way for sustained reductions in poverty and inequality. Moreover, by fostering inclusive growth and social cohesion, these efforts can contribute significantly to peace, stability, and intergenerational solidarity across the region.

In EECA, the imperative to advance social justice transcends mere moral obligation; it is a strategic one and essential for building resilient and equitable societies capable of withstanding the myriad challenges of the 21st century. Adopting a multidimensional approach to protecting the rights of working representatives from key groups will not only ensure equal opportunities in the labor market but also contribute to creating a more just and inclusive society of this diverse region.

Also read:

Tajikistan has taken the first step to protect the rights and eliminate discrimination of citizens living with HIV

Drug policy of zero tolerance and double standard practices. ENPUD analytical paper on the situation in Kazakhstan

Response stories

Isolation, denial and victory: the case in a dental clinic in Kazakhstan

The symptoms of periodontitis forced Saule (name changed) to seek help at a dental clinic recommended by a friend. However, at the first visit, the doctor began to investigate not only the condition of her teeth but also Saule’s HIV and hepatitis status. Upon learning of her infectious diagnosis, the doctor refused treatment, citing “inability to provide services” because of Saule’s status.

The girl’s surprise increased when her friend, who had applied for a similar service, received it without problems. When Saule learned that the doctor not only refused treatment but also advised her friend to stop communicating, citing contagiousness, she decided to look into the situation.

The doctor argued that the clinic lacked the necessary equipment, tools, and protective clothing to work with HIV-positive people. Faced with such discrimination, the girl turned to REActor for support, who provided an HIV training module and explained Saule’s rights.

The next day, the REActor visited the clinic and spoke with the doctor about the inadmissibility of disclosing information about HIV-positive patients and the obligations of medical staff towards HIV-positive people.

The clinic apologized, provided dental care to Saule, and ensured that such violations would not happen again.

This story emphasizes the importance of respecting patients’ rights, denouncing discrimination, and the need to educate medical staff about HIV infection. Fighting for equal rights to health care is a key element in creating an inclusive and tolerant healthcare environment.

Also read:

Denial of hospitalization: story of the fight against discrimination and stigma in Kazakhstan

Eviction from a dormitory due to HIV+ status in Kazakhstan

Response stories

Fighting for rights: confronting discrimination based on TB in Kazakhstan

The story of Marat (name changed), an electrician from Kazakhstan, was a testament to injustice and discrimination in the workplace due to illness. The difficulties began when his health deteriorated, leading to a diagnosis of tuberculosis. However, when he returned to work after successful treatment, he was in for an unpleasant surprise.

For the past two months, Marat had been experiencing severe symptoms of TB: coughing, fever, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Concerned about his condition, he went to the doctor, which eventually led to the diagnosis. After active treatment and return to work, Marat faced dismissal due to TB and denial of benefits.

Intervening in the situation, the REActor and the TB lawyer advocated on Marat’s side. They visited the company, negotiated with the director, and explained the laws governing temporary disability and workers’ rights. Referring to the Government Decree and Article 55 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, they emphasized the unacceptability of dismissal due to TB.

As a result of successful negotiations, Marat was reinstated at work and paid one month’s temporary disability allowance. The director pledged to avoid similar violations in the future.

This story emphasizes the need to respect workers’ rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination based on illness. Confronting such situations requires awareness of rights, strong intervention by public bodies, and an unwavering fight for labor justice. Everyone, regardless of their health, deserves respect and equality in the workplace.

Also read:

Denial of hospitalization: story of the fight against discrimination and stigma in Kazakhstan

Eviction from a dormitory due to HIV+ status in Kazakhstan

Response stories

Alarming trends against the background of domestic violence: the story of Lana from Georgia

During 2023, national REActors in Georgia documented 13 cases of violence in which individuals were punished through courts or law enforcement agencies. One such story was the fate of 30-year-old Lana (name changed), a pregnant woman engaged in sex work.

Lana, living with her husband and mother-in-law, faced an unpleasant situation that dramatically changed her life. Four months pregnant, she was assaulted by her husband, who, blinded by jealousy and mistakenly believing that the child was not his, inflicted severe bodily harm on her.

Lana sought help from the REActor. With Lana’s consent, he called the police, and the husband, the perpetrator of the assault, was arrested. The pregnant woman herself, alas, required transfer to a clinic for medical care. 

This case is just one of many that emphasize the urgency of the problem of domestic violence and the importance of community solidarity in the fight against this phenomenon.

Also read:

Protecting the rights of transgender women in Tajikistan

Incident in Moldova with disclosure of medical information

Response stories

Overcoming stigma and discrimination in maternity hospitals in Kazakhstan

In the world of medicine, despite the high standards of professionalism imposed, there is 

sometimes a problem of stigmatization by healthcare providers towards their patients, especially those from key populations. This internal stigma can manifest itself in the form of biased opinions, lack of empathy, avoidance, and even disclosure of confidential information. Such behavior constitutes moral violence against the person seeking help and should not go unnoticed or unpunished. Before International AIDS Day on December 1, it is particularly important to remember that stigma creates barriers to effective prevention and treatment, and prioritizing efforts to overcome it (including within the medical community) and create a more supportive environment for all is a key factor in achieving the 95-95-95 goals.

Gulmira (name changed), a client living with HIV, went to give birth in a maternity hospital. However, from the very beginning, she encountered an unpleasant attitude on the part of medical staff.

Upon arrival at the facility, she had to repeatedly explain that she was not from a community of people who use drugs and was not a sex worker and that she did not have such friends. But this did not change the situation. During labor, the midwife said that people like Gulmira, «…get sick and give birth to disabled people». And when the process of stitching up after a cesarean section was underway, she told Gulmira: “God forbid you to twitch and I’ll inject you, you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble! I’m tired of running to take tests after people like you”. It was insulting and humiliating. While being transferred to the ward, Gulmira noticed the unkind and curious looks of the nurses. These four days in the maternity ward seemed to her as if she was in some kind of Kunstkammer.

Together with a doctor from the AIDS Center, the REActor decided to intervene. They went to the maternity center and educated the head of the ward, recalling Article 76 of the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the Health of the People and the Health Care System”, which guarantees the protection of citizens from any form of discrimination and stigmatization due to the presence of any disease.

The REActor also conducted a preventive talk with the medical staff on the topic of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. She emphasized the importance of understanding, supporting, and treating every patient impartially, regardless of their HIV status.

This story emphasizes that stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings can seriously affect a patient’s physical and emotional well-being. The intervention of the REActor and the AIDS Center doctor helped to change attitudes and create a more supportive environment for Gulmira and other people living with HIV.

Also read:

The case of a doctor in Moldova: the struggle for tolerance and professional ethics

Incident in Moldova with disclosure of medical information

Brochures News Reports Useful materials

Addressing legal barriers and advocating for HIV decriminalization: insights from REAct’s data

The role of judges in addressing critical health and social issues is pivotal. The justice system can either hinder or facilitate social and public health efforts to ensure equitable healthcare, ultimately contributing to the achievement of universal health coverage with inclusivity. The establishment of an independent, impartial, accountable, and professional judicial system, coupled with the protection of fundamental rights, is increasingly becoming a focal point of discussion in regions where certain countries are aspiring to join the European Union.

The EECA Judges’ Forum on HIV, Human Rights, and the Law, scheduled for November 27-28, 2023, in Chisinau, Moldova, presents a significant platform for discussing crucial issues backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). REAct, as an instrument dedicated to human rights, has compiled data shedding light on the judicial system’s role in addressing key challenges.

Legal hurdles:

Between 2019 and 2023, over 20,000 appeals related to human rights violations among key populations were documented in 14 countries of the region. However, only 0.5% of these appeals found resolution through legal proceedings, emphasizing the challenges in accessing justice. Bureaucratic complexities, financial difficulties, and a lack of trust in the justice system contribute to victims refraining from defending their rights.

Barriers to accessing justice:

Victims face obstacles due to complexities in the state-guaranteed free legal assistance system, with issues such as lack of interest, bribery, and the absence of state-appointed lawyers during investigative actions. Courts’ tendencies to side with the prosecution in cases involving vulnerable populations deter victims from pursuing justice. Moreover, court bailiffs, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, are ineffective in collecting alimony, impacting women, who constitute 95% of victims in such cases.

HIV criminalization: situation analysis:

The disclosure of HIV status, and in Uzbekistan, sexual orientation, can trigger criminal cases, irrespective of intent or adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). Investigations often violate privacy rights, with statements coerced under pressure from law enforcement. In Tajikistan, 40 appeals under Article 125 were received, resulting in limited positive outcomes, and Uzbekistan, one trial led to a two-year imprisonment despite legal support.

Advocacy for HIV decriminalization:

Efforts toward HIV decriminalization have gained momentum. In 2022, an alternative report to CEDAW on Uzbekistan recommended repealing laws criminalizing HIV. In 2023, draft laws proposing legal changes to reduce criminalization are being developed in Kazakhstan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. These include repealing specific articles and transferring offenses to the framework of general crimes, reflecting a strategic shift.

Future actions:

Looking ahead to 2024, these proposed legal changes will be submitted for public consultation, involving high-level discussions and negotiations with parliamentary members, ministries, and ombudsmen. The aim is to progressively reduce the criminalization of people living with HIV and key populations, fostering a legal environment that aligns with human rights principles.

Drug use criminalization: situation analysis

Law enforcement often uses unrelated articles like “breach of public order” to pursue people, who use drugs, leading to unjustified criminalization. Russia’s repressive drug policy extends its influence to regions like Transnistria, where cases of criminalization without intent to sell have been recorded.

Drug use decriminalization: advocacy and progress

Efforts toward drug use decriminalization have gained momentum. In 2022, the EECA Commission on Drug Policy (ECECACD) initiated its work, outlining guiding principles for effective and humane drug policies. In 2023, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Moldova developed drug policy road-maps, focusing on repealing specific articles and introducing alternatives to punishment. High-level country visits facilitated progress in Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova, while an OHCHR report in 2023 highlighted drug use challenges in the region.

Same-sex criminalization and discrimination

Instances of discrimination persist, such as classifying a same-sex kiss as disorderly conduct in Uzbekistan and persecuting gay men in Tajikistan. A violent attack on a trans* woman faced judicial denial in Kazakhstan. Responses include case submissions to OSCE, alternative reports, and statements on LGBT discrimination in Central Asia during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Sex work criminalization: uncovering injustices

In Kyrgyzstan, despite sex work not being criminalized, sex workers face pursuit, fines, and detainment for non-compliance or disorderly conduct. Extortion is prevalent, with 314 appeals reporting bribes by local police officers. In Uzbekistan, sex work is considered an aggravating circumstance, leading to severe sentences. Detentions involve compulsory HIV and STI testing, often with the purpose of extortion. Crimes involving sexual assault against sex workers, especially by police officers, are challenging to bring to court due to the lack of necessary infrastructure and the difficulty of proving allegations.

Women in focus: addressing sexual assault challenges

Crimes involving sexual assault, particularly when the victim is a sex worker and the perpetrator is a police officer, pose significant challenges in Central Asian countries. The absence of ratification of the Istanbul Convention further compounds these challenges.

Conclusion and next steps:

The data presented by REAct at the EECA Judges’ Forum highlights the pressing need to confront legal obstacles, champion HIV decriminalization, and foster a justice system that protects the rights of individuals and key populations grappling with HIV.

Examining the intricate legal challenges across the EECA region underscores the necessity for a holistic strategy. Advocacy initiatives for drug use decriminalization, combatting discrimination, and ensuring justice for vulnerable groups must persist as overarching priorities. Looking ahead to 2024, the emphasis should shift toward enacting legislative changes aimed at diminishing criminalization across diverse spheres. This approach aims to cultivate a legal landscape that not only adheres to human rights principles but also champions inclusivity.

Also read:

Through the lens of REAct’s work: PrEP in the context of human rights, key populations, and access challenges

ECOM: Invisible Voices: Regional report on violations of the right to health of LGBT people in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2022

Response stories

Fighting stereotypes and fears: the story of Sylvia from Moldova

Sylvia (name changed) discovered her HIV-positive status during pregnancy. A visit to her family doctor turned into an unpleasant experience for her, with medical staff discriminating and stigmatizing her. Instead of support and professional help, she was given incorrect information about HIV infection, which only increased her fear and anxiety.

In addition, she was forcibly sent for an abortion, which was a difficult experience for her. Following this event, the woman was referred to a specialized medical facility for hospitalization and to receive antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is necessary to maintain her health and prevent HIV transmission.

The response to the incident was swift and decisive. The case was referred to a legal expert and an application to the Equality Council was being prepared to punish those responsible and prevent similar situations in the future. However, Sylvia encountered resistance from her spouse and they decided not to pursue the case to a conclusion.

At the moment, the client continues to struggle not only with HIV, but also with the self-stigma caused by the events. She finds support in specialized organizations and works with the help of professionals to overcome her fears and doubts. Her story is a reminder of the importance of tolerance, professionalism and solidarity in the medical field.

Also read:

The case of a doctor in Moldova: the struggle for tolerance and professional ethics

Incident in Moldova with disclosure of medical information