HIV Legal Network Scores Victory in Russia

The HIV Legal Network (Réseau Juridique VIH) (HLN) has fought for nearly thirty years for the human rights of people living with or affected by HIV who also use drugs in Canada and beyond. Since 2003, the organization has challenged injustice in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), where people who use drugs are routinely denied basic healthcare and harm reduction services. There are currently more than a million people living with HIV in the EECA region. They are routinely targeted by police and subjected to torture. Parents face losing custody of their children. Without access to harm reduction services, the number of HIV cases linked to injection drug use continues to grow.

HLN recently produced Human Rights Imperative: The HIV Legal Network in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, summarizing the critical work they do in the EECA region, a region that continues to suffer high rates of HIV transmission because human rights are not prioritized in the region. The organization recently scored a victory for Y.I., a Russian woman living with HIV who also uses drugs. Because harm reduction sites are so rare in Russian, Y.I. had no access to treatment. She lost custody of her children, despite the lack of any evidence of mistreatment or neglect of them. HLN, along with the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, supported Y.I. in taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that taking her children away from her was not in the best interests of the children and constituted a violation of her human rights. HLN established that her children had always been properly cared for and were in no way neglected, an accusation often unfairly levied against people who use drugs. Russian authorities finally implemented the Judgment of the European Court and restored Y.I.’s parental rights. The Network considers this victory a vindication of the rights of people who use drugs in Russia, finally affirming that they should not be judged unfit to parent solely because of their drug use.

The HIV Legal Network points out that although Y.I.’s case was resolved happily, there is much more work to be done to ensure that the human rights of all HIV-positive people who use drugs in the EECA are respected, protected, and fulfilled. There are others like her whose drug use still places them at risk of persecution, discrimination, and imprisonment, and who continue to be deprived of adequate health care and other supports.

Download and read Human Rights Imperative: The HIV Legal Network in Eastern Europe and Central Asia at