Strengthening Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment for People living with HIV and Key Populations – (Daytop Project)
Access to legal-aid services for people living with HIV (PLHIV) and particularly those among already-vulnerable populations is central to a more effective response to the AIDS epidemic in China. Legal aid plays an important role in guaranteeing protection from discrimination, getting redress for rights violations and supporting access to HIV prevention and treatment services. However, the enforcement of even the most basic human rights for people living with HIV in China is difficult because of high levels of stigma, a serious shortage of legal aid services and concerns about the possible disclosure of people’s identity during legal proceedings. Illustrating this, a recent UNAIDS study revealed that only 30 per cent of HIV discrimination cases have judicial follow-up, with many potential clients being afraid of taking any legal action.
Mapping shows that the legal aid needs of PLHIV are far from being met as there are only 8 to 10 specialised legal aid centres across the country. Furthermore, the quality of legal aid services provided to PLHIV is often questionable. Once the government decides to provide legal aid to a person living with HIV, a lawyer working at a national legal-aid agency or from a private law firm is randomly chosen to provide the legal support. These lawyers lack expertise in HIV-related cases and legislation. Finally, there is no financial incentive for lawyers to take up an HIV-related case, as they are not a type of legal-aid case that qualifies for government subsidies.
At the fifth National Legal Aid Conference in 2009, the Government recognised the importance of strengthening legal aid services nationwide, with a particular focus on extending legal aid to the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups. In the last few years, in addition to government legal aid centres, a growing number of civil society organisations have started providing legal aid services to marginalised groups, beginning with migrant workers. Due to their flexible criteria, legal services provided by these organisations are often more easily accessible to the most vulnerable than traditional legal services.
UNDP has been supporting the scale-up of legal-aid service providers in Yunnan, the province with the highest rate of HIV infections in China with over 80,000 reported cases and a rampant hidden epidemic. People living with HIV and especially key populations (men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs) in Yunnan face high levels of stigma and discrimination in employment and education and are often driven away from accessing healthcare services. UNDP is working with the Daytop Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, an officially registered NGO which has been a leader in China on issues of HIV and drug use. Since mid-2012 UNDP has supported Daytop to strengthen its own capacity as an independent legal aid centre and to work in partnership with the local lawyers’ bar association and universities to expand legal aid services.
In the last 12 months, Daytop has been able to hire two peer counsellors and one full-time lawyer, as well as part-time administrative and financial staff for routine legal consultations. The organisation now provides legal consultations to PLHIV and key population groups through a hotline as well as face-to-face, and has already dealt with more than 200 cases. Further, Daytop has established five outreach and mobile consultation sites that provide information on HIV, discrimination and the law, reaching more than 1,000 people.
This year, with support from UNDP China and in partnership with the Yunnan bar association, Daytop will provide HIV legal and rights training to approximately 50 lawyers and law enforcement personnel in Yunnan province. A number of training sessions are also planned with at least 150 law students of the local university in partnership with the university legal aid clinic.
Throughout the year the organisation is collecting data and conducting research on the quality and availability of legal aid services in Yunnan and will disseminate the results during a national meeting in Beijing planned for November 2013. At this meeting, various actors in this arena will share best practices and experiences on how to expand legal aid provison for PLHIV, and government will be engaged to discuss how to better institutionalise HIV care. The goal of the consultation will be to improve cooperation between service-providers and key stakeholders like PLHIV, vulnerable groups, government (both national and provincial) and international organisations and to strengthen the informal national network of HIV legal service providers.
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