Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice
Русский

Seeking justice for people who inject drugs in Moscow

Russia is home to 69% of all people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and its HIV epidemic is concentrated among people who inject drugs. In Moscow alone there were more than 30,000 people who use drugs registered with the drug treatment specialists in public clinics in 2013, and the total number of people who use drugs in the city is likely to be higher.

In addition to being at highest risk of HIV in Russia, people who inject drugs are among the most marginalized and stigmatized populations in the country. Criminalization of drug use, quota-based law enforcement and low availability of opioid substitution therapy are major barriers to harm reduction.

Activists in Moscow allege that people who use drugs are frequently denied their rights. An initiative by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF), a non-governmental organization working in Moscow since 2009, is providing legal support to people who use drugs and seeking justice through the legal system. In late 2013, the Foundation’s Harm Reduction – Moscow Project with support of the Canadian AIDS Legal Network launched a ‘street lawyer’ initiative, which links those who need legal aid with a social workers and a legal advisers. Services include rights counselling, mediation, filing of official requests or complaints to medical practitioners or government offices, and resolution of cases through the justice system. In addition to legal support, the project gives clients moral support and boosts confidence in their ability to access legal recourse. The Foundation also provides expert witness testimony in court and advocates for changes to Russia’s drug policy.

Before the legal support was taken to the streets, few people who use drugs attempted to defend their civil, social and economic rights within the justice system. Today people approach the street lawyers on the street, call the hotline, write and ask through friends.  In the space of a year, the project has supported 15 legal cases, including one that exhausted all domestic legal remedies and has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights.

One example of this ARF work related to a drug-using woman living with HIV who was refused dental treatment at a government-funded clinic. Marina had to visit a doctor to get a surgical dental treatment. For that reason she went to the governmental dental clinic. But when Marina informed the dentist that she was HIV positive he refused to provide her medical help. Marina went to another dentist at this clinic, who told her she will provide her with medical assistance but only after all the other patients. In Marina’s opinion, such an attitude of dentists was discriminating and illegal. That is why she approached ARF and asked us to help her to protect her rights.  Social workers helped her to prepare and submit the compliance to the head of this clinic. The compliance included a description of the situation and a request to take relevant measures to educate the staff personal on HIV\AIDS issues and also to prevent further discrimination of people living with HIV in this governmental health care facility. As a result the head of the clinic responded to Marina, apologized to her and informed that he will not allow discrimination of people leaving with HIV in his clinic anymore. Marina got a required medical assistance and cured her teeth.

Moscow’s drug users can also receive anonymous legal advice from the Hand-Help.ru, website. This virtual legal aid service promotes the legal literacy of people who use drugs and facilitates their self-representation in court when they are prosecuted. In addition to the online consultations, the users can access a regularly updating database of juridical acts, examples of cases involving drugs, legislative comments and analysis. The website is the go-to source of information on human rights issues related to drug use, receiving 3000 hits per day. The site’s administrators answer an average of 180 questions per month. Questions that have been answered previously are archived into thematic sections, available for perusal of any site visitor. The site’s main legal consultant has filed 19 drug related rights complaints to the European Court of Human Rights since April 2012.

The case considered in this text was successfully managed because of the financial support of Levi Strauss Foundation and those funding donated by our supporters through the GlobalGiving.org.



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