2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMakers Fellow, Russia
Providing legal counsel for the accused living with HIV/AIDS
“Law enforcement officers are surprised by the ability of people to resist their system, when they have the courage to challenge and openly confront the ubiquitous practice of fabrication of criminal cases in relation to vulnerable groups.”
A social worker from the city of Tolyatti in southeastern Russia, Tatyana Kochetkova has been working with intravenous drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS for over 15 years. She has witnessed the negative impact of a capricious legal system on the most vulnerable in society as many of her friends and colleagues who are living with HIV/AIDS have been arrested and not given access to legal counsel.
Project: For this reason, she has decided to devote her social work to the provision of adequate legal counsel to people living with HIV/AIDS upon arrest. She and her organization (the AIDS Service Organization) will be visiting detainees immediately upon arrest with antiretroviral drugs, working with partners to find them adequate pro bono legal counsel, accompanying the detainee through the process until adequate legal counsel can be assigned, and liaising with press and government officials if need be. The project provided both legal counsel to people living with HIV/AIDS and valuable information and training within the community helping them fight against a criminal justice system that is often not on their side.
Results: This project has had great success in developing legal literacy among the socially vulnerable HIV/AIDS population. Despite reluctance to discuss HIV/AIDS in public, as well as protests and demonstrations against the program, threats to volunteers and mis-representation in the media engendering fear of HIV/AIDS , the outcome of the project has shown immense promise. The reading materials are still in use to this day and have received a hugely positive response. Elena Suponika, a journalist and volunteer with the project has been instrumental in increasing awareness within the community and Ivan Anoshkin shared his experiences at conferences devoted to the protection of human rights. As well as receiving calls on the “Gossip Hotine” from the general public, we also received calls from prisoners asking about their rights. There is now awareness that legal aid exists and there are information materials placed in medical facilities throughout the city.
The pro-bono lawyers working with the project have successfully defended 2 cases in the European Court of Human Rights, a further 9 are under consideration and 50 individuals have consulted with the lawyers concerning criminal and civil proceedings. Maria Levanova has given a seminar for people living HIV/AIDS – it is of note that most of the individuals attending the seminars are not aware of their legal rights.
The project continues to develop good relations with pro-bono lawyers and mass media and seeks to further its outreach in the community.