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Documenting Police Abuse

Here is some quick advice that may be useful to sex workers facing cases of police abuse in their work. We thank Johanne Csete at the HIV Legal Network, a human rights group in Canada that also works a lot internationally, for her willingness to help us develop this easy to follow guide. Joanne used to be head of the HIV/AIDS division of Human Rights Watch.

1. Try and document any abuse right away. Write down everything that happened as soon as possible because it is easy to forget details later. Think of taking quick photos with your mobile phone, writing down descriptions of incidents, noting names of witnesses, and also keeping newspaper clippings.

2.If possible ally with a friendly human rights group who can help you document or write letters that show exactly which human rights are being abused and which human rights treaties that your country has signed on to are being violated.

3. Constantly educate yourself and your colleagues about human rights of sex workers. One way to start figuring out some of the rights you have that might be being violated is to use the Declaration and Manifesto on Sex Workers’ Rights in Europe, developed by ICRSWE and translated in many regional languages, to understand sometimes complex concepts. All the rights in the document are based on actual conventions.

4. When detained by police sex workers are sometimes threatened to be forcefully tested for HIV (as it happened for example in April 2007 in Kyrgyzstan). Johanne suggested it could be useful to write a letter to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, Solicitor General and the National Human Rights Commission--or the equivalent in your country -- and put the head of UNAIDS and the regional representative for UNAIDS in cc (in case of Kyrgyzstan for example that would be UNAIDS Central Asia). Aleksander Kosikin is the head of UNAIDS Central Asia, and his office is in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Other regional offices and contact persons might be found on the UNAIDS website. You should alert them that any threat of forced testing of sex workers goes against The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights (2006 version) published by the UN Human Rights Commission and UNAIDS and the UNAIDS Guidelines on HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment, support in prison settings (2007). Excerpts that might be relevant to quote in your letter are at the end of this article. You should describe in your letter what happened and cite any relevant documentation such as notes, newspaper articles, witness testimonies, etc. from the point 1 in this article.

5. You can also choose to write a public letter and send it to the media, if it seems strategic. You can also do a combination of the two – send a letter to the authorities and to the media. In such cases some organizations send the letter to the authorities 2-3 days in advance before they release it to the media, giving the authorities a fair time to prepare for action and responses once media call them for comments.

6. It might be useful to alert the international human rights bodies on the accidents. You could email Jo Amon, head researcher of HIV-AIDS and Human Rights for Human Rights Watch, to ask him to write a public letter in support or to launch an investigation. His email is amonj@hrw.org .

7. Council of Europe and its European Court of Human Rights are very effective instrument to turn to if your country is a member state of the Council of Europe. The person to contact in the CoE is Thomas Hammarberg (http://www.coe.int/t/commissioner/Office/contact_en.asp ), the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. You could ask him if your case can be brought before the European Court of Human Rights. Put the Minister of Justice, Prime Minister etc. in cc. Even if you don't want to proceed with the court case, the public attention can be very helpful to pressure those responsible to discipline the police.

8. Abuses in both non-European and European countries Another person could be reported to the UN Human Rights Commission. You can write to Madeleine Reese of the Gender Unit of the Commission or to Louise Arbour, head of the Commission (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx ). What happens then is the Commissioner writes a letter to your government and asks them what they are doing to make the situation better...it can put a lot of pressure or shame on the government to improve. This approach worked for the Bangladeshi sex workers when they wrote to the previous UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women (that could be another possible option although apparently the new rapporteur is not very sympathetic to sex workers’ cause.)

Hope that is helpful! If you have any questions you would like me to pass on or research, just let me know! Hugs and Kisses,

Anna-Louise, annalouisecrago@gmail.com

UNAIDS Guidelines on HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment, support in prison settings (2007)
13. PRISON SYSTEMS should ensure that prisoners and staff are not subjected to mandatory HIV testing.

From The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights (2006 version) published by UNAIDS and UN Human Rights Commission


21. States should review and reform criminal laws and correctional systems to ensure that they are consistent with international human rights obligations and are not misused in the context of HIV or targeted at vulnerable groups.
21. (e)
Prison authorities should take all necessary measures, including adequate staffing, effective surveillance and appropriate disciplinary measures, to protect prisoners from rape, sexual violence and coercion. Prison authorities should also provide prisoners (and prison staff, as appropriate), with access to HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary testing and counselling, means of prevention (condoms, bleach and clean injection equipment), treatment and care and voluntary participation in HIV-related clinical trials, as well as ensure confidentiality, AND SHOULD PROHIBIT MANDATORY TESTING, segregation and denial of access to prison facilities, privileges and release programs for HIV-positive prisoners. Compassionate early release of prisoners living with AIDS should be considered.

105. Public health is most often cited by States as a basis for restricting human rights in the context of HIV. Many such restrictions, however, infringe on the principle of non- discrimination, for example when HIV status is used as the basis for differential treatment with regard to access to education, employment, health care, travel, social security, housing and asylum. THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY IS KNOWN TO HAVE BEEN RESTRICTED THROUGH MANDATORY TESTING AND THE PUBLICATION OF HIV STATUS AND THE RIGHT TO LIBERTY OF PERSON IS VIOLATED WHEN HIV IS USED TO JUSTIFY DEPRIVATION OF LIBERTYOR SEGREGATION. Although SUCH MEASURES may be effective in the case of diseases which are contagious by casual contact and susceptible to cure, they ARE INEFFECTIVE WITH REGARD TO HIV AND ARE OFTEN IMPOSED DISCRIMINATORILY AGAINST ALREADY VULNERABLE GROUPS. Finally, and as stated above, these coercive measures drive people away from prevention and care programs, thereby limiting the effectiveness of public health outreach. A public health exception is, therefore, seldom a legitimate basis for restrictions on human rights in the context of HIV, since HIV is not casually transmitted. In addition, such coercive measures are not the least restrictive measures possible and

21. (c) WITH REGARD TO ADULT SEX WORK THAT INVOLVES NO VICTIMIZATION' CRIMINAL LAW SHOULD BE REVIEWED WITH THE AIM OF DECRIMINALIZING. then legally regulating occupational health and safety conditions to protect sex workers and their clients, including support for safe sex during sex work. CRIMINAL LAW SHOULD NOT IMPEDE PROVISION OF HIV-PREVENTION AND CARE SERVICES TO SEX WORKERS AND THEIR CLIENTS. Criminal law should ensure that children and adult sex workers who have been trafficked or otherwise coerced into sex work are protected from participation in the sex industry and are not prosecuted for such participation but rather are removed from sex work and provided with medical and psycho-social support services, including those related to HIV.