Legal support services
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Legal support services provide legal information, advice, referrals and representation for rights violations to protect and promote health.
Legal support services are a critical enabler for access to health and human rights. They include:
- Providing legal advice and representation
- Strengthening alternative and community-based dispute resolution mechanisms
- Engaging religious or traditional leaders and traditional legal systems
- Strategic litigation
- Sensitization and training of law enforcement officials and health workers in relevant areas of law, and
- Strengthening services for legal information and referrals.
Strengthening legal literacy and legal support services in Asia and the Pacific
In Cambodia, a community legal service provides free legal advice to sex workers in Phnom Penh and a legal advice hotline provides advice on violence protection and other legal issues using interactive voice software. Community networks have received training on documentation of human rights and legal rights violations. A toolkit on scaling up legal services for people living with HIV and key populations was published and disseminated.
NGOs in Indonesia have made progress in piloting of legal aid services for sex workers through OPSI (Indonesian Sex Workers Network) and LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid Institute). Legal aid services for people who use drugs were expanded by the use of paralegals through PKNI (Indonesian Network of People Who Use Drugs) and LBH Masyarakat. Funding for the Stigma Index and community led documentation of quality of and access to services for key populations (including stigma and discrimination) was provided by the Global Fund.
In Bangladesh, a local CSO has collaborated with the National Human Rights Commission (JAMAKON) and the National Legal Aid Services Organization to provide legal aid and support to more than 2 000 community members through its legal hotline (Ain-Alap). Through this collaboration: 186 complaints have been documented A district level Lawyers Group Committee has been formed, consisting of 190 lawyers who provide pro bono services to the community; A watch dog committee has been formed at the divisional level, consisting of 42 front-line community members who document human rights violations.
Strategic litigation sets important judicial precedents to protect health and human rights
Strategic litigation can achieve many important goals in fostering an enabling legal environment and removing human rights and gender-related barriers to HIV, TB and malaria. It can help to:
- Create greater public awareness of and encourage debate around stigma, discrimination and human rights violations towards vulnerable and key populations in the context of health
- Enforce existing protections in law for the health and human rights of vulnerable and key populations
- Clarify the meaning of existing laws in the context of health
- Challenge discriminatory, punitive and outdated laws that apply to health, including for vulnerable and key populations
- Change laws, policies and practice in relation to health
- Create an enabling environment that protects human rights and the rule of law.
Strategic litigation requires strong partnerships between legal organisations, civil society organisations and key population networks, working together to identify, document, refer and defend human rights violations. Capacity strengthening interventions are critical to creating these strong partnerships, ensuring organisations are sensitized to the issues and able to combine their expertise to bring important cases to court.
High Court ruling set to change lives of transgender persons in Botswana
In Botswana, as in most countries, a person is given a gender identity at birth. For transgender people, this gender assignment may mean growing up and living with official identity documents that don’t respect and reflect their lived gender identity. This impacts on their lives and access to services in many ways, including on access to health care services.
For instance, transgender persons whose identity is reflected as male on their official documents may automatically be treated as a man by health care workers and may not receive the information and services appropriate for their gender identity. Challenging and changing this gender marker on official documents is difficult, since laws often require complex medical or surgical evidence in order to effect the change. A transgender man who self-identifies as a man but was assigned a female gender identity at birth, challenged the Botswana Registrar of National Registration’s refusal to change his gender marker, in the Botswana High Court.
Represented by Botswana law firms with the support of the Southern African Litigation Centre and Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, the applicant presented psychological and medical evidence to show that his innate gender identity is, and has always been male. He showed that the state’s failure to formally recognise his gender identity had caused him significant trauma. On 29 September 2017, the Lobatse High Court held that the refusal to change the applicant’s gender marker was unreasonable, violating his rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment.
The Registrar of National Registration was ordered to change the applicant’s identity document. According to LGBT and Sex Worker Rights Programme Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, Tashwill Esterhuizen: “This is a monumental victory for the rights of transgender persons in the region. The judge’s finding that the refusal to change a transgender person’s identity documents violates constitutional rights, goes a long way in improving the lives of transgender persons.”