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This summer I have had the pleasure of serving with UN Economic and Social Commision for Asia and Pacific (UN ESAP) in Bangkok. As an intern with the Social Development Division, I focus on legal barriers to effective HIV programming in Southeast and Central Asia. I have had the opportunity to engage deeply with these issues. My work has required adaptability: I arrived just in time for the climax of the protests in Bangkok and the subsequent coup and martial rule. This meant avoiding the UN compound for a few weeks and occasionally evacuating my area of the city. The UN compound has now reopened, but the experience helped build confidence in my own flexibility and risk tolerance.
I have a number of projects underway and several discreet tasks have already been accomplished. My first task was a survey of punitive laws that impede HIV programming or negatively impact key populations in Central Asia (for example, Tajikistan). This was relatively straightforward, but was a good familiarization before beginning one of my major work projects: an in-depth review of the legal situations facing sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), and drug users in India, Russia, Cambodia, and Malaysia. These country reports document how laws are used (or abused) in ways that increase stigma of key populations or subject them to human rights violations by the state. These laws can include everything from explicit criminalization of same-sex acts to nuisance laws, to NGO incorporation rules that, in effect, ban NGOs from advocating on behalf of key populations. The reports also include commentary on any relevant case law which I have managed to find.
The next step for these analyses will be to translate their key legal points into language suitable for posters intended for display at the regional intergovernmental review meeting of national efforts towards the anti-HIV goals set out in the 2011 Political Declaration. The intention is to generate an impact on meeting participants which connects their legislative environment with the real life experiences of individuals within key populations.
Alongside these country reports, I was asked to analyze the Supreme Court decisions of Pakistan, India, and Nepal which create state recognition of a third gender. These decisions will help to eliminate stigma against Hijras, transgender individuals, and a variety of other groups, facilitating their access to HIV services. I prepared reports on each decision (except Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision, which I have been unable to locate) which explained the reasoning behind the decision, the precedents it draws upon (which is often a patchwork of international covenants and foreign common law precedents), and described exactly what was being recognized by the Court.
I will continue to create the country reports, and will also begin a review of national and international laws that impact the cost to countries of HIV medications. This will entail continuing earlier research into TRIPS flexibilities, examining case law (specifically Novartis AG v. Union of India, a landmark patent decision in India), and highlighting how countries have responded to TRIPS flexibilities with domestic legislation.
Finally, I have been able to do some traveling around Thailand. I spent four days in Chiang Mai seeing the local temples (some of the most beautiful in the Buddhist world) and trekking in the jungle near Myanmar. I have participated in Buddhist blessings, learned to negotiate with taxi drivers, and ridden elephants. Even on workdays, I have managed to see the sights of Bangkok by venturing to flower and fruit markets at 5am and earlier. I even managed to tour Wat Pho at 6am without seeing another tourist!