First Court decision in South Asia to make general pronouncement recognising the human rights of all people living with HIV.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has welcomed a decision by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court to prohibit HIV discrimination in education settings.
The country’s highest court issued the directive in response to a fundamental rights violation petition filed by Chandani De Soysa, who is from the rural community of Illukhena, Kuliyapitiya in Western Sri Lanka. De Soysa became a widow last year. When she tried to enrol her five-year old son in a local school, he was denied admission because he was believed to be living with HIV.
With support from UNAIDS and the Positive Women’s Network, De Soysa filed her petition with the Supreme Court in February. The court’s directive which was released on 28 April stated that the rights to an education of children living with or affected by HIV must be upheld based on the country’s constitutional directive of universal access to education for children between the ages of 5-14.
The Supreme Court also went a step further reminding the State of its obligation to take necessary measures to protect, promote and respect the human rights of people living with HIV in order to eliminate discrimination that is experienced by them.
This is the first Court decision in South Asia to make a general pronouncement recognising the human rights of all people living with HIV, and sets a precedent for future cases in Sri Lanka challenging HIV discrimination experienced in settings other than education.
“I would like to give a special note of thanks to all the strangers out there who offered their support in various forms – from money, food, scholarships to a simple word of encouragement. I cannot express in words my gratitude for this kindness,” said De Soysa. “My son has a dream to be a doctor one day and I hope he will be an HIV specialist.”
“This is a great day for social justice,” said Steve Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. “Sri Lanka’s highest Court has stood up in support of people who are being left behind. From now on, no child can be denied access to education based on HIV.”
Positive Women’s Network in Sri Lanka Executive Director Princey Mangalikasaid: “I would like to express my appreciation to the Supreme Court. This marks a momentously progressive step forward for the people living with HIV community in Sri Lanka.”
There were an estimated 3, 300 people living with HIV in Sri Lanka in 2014, including around 100 children (ages 0 to 14 years). There have been other cases of children being denied school admission because of their association with HIV, which have been settled through mediation.
Discrimination against students affected by HIV also occurs in other countries in South Asia. In India, a petition filed by Naz Foundation (India) Trust, which provides care and support to children living with HIV, through the Lawyers Collective relied on publicly available reports to show that children have been systematically targeted because of their association with HIV –theyhave faced repeated incidents of humiliation, suspension, violence, segregation and expulsion.