Legislating for PLHIV: Bahrain’s Pioneer Experience
UNDP Bahrain in partnership with the Regional Centre for Arab States assisted the Bahraini Parliament as early back as 2009 in editing a draft law to protect people living with HIV (PLWHIV) in Bahrain, which had addressed the issue of protecting PLWHIV from a legal prospective prior to the issuance of the “Global Commission on HIV and The Law” Report. A draft law was submitted to the House of Representatives by six parliament members, and the primary reason was to regulate the issue of dealing with PLWHIV and their families in a much more legal format. However, it appeared from the first glance at the draft that it was prepared without consideration to some important specificities that only on-hand experience on HIV different issues would be able to address. Going thoroughly through the draft law, it was very apparent the law contained several inequitable provisions which required further discussion with the parliament and the government.
- The first rights-based law in support to PLHIV on endorsement process at the Bahraini House of Representatives.
- Having true believers of the rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in their support at policy making level could make a big difference.
After months of discussions, CO submitted its comments on the draft to the Vice Speaker of the Parliament. Of particular interest to UNDP CO, some articles in the proposed law were not going in conformity with human rights principles vis-à-vis PLHIV in their families. CO’s comments and recommendations shared with the parliament and the government were in different formats (written, verbal, and through some joint debates with parliament members and government officers). Looking through the “Global Commission on HIV and The Law” Report, almost all of those comments are going in line with its content. Some of the articles commented on were related to mandatory testing and disclosure to intimate partners as well as the criminalization of HIV transmission.
The government of Bahrain’s focal point UNDP worked with at that time was the same person chairing the “HIV/AIDS National Committee”. She was so supportive to our comments, being also the focal point our CO worked with in putting together the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was put together by Ministry of Health. Apart from being a medical doctor in direct contact with PLHIV, she was one of the first people who opened up a private clinic to deal with IDUs and HIV/AIDS positive from curative position.
Interestingly enough, the same government focal point ran for the Parliamentarian by-election in 2011 and won a seat in the House of Representatives. One of her first initiatives was to re-discuss the HIV/AIDS draft law, and that was what we supported her to do. As per the internal governing law of the House of Representative, the submitter of the draft law had to withdraw it in order for it to be resubmitted again. That process took about seven months, and the intention was to campaign and advocate for a draft law that is more of a pro-PLWHIV, which also takes into consideration all different issues that our focal point was quite aware of, due to her intensive experience in working on HIV related issues. All different conventions rectified by Bahrain were also taken into consideration. After almost 14 months of continuous hard work during which UNDP CO was in direct contact with the parliament through our focal point and her team, the draft law has finally been approved by the first chamber of the parliament and got submitted to the second chamber (The Shura Council) for a final approval. The Global Commission on HIV and The Law” was shared with our focal point, and some of its comments and recommendations were taken into consideration in a way or another. The draft law is among the laws to be discussed and approved by the second chamber (Shura Council) in the next term due to begin in October 2013.
Bahrain CO is quite optimistic that this law will see its way to ratification and will be yet another step towards effective HIV responses on the national level. If there is one lesson learned from this, it would be the fact that having one believer of your cause (rightly dealing with PLWIH in our case) could make a difference. This nation-wide effort would NOT have been achieving a pro-PLWHIV law in absence of our government counterpart, who believed, learned so much about HIV/AIDS, and implemented her belief using all different available means and tools.