NEW LAWS PLANNED ON AIDS IN THE PACIFIC

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By Luisa Tora, Seni Nabou and Salesh Kumar

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 7, 1999 - Wansolwara/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Human rights lawyers are drafting proposed new legislation strategies for three South Pacific nations, Fiji, Kiribati and Tonga, to cope with the rise in HIV/AIDS in the region, reports Wansolwara.

Some current laws in Fiji may allow mandatory testing of HIV and breaches of confidentiality.

"The way present laws are drafted allow for people to interpret them that way," said Suva lawyer Miles Young.

Mr. Young is part of a working group in Fiji which has drawn up draft legal and policy papers since last September.

The group includes representatives of the Institute of Justice and Legal Studies, the United Nations Development Program, the Pacific Concerns Resource Center and Fiji’s Health Ministry.

While researching the UNDP-funded paper with law student Tamsin Vuetilovoni, Mr. Young found there was no statutory protestation for people with HIV, particularly in the area of employment.

Referring to the Employment Act, Mr. Young said: "If an HIV-positive person is terminated from his employment on the basis of his HIV status then, unless he is protected by a contract of employment or by collective agreement, his union, that is it, too bad."

He said the Human Rights Commission Act prohibits unfair discrimination, but may be limited in its powers.

Mr. Young said this was due to the commission’s inability to fine people or force them to comply with their rulings.

The Fiji draft paper is completed and was presented last week. Similar papers are being prepared by legal consultants in Tonga and Kiribati.

Project manager Chetan Lakshman said the Tongan paper was "three-quarters done" and the Kiribati paper was started last month.

The project began in response to studies carried out by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community last year which revealed a high increase in HIV and AIDS cases in the Pacific.

The SPC has helped to draw up a regional STD/AIDS strategic plan.

"There was growing concern and we saw it only looked at mainly the medical side and had forgotten about the legal and human rights issues," said Mr. Lakshman.

"We saw there was a need to create strategies."

If the papers are approved by the governments involved, the working group hopes to put the recommendations forward to legislation-making bodies.

It is believed the Fiji paper considers which body the recommendations should come under, where funding should come from and how to lobby for inclusion of recommendations in regional legislation.

Meanwhile, the University of the South Pacific has confirmed that it has no policy regarding HIV/AIDS on its campuses.

But Vice-Chancellor Esekia Solofa said: "We are working on it!"

"We are concerned that the right kind of measures are taken to make sure that all in the community are protected," he told Wansolwara.

Title -- 2030 HEALTH: New law plan on AIDS in Pacific Date -- 7 April 1999 Byline -- Luisa Tora, Seni Nabou and Salesh Kumar Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Wansolwara, 7/4/99 Copyright -- Wansolwara, Journalism USP Status -- Unabridged

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