The United Nations has welcomed a landmark ruling by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, prohibiting the discrimination of people living with HIV in the education sector.
Steve Kraus, Director of UNAIDS Asia and the Pacific Support Team, said on Wednesday in New York that the judgment set by Sri Lanka’s apex court was a precedent that would help victims seeking justice for other forms of prejudice.
The case involved a five-year-old boy who was denied admission to school because he was believed to be HIV positive.
The court said in its ruling that children living with or affected by HIV had the full right to education.
“UNAIDS congratulates Sri Lanka on this historic step forward and urges countries in the region to introduce comprehensive laws protecting people affected by HIV against direct and indirect discrimination in all settings.’’
Kraus said that the court also reminded the government of its obligation to take steps to protect, promote and respect the rights of people living with HIV.
“This is a great day for social justice.
“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,’’ he said.
Kraus said that UN believed that the April 28 ruling would set a precedent for future cases in the Indian Ocean Island.
According to him, victims will now be able to challenge HIV discrimination in other areas such as in accessing health, employment and housing.
“This is the first such ruling in South Asia.
“While Indian courts have ruled to protect the rights of people living with HIV in specific settings, no country in the region has passed a national HIV law.
“Sindh province in Pakistan has a comprehensive HIV law, but there is no such protection across the country,’’ he said.
The director said that available data indicated that almost 37 million people globally were living with HIV as at 2014.
He said that there was no comparable figure for South Asia, but that World Bank 2010 data said that between two million and 3.5 million people in South Asia were living with HIV and AIDS.
He stated that in spite of greater awareness about the disease, many HIV-positive people in South Asia had continued to face discrimination in their everyday lives.
“In India, for example, human rights lawyers have documented how children living with HIV have been systematically targeted and endured repeated incidents of humiliation, suspension, violence, segregation and expulsion.
Kraus said that UN had called on other South Asian countries to adopt laws to protect victims of all forms of prejudice.