A new report released today shows that HIV criminalisation is a growing, global phenomenon. However, advocates around the world are working hard to ensure that the criminal law's approach to people living with HIV fits with up-to-date science, as well as key legal and human rights principles.
What do we mean by 'HIV criminalisation'?
HIV criminalisation describes the unjust application of the criminal law to people living with HIV based solely on their HIV status – either via HIV-specific criminal statutes, or by applying general criminal laws that allow for prosecution of unintentional HIV transmission, potential or perceived exposure to HIV where HIV was not transmitted, and/or non-disclosure of known HIV-positive status.
Q: What is HIV criminalisation?
HIV criminalisation describes the unjust application of the criminal law to people living with HIV based on their HIV status – either via HIV-specific criminal statutes, or by applying general criminal laws exclusively or disproportionately against people with HIV.
Usually these laws are used to prosecute individuals aware they are living with HIV who allegedly did not disclose their HIV status prior to sexual relations (HIV non-disclosure), are perceived to have potentially exposed others to HIV (HIV exposure) or thought to have transmitted HIV (HIV transmission).
In many countries a person living with HIV who is found guilty of other 'crimes' - notably, but not exclusively, sex work, as well someone who spits at or bites law enforcement personnel during their arrest or whilst incarcerated – often faces enhanced sentencing even when HIV exposure or transmission was not possible or was – at most – a very small risk.
Q: Why is HIV criminalisation a problem?
It is estimated that some 72 countries have adopted laws that specifically allow for HIV criminalisation, while prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission have been reported in close to 60 countries, either under HIV-specific laws or other, general criminal laws. In many instances, HIV criminalisation laws are overly broad – either in their explicit wording, or in the way they have been interpreted and applied – making people living with HIV (and those perceived by authorities to be at risk of HIV) extremely vulnerable to a wide range of human rights violations.
HIV criminalisation is also at odds with public health objectives. Evidence suggests that fear of prosecution may deter people, especially those from communities highly vulnerable to acquiring HIV, from getting tested and knowing their status, because many laws only apply for those who are aware of their positive HIV status. HIV criminalisation can also deter access to care and treatment, undermining counselling and the relationship between people living with HIV and healthcare professionals because medical records can be used as evidence in court.
Q: What is HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE?
A: HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE is an initiative made up of global, regional and national civil society organisations - most of them led by people living with HIV - who are working together to build a worldwide movement to end HIV criminalisation. All of the founding partners have worked individually and collectively on HIV criminalisation for a number of years.
HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE comes at a time when there is an urgent need to capitalise on current advocacy successes in some parts of the world and to resist new and proposed laws in others. It is also evident that preventing and remedying HIV criminalisation is going take many years, if not decades, and so we need to work together because:
Q: Who is behind HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE?
A: The founding partners are:
The initial three-day meeting, which took place between March 22-24 2016 in Brighton, UK, was funded by a grant from the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund provided to the HIV Justice Global Consortium, comprising ARASA, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, GNP+, HIV Justice Network, Sero and PWN-USA.
Q: What does HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE want to achieve?
A: We want to end HIV criminalisation by empowering people living with HIV and those who advocate on our behalf to ensure policymakers, criminal justice actors and other relevant stakeholders abolish existing laws and oppose the passage of proposed laws designed to regulate, control, and punish people living with HIV on the basis of their HIV status.
Our mission is two-fold:
Q: How will HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE make a difference?
A: HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE will enhance and build on contributions its founding partners have previously made: monitoring, informing, connecting and engaging with People Living with HIV networks, civil society organisations and others who advocate against HIV criminalisation, and engaging policy-makers in pursuit of protecting against HIV criminalisation.
The initiative allows us to:
Q: What can I do to help achieve HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE?
Source: HIV Justice Worldwide
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In many ways, the growing body of knowledge about the virus should be alleviating this stigma:
DES MOINES, Iowa — As the Democratic primary heats up, Hillary Clinton and Bernard Sanders are seeking to gain traction by expressing support for LGBT rights — and to some extent by vowing to combat HIV/AIDS. But one related issue that remains untouched by either candidate is HIV criminalization laws.
In 32 states, there are laws criminalizing perceived exposure to HIV, regardless of the actual risk of transmission, and 13 states have laws criminalizing certain acts — like spitting — by people with HIV/AIDS, even though they can't transmit the disease through saliva. These laws have resulted in lengthy jail sentences for people with HIV, and in some cases forced those convicted onto the sex offender registry.
Following the recent launch of the series 'Harm reduction in Asia and the Pacific', Dr. Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, here writes a very honest account of efforts to control HIV among and from people who inject drugs in Asia.
A quarter of a century ago, Asia and the Pacific, home to almost half the population of the planet, were at great risk of a generalized HIV epidemic starting among people who inject drugs.
Just imagine what the health, social and economic costs of that would have been! Thailand had already become the first developing country in the world to experience a generalized HIV epidemic.