DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, 17 JULY 2016
We cannot end the HIV pandemic without ending the epidemic of criminalisation of people living with HIV.
As activists, advocates, lawyers, and researchers engaged in the fight against HIV criminalisation, we are acutely aware of the harms it causes – to people who are criminalised, to those living with the threat of criminalisation, and to the HIV response in our countries. We stand in solidarity with survivors of unjust criminalisation, whose powerful stories we have heard and whose courage we honour.
The science of HIV is settled. HIV treatment works: it prevents disease, prevents death, and prevents transmission. Yet the scientific advances of recent years, which have saved countless lives, have all too often been misunderstood, misrepresented or ignored in the criminal justice system. The number of countries – 72 – with laws targeting people with HIV is increasing, not falling, and unjust prosecutions continue unabated. To protect both public health and human rights, these unjust laws must be repealed, police and prosecutorial policies must be reformed, and legal practitioners must be educated about the reality of HIV today.
There has been insufficient attention paid to the issue of HIV criminalisation within the scientific and medical community. While many researchers and clinicians are powerful and valued allies in our fight against unjust laws, we believe the medical and scientific communities can do more – indeed they must do more if the promise of ending HIV is to be achieved.
There has also been insufficient attention paid to these issues by the International AIDS Conference. As the leading global event in the HIV/AIDS arena, the IAC should provide greater prominence to the ways in which law and health intersect, especially in the area of HIV criminalisation. We call on the IAS to make a clear commitment to greater visibility of and access to HIV criminalisation-related research and policy.
We call on the scientific and medical community to join us as advocates in the fight to end HIV criminalisation. We are united by a common desire to see an end to new HIV infections, to AIDS deaths, to HIV-related discrimination, and to stigma against communities living with and affected by HIV. There can be no ‘end to AIDS’ while people with HIV face police action, prosecution, and imprisonment. We cannot reach the 90-90-90 target while criminal laws actively discourage testing, treatment, and prevention.
Public health policy, treatment, and support programmes are all impeded if they are not coupled with creating an enabling environment free of HIV criminalisation. The time is right for a new, holistic approach that incorporates all these issues under a single umbrella of action to end HIV.
ABOUT HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE
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.
The founding partners are: AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA); Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+); HIV Justice Network; International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW); Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA); and Sero Project (SERO).
ABOUT BEYOND BLAME @ AIDS 2016
On 17 July 2016, 150 advocates, activists, researchers, and community leaders met in Durban for a full-day pre-conference meeting for AIDS 2016, to discuss progress on the global effort to combat the unjust use of the criminal law against people with HIV. The Durban meeting followed similar successful meetings held at the International AIDS Conferences in Melbourne (2014) and Vienna (2010). The purpose of the meeting was to provide practical opportunities for advocates working in different jurisdictions to share knowledge, collaborate, and energise the fight against HIV criminalisation. Detailed summaries and outcomes of the meeting, including a video summary, will be available in due course from www.hivjusticeworldwide.org