Liberia amended its Public Health Law in 2010, adding an HIV-specific statute which makes it an offence to ‘wilfully transmit HIV to another’, or to knowingly have unprotected sex while HIV-positive. However, the law contains a number of exclusions, namely:
- acts that pose ‘no significant risk of HIV infection’
- individuals unaware of their HIV-positive status, or unaware of how HIV is transmitted
- individuals who ‘practiced safer sex, including using a condom’
- disclosure of HIV-positive status or partner awareness ‘in some other way’ prior to sex
- non-disclosure of known HIV-positive status ‘because of a well-founded fear of serious harm by the other person’
- mother-to-child exposure or transmission.
On Zero Discrimination Day 2022 (1 March), the National AIDS Commission called on the government to repeal all “HIV-related discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies”. Although no further details were provided, this could include the provision of the Public Health Law which criminalises HIV transmission. The same call was made on World AIDS Day 2022 (1 December), indicating that no action had been taken. In 2023, civil society groups continued their advocacy through a two-day National Anti-Stigma, Discrimination, and Advocacy Conference, issuing a ten-point resolution to the Government, calling for review and repeal of criminalising and stigmatising laws.
There have been no reported cases of HIV criminalisation in Liberia to date.
Public Health Law
Section 18.27. Wilful transmission of HIV
(a) it shall be considered a commission of a 1st degree felony for any person(s) to wilfully transmit HIV to another person or continue to have unprotected sex with his/her spouse or sexual partner knowing the positive result of his/her HIV test or status.
(b) No person shall be criminally responsible under this Act or any other applicable law where the transmission of HIV, or exposure to the risk of HIV infection arises out of or relates to:
i) An act that poses no significant risk of HIV infection;
ii) A person living with HIV who was unaware of his or her HIV infection at the time of the alleged offence;
iii) A person living with HIV who lacks the understanding of how HIV is transmitted at the time of the alleged offence;
iv) A person living with HIV who practices safer sex, including using a condom;
v) A person living with HIV who discloses his or her HIV-positive status to the sexual partner or other person before any act posing a significant risk of transmission;
vi) A situation in which the sexual partner or other person was in some other way aware of the person’s HIV-positive status;
vii) A person living with HIV who did not disclosure his or her HIV status because of a well-founded fear of serious harm by the other person; or
viii) The possibility of transmission of HIV from a woman to her child before or during the birth of the child, or through breastfeeding of an infant or child.
Our thanks to UNAIDS for their research assistance to confirm current relevant legislation.