Australia: Campaign against Victoria’s HIV-specific criminal law launched to tie in with Melbourne Declaration for AIDS 2014

Living Positive Victoria, the organisation representing people living with HIV in the Australian state of Victoria, has launched a campaign for community and cross-party political support to reform the state’s HIV-specific criminal law, the only such law in Australia.

Section 19a of the Crimes Act 1958,’ Intentionally causing a very serious disease’ states

A person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally causes another person to be infected with a very serious disease is guilty of an indictable offence.

In subsection (1) very serious disease means HIV within the meaning of section 3(1) of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 .

The statute, which treats HIV as exceptional and applies a uniquely higher penalty than for other crimes of violence, carries a 25 year maximum penalty.

The call for law reform is a response to the release of the Melbourne Declaration in advance of the 20th International AIDS conference, also known as AIDS 2014, to be held in Melbourne in late July.

“Leading into AIDS 2014 is a highly opportune moment to grasp the issue of law reform so that HIV is treated as a public health matter,” says Ian Muchamore, President of Living Positive Victoria.

The Melbourne Declaration focuses on the need to address multiple legal barriers in the global HIV response, in order “to defeat HIV and achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support”.

In line with the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation, it explicitly states that “nobody should be criminalized because they are living with HIV.” And elsewhere the Declaration “expresses concern at the continued enforcement of discriminatory, stigmatizing, criminalizing and harmful laws which lead to policies and practices that increase vulnerability to HIV.”

HIV criminalisation is set to be a major focus of international attention at AIDS 2014. Living Positive Victoria is one of the hosts of the Beyond Blame pre-conference (along with Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre, National Association of People Living with HIV Australia and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations) which is supported by the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Global Network of People Living with HIV, HIV Justice Network, International Community of Women Living with HIV, Sero Project and UNAIDS.

Read and sign the Melbourne Declaration here

Read and sign the Oslo Declaration here

Read the Living Positive Victoria press release here

Register for Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation (July 20th, Melbourne) here