Together we *can* make HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE a reality, by Edwin J Bernard

Two weeks ago, thanks to generous funding for 2016-18 from the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund, a group of committed activists from all over the world came together in Brighton, the home of the HIV Justice Network, so we could strategise how to work closer together in order to end HIV criminalisation.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point.  I first started writing about HIV criminalisation in 2003 when, in my first months as editor of NAM’s AIDS Treatment Update, we had our first prosecutions in England and Wales for ‘reckless’ HIV transmission.

After writing my first book on the subject for NAM in 2007 – Criminal HIV Transmission, which aimed to educate the criminal justice system about the latest medical and social science developments relating to HIV – I began a blog of the same name which, almost by accident, became a global de facto information and advocacy hub.

In 2008, on the final day of the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Justice Edwin Cameron gave a powerful speech entitled ‘HIV is a virus not a crime’ that vocalised a burgeoning movement using many examples culled from the blog. At its rousing conclusion, he called for a sustained and vocal campaign that would lead to major international pushback against misguided criminal laws and prosecutions.

I took Justice Cameron’s call to action utterly and complelely to heart, and have made this the focus of my life’s work ever since: highlights of which include writing a second book for NAM in 2010; working with UNAIDS on their 2013 guidance; and, of course, launching the HIV Justice Network.

Today, marks a new milestone for my vocation. As part of a group of seven global, regional and national civil society organisations that have worked closely, but informally, together on HIV criminalisation for a number years, I can proudly announce a brand new initiative, HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.

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:

  • HIV criminalisation is an international issue, having grown in scope and severity over the last two decades;
  • international actors such as UNAIDS, UNDP, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and others have been – or need to be – involved in this issue, and civil society needs to be able to effectively engage with these actors;
  • international pressure can often be helpful in responding to problematic regional or national developments; and
  • a global movement can help raise awareness and build capacity of local actors around the world by sharing knowledge, experience, strategies, tools and mobilising resources.

The organisations that make up the founding partners, along with the HIV Justice Network, are:

We also have the support of UNAIDS and UNDP and global HIV organisations such as the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. As time goes on we will will announce new projects and partners – all with the goal of ending 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.

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:

  • Avoid duplication by bringing together the many existing resources on this issue, sharing information and coordinating advocacy efforts.
  • Build broader consensus amongst People Living with HIV networks, civil society, policymakers, key scientists/clinicians, criminal justice actors and funders that ‘ending AIDS’ will not happen unless we put an end to HIV criminalisation.
  • Create new energy and action, ‘riding the wave’ of recent advocacy successes, pushing for commitment to change at the highest level.
  • Develop and strengthen much-needed civil society capacity to ensure continued advocacy against HIV criminalisation, and to sustain this capacity in order to further advocate against related punitive laws, policies and practices aimed at people living with HIV and which impede the HIV response.

To find out more about what HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE is all about, please visit the website, and watch the video.