HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day goes global!

Next Wednesday 28th February is HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day.

For the first time, HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day – which began two years ago in the United States – has gone global! This year’s theme is: “You care about ending HIV criminalisation – you just don’t know it yet!”

That’s why we’ll be producing a very special episode of our webshow, HIV Justice Live! on this important new date for global HIV decriminalisation activism, where I’ll be joined on my ‘virtual sofa’ by an inspiring group of community-based expert activists – Florence Riako Anam (GNP+); HIV and human rights consultant, Michaela Clayton; Mikhail Golichenko (HIV Legal Network); and Andy Tapia and Kerry Thomas (SERO Project) – to explain why HIV criminalisation impacts us all, and what you can do it about it.

We’ll be streaming live to YouTube and Facebook, so you’ll be able to interact with us during our Q&A session. By March 1st, Zero Discrimination Day, the show will also be available on our YouTube channel where it will be subtitled in English, allowing for automatic translation into any language.

HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day was the brainchild of our long-time HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partner, the SERO Project’s co-Executive Director, Kamaria Laffrey. HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day was launched two years ago in collaboration with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, community activists and public policy organisations across the United States and grown in size and prominence ever since.

HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day takes place on 28th February for several reasons. It’s a date that bridges two major US awareness months – Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. And it’s also a symbolic nod to the legacy of the late Hollywood icon and early AIDS activist, Elizabeth Taylor, who was born on 27th February.

HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day is an opportunity to amplify the voices of those who have been criminalised based on their HIV status; to remind people of the negative impacts of HIV criminalisation on health and rights; to celebrate the work of many individuals who are part of the growing global movement to end HIV criminalisation; and to recognise that there’s still much to do to achieve HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.

You can find out what other events are taking place on and around HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day by visiting a dedicated Facebook page or by following the hashtag #HINACDay.

New EECA HIV criminalisation report shows women living with HIV bear the brunt of “legalised stigma”

The Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA) this week published an important new report on HIV criminalisation in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region. The HIV Criminalisation Scan in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia for 2018-22 is based on research led by women living with HIV undertaken in 2022 and covers 11 EECA countries: Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

With the exception of Estonia, all the above countries have overly broad HIV-specific criminal laws. However, the four countries with the highest number of problematic cases are Belarus, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Across the region it is not uncommon for criminal cases to be initiated by health authorities rather than individual complainants. In addition, courts are often ignoring up-to-date HIV science on risk (ignoring the prevention benefit of condoms and/or treatment) and are misinterpreting intent to have sex with intent to transmit. 

Although the addition of a disclosure defence to the Belarus law in 2019 reduced the number of recorded cases from 133 in 2018 to 38 in 2021, more than 60% of all recorded cases involved female defendants.

On the other hand, HIV criminalisation cases in Russia with recorded sentences have actually increased – from 60 in 2017 to 94 in 2021 – some of which involved cases that began in earlier years. In 2021, there were 59 newly recorded HIV criminalisation cases of which 20 (33%) were against women. In addition, over the period of just a few months of 2021, activists from Russia documented eight cases of blackmail and intimidation from (male) partners threatening to make a criminal complaint against women living with HIV, highlighting the vulnerability of women living with HIV to intimate partner violence in the context of HIV criminalisation.

In Tajikistan, female sex workers living with HIV are the most likely to be arrested and prosecuted, even when the “injured party” is not the initiator of the complaint and HIV transmission is neither alleged nor proven. The stigma is perpetuated by media headlines which often conflate all women living with HIV with sex workers who are “spreading” HIV.

In Uzbekistan, the average annual number of criminal cases against people living with HIV during the reporting period (2018-22) was about 140, of which 97 went to trial (40 of which were against women).

Amongst a number of wide-ranging conclusions are the observations that the vast majority of EECA countries are “legalising stigma” against people living with HIV in their application of HIV-specific criminal laws, and that women living with HIV are bearing the brunt of this criminalisation. The authors note that HIV criminalisation is exacerbated by myriad human rights abuses against people (and especially women) living with HIV, including adoption bans, prohibited occupation lists, mandatory HIV testing before marriage, restrictions on admission to shelters based on HIV-positive status, as well as the criminalisation of LGBTIQ people, sex workers and people who use drugs.

However, despite the many difficulties in the region, an increasing number of NGOs and individual activists are actively and productively working on mitigating the harm of HIV criminalisation by providing support to people living with HIV, including as public defenders in the courts. This work has been scaled-up thanks to a growing recognition from international donors and UN agencies that work to limit or end HIV criminalisation – amongst other punitive laws and policies impacting the HIV response – is essential for the region.

The full 70-page report, published by EWNA on behalf of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition, and funded by the Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks, is available in the Resource Library of the HIV Justice Academy in the original Russian or the machine-translated English.

An important new advocacy tool for HIV justice

New international principles provide guidance on many aspects of overcriminalisation, including HIV criminalisation

This week saw the long-awaited publication of the 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

The 21 principles aim to address the detrimental impact of overcriminalisation of a wide range of conduct – including HIV criminalisation – on health, equality, and other human rights, and seek to offer guidance on the application of criminal law in a way that upholds human rights.

The principles offer a clear, accessible, and operational legal framework and practical legal guidance on the application of criminal law to:

  • sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion;
  • consensual sexual activities, including in such contexts as sex outside marriage, same-sex sexual relations, adolescent sexual activity, and sex work;
  • gender identity and gender expression;
  • HIV non-disclosure, exposure, or transmission;
  • drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use;
  • and homelessness and poverty.

The principles were launched on Wednesday, March 8 – International Women’s Day – at a side-event at the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Christine Stegling, welcomed the fact that these principles were named after, and were being launched on, International Women’s Day, “in recognition of the detrimental effects criminal law can, and too often does have on women in all their diversity.”

Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, also noted the significance of the name and the launch on International Women’s Day: “Today is an opportunity for all of us to think about power and male dominated systems,” he said.

What do the principles cover?

The first six principles cover legality, harm, individual criminal liability, voluntary act requirement, mental state requirement, and grounds for excluding criminal liability.

The next seven principles cover the following areas: criminal law and international human rights law and standards; human rights restrictions on criminal law; legitimate exercise of human rights; criminal law and prohibited discrimination; criminal liability may not be based on discriminatory grounds; limitations on criminal liability for persons under 18 years of age; criminal law and non-derogable human rights; and criminal law sanctions.

The final eight principles cover specific areas: sexual and reproductive health and rights; abortion; consensual sexual conduct; sex work; sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; HIV non-disclosure, exposure, or transmission; drug use and possession, purchase, or cultivation of drugs for personal use; life-sustaining activities in public places and conduct associated with homelessness and poverty.

How were the principles developed?

The idea for the principles came out of a 2018 meeting convened by the ICJ with UNAIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). This convening endorsed the call by civil society and other stakeholders for the elaboration of a set of jurists’ principles to assist legislatures, the courts, administrative and prosecutorial authorities, and advocates to address the detrimental human rights impact of criminalisation in the above-mentioned areas.

Following this initial expert meeting, the ICJ engaged in a lengthy consultative process. For example, the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition submitted this response in 2019. Ultimately, a wide range of expert jurists, academics, legal practitioners, human rights defenders, and civil society organisations across the world reviewed and eventually endorsed or supported the principles.

Jurists who have endorsed the principles so far include: HJN Global Advisory Panel (GAP) member, Zione Ntaba, Justice of the High Court Malawi; former HJN GAP member Edwin Cameron, Retired Justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa and Inspecting Judge, Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services; and the Chair of HJN’s Supervisory Board, Richard Elliott.

The HIV Justice Network was one of several organisations and institutions to be the first to support the principles alongside Amnesty International, CREA, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, and the International Network of People who Use Drugs.

 

You can find the principles on the ICJ website as well as in the English language version of the HIV Justice Academy’s Resource Library.

 

 

 

 

Two significant days in the HIV justice calendar

28th February marks the second HIV is Not a Crime Awareness Day. Launched by the Sero Project — our US partners in the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition — in collaboration with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, ­ the day has four overarching aims: to STRENGTHEN the movement by committing to ENGAGE with networks of people living with HIV and our allies working to REFORM HIV criminalisation so we can OVERCOME over-policing and targeting of people with HIV, understanding the intersection with racial, gender and sexual and reproductive justice.

The choice of date is the bridge that connects two other important US awareness days: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (7th February) and National Women & Girls’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (10th March). Black and Brown communities — including Black and Brown women and women of trans experience — are most impacted by HIV criminalisation in the US. This date is also a symbolic nod to the legacy of the late Hollywood icon and notable AIDS activist, Elizabeth Taylor, in celebration of her birthday on 27th February.

You can find events taking place all over the United States on the HINAC Day Facebook page or by following the hashtag #HINACDay. If you would like to sign on as an individual and/or organisation in support of the US movement to end HIV criminalisation, click here.

The following day, 1st March, sees an important global event, Zero Discrimination Day, first established by UNAIDS in 2014. Zero Discrimination Day is a global solidarity movement that celebrates the right of everyone to live a full and productive life with dignity. It highlights how people can become informed about and promote inclusion, compassion, peace and, above all, a movement for change.

Each year has a specific theme. This year’s theme is Save lives: Decriminalise. With this theme, UNAIDS is highlighting how the human rights goals of decriminalisation of people living with HIV and key populations could have a major impact on health and wellbeing — as well as help advance the end of AIDS a public health threat. 

In 2021, the world set ambitious law reform targets to remove criminal laws that are undermining the HIV response and leaving criminalised populations behind. Recognising decriminalisation as a critical element in the response, countries made a commitment that by 2025 fewer than 10% of countries would have punitive legal and policy environments that affect the HIV response, including HIV criminalisation.

Unfortunately, we’re far from those targets, but there is hope. You can find events taking place all over the world by following the hashtag #ZeroDiscrimination. On Zero Discrimination Day, we’re delighted to participate in a webinar — co-hosted by the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition, the Not A Criminal Campaign, and the Global Partnership to end HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination — from 12pm Central European Time that will explore how law reform is possible. Register at: http://bit.ly/3K5UJVd

 

HIV criminalisation highlights at AIDS 2022

The 24th international AIDS conference (AIDS 2022) held in Montreal and virtually between 29 July and 2 August integrated HIV criminalisation throughout multiple sessions – both in the main conference and during pre-conferences, satellites and in the Global Village.

Australian activist, lawyer, Track F rapporteur – and HJN Supervisory Board member – Paul Kidd has provided a thorough overview of many of these sessions in this Twitter thread, which can also be read as a single blog entry here.

Two major campaigns were launched at the conference – one global, and one focused on Canada.

GNP+ and HJN joined with networks representing young people, women, the LGBTI+ community, sex workers and people who use drugs to launch the “Not A Criminal” Campaign to decriminalise HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission; same-sex relationships; sex work and drug use. 

As part of the “Not A Criminal” Campaign, we are demanding countries remove bad laws and replace them with evidence-based legislation to protect our communities from criminalisation, discrimination and gender-based violence, and support the creation of independent human rights institutions. Additionally, the campaign calls on United Nations agencies and donors to develop strong, coordinated, and high-profile mechanisms to monitor progress on these member states’ commitments.

“Far from being a legitimate public health tool, criminalisation of our behaviours, choices and identities is about the enforcement of an oppressive morality through policing our bodily autonomy,” HIV Justice Network’s Executive Director Edwin J Bernard said in a press release announcing the campaign. “This punishment of our vulnerability also means we won’t be able to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.” 

The Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization (CCRHC) made the most of the spotlight on Canada during the conference and launched its second Community Consensus Statement.  This Statement calls on the Canadian government to change the Criminal Code to limit HIV criminalisation only to very rare cases of intentional transmission using appropriate existing criminal statutes. Canada’s Justice Minister, David Lametti has since announced plans to launch a consultation this October on the criminal legal system’s overly draconian response to HIV non-disclosure.

However, the biggest – and most welcome – surprise of the conference was the recipient of the Elizabeth Taylor Legacy Award which was presented during Saturday’s prime session on HIV and Human Rights. Previous recipients have included Nancy Pelosi, Sharon Stone, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jackson and Elton John.

This year’s Elizabeth Taylor Legacy Award was presented posthumously to the late Rosemary Namubiru – recognising her extraordinary contribution to raising awareness of the injustice of HIV criminalisation.

Lillian Mworeko of the International Community of Women Living with HIV – East Africa (ICW-EA) received the award on behalf of Rosemary’s family. Rosemary’s daughter had planned to be there, but – like many Africans – was denied a visa.

We support the Support. Don’t Punish
2022 Global Day of Action

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign promotes justice for people who use drugs – including people living with HIV. We wholeheartedly support the campaign’s messages:

  • The drug control system is broken and in need of reform.
  • People who use drugs should not be criminalised.
  • People involved in the drug trade should not face harsh or disproportionate punishments, where retained.
  • The death penalty should never be imposed for drug offences.
  • Drug policy should focus on health, well-being, harm reduction and meaningful community engagement.
  • Drug policy budgets need rebalancing to ensure health and harm reduction-based responses are adequately financed.

This Sunday, 26th June, is the campaign’s yearly high point, the 2022 Global Day of Action. The 26th June is symbolic as it is used by most governments to commemorate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to highlight their so-called ‘achievements’ in “the war on drugs.”

Last year’s Global Day of Action saw 365 events in over 260 cities in nearly 100 countries. In mobilising for change, most campaigners relied on a bottom-up and community-centred approach to organising, inviting potential and aspiring allies and accomplices to collectively create a world where drug policy promotes care and compassion, not discrimination and stigma.

According to the campaign’s website, The 2022 Global Day of Action marks a very special anniversary for the Support. Don’t Punish campaign. For a decade, campaigners in all corners of the world have mobilised decisively to counter the harmful ‘war on drugs’ and the many systems of violence and neglect at its heart, and to build sustainable alternatives based on harm reduction and decriminalisation.”

This year, we urge you to join thousands of advocates and activists in supporting the Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action. Visit their homepage to check out where activities are taking place near you, and use these resources to amplify the campaign’s messages on social media, including on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

New report shows how women living with HIV are leading the response against HIV criminalisation in the EECA region

A new report produced by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS with the Global Network of People Living with HIV on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE, illustrates how women living with HIV, who are disproportionally impacted by HIV criminalisation across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region, have also been the leaders in research, advocacy and activism against it. The report is now available in English after being originally published in Russian in January.

The report illustrates how HIV criminalisation and gender inequality are intimately and inextricably linked. By highlighting prosecution data from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine disaggregated by sex, the report shows how the burden of HIV criminalisation is falling upon women.

The report also includes some heart-breaking personal stories including that of a woman in Russia who was prosecuted for breastfeeding her baby, as well as several women in Russia blackmailed by former partners who threatened to report them for alleged HIV exposure as a way to control, coerce, or abuse them.

The evidence provided in the report clearly demonstrates that HIV criminalisation not only fails to protect women from HIV, but worsens their status in society, making them even more susceptible to violence and structural inequalities due to the way their HIV-positive status is framed by the criminal law.

The report goes on to explore how women living with HIV in the region are vulnerable to a range of economic consequences including loss of property, as well as ostracism and discrimination in their communities, including being separated from their children, because:

  • Women living with HIV’s reproductive and maternal choices are controlled by, and can be abused by, the state.
  • Women living with HIV in partnerships with HIV-negative men can be threatened with prosecution, or be prosecuted, even if there has been prior disclosure and consent to the ‘risk’ and even when condoms were used or the woman had an undetectable viral load.
  • Confidential medical information can be illegally shared with law enforcement agencies.

The report also shows a direct connection between HIV criminalisation and other forms of criminalisation – notably the use and possession of drugs, and of sex work – that exacerbate the burden of discrimination, the violation of rights, and violence experienced by women living with HIV in the region.

Despite the difficult picture painted, the report provides hope, however.

It is the mobilisation of the women’s community and the meaningful participation of HIV-positive women and their allies in advocacy for law reform, rights protections – and in the preparation of alternative reports to UN Committees such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – that are making a real difference in the fight against HIV criminalisation in the region.

Read the report in English or Russian.