A landmark week for HIV criminalisation

This past week has seen a huge amount of activity related to HIV and, specifically, HIV criminalisation.

Illinois is about to become only the second US state ever to completely repeal its HIV criminalisation law which has been on the books since 1989.

Meanwhile, Nevada has modernised its HIV criminalisation law, and in Michigan a county prosecutor has ordered a review of all prosecutions brought under the state’s law before it was modernised in 2019.

All of these successes were celebrated at the HIV is not a Crime Training Academy (HINAC4) that took place virtually last week and helped galvanise activists working for HIV, racial and gender justice across the US, even as there was disappointment that the High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which took place at the same time, ended up adopting a joint Political Declaration that was lacking in global consensus, with both watered-down language on human rights and some key issues completely missing.

HIV criminalisation survivor Kerry Thomas, currently incarcerated in Idaho, speaking from prison at HINAC4. Although Kerry has been able to present by phone at previous international events, this is the first time anyone has been able to both see and hear Kerry.

Despite back and forth among the countries, with opposition from Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua, and the Syrian Arab Republic to the final draft’s progressive language, such as naming ‘key populations’, the Declaration did include language on HIV criminalisation as part of the 10-10-10 targets on societal enablers calling for member states to end all inequalities faced by people living with HIV, key and other priority populations by 2025.

Specifically, the Declaration “express[es] deep concern about stigma, discrimination, violence, and restrictive and discriminatory laws and practices that target people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV – including for non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission of HIV…” and “commit[s] to eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV…by creating an enabling legal environment by reviewing and reforming, as needed, restrictive legal and policy frameworks including discriminatory laws and practices that create barriers or reinforce stigma and discrimination such as … laws related to HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission.”

Still, even as we celebrate some of these progressive commitments, much work needs to be done. Advocates and organisations have voiced their concerns that the watered-down Declaration may not fully commit countries to take action.

A crucial new advocacy tool to challenge HIV criminalisation

A crucial new advocacy tool to challenge HIV criminalisation

This week UNDP published a crucial new tool to support our advocacy efforts in challenging HIV criminalisation.

Guidance for prosecutors on HIV-related criminal cases presents ten key principles to help prosecutors understand the complex issues involved in a prosecution involving an allegation of HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure, or transmission.  It also includes key recommendations from the Global Commission, UNAIDS’ 2013 guidance for Ending overly-broad criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission: Critical scientific, medical, and legal considerations, and the 2018 Expert Consensus Statement on the Science of HIV in the Context of Criminal Law.

These principles are:

  1. Prosecutions should be informed at all stages by the most reliable evidence
  2. Ensure that rights of complainant, defendant, and witnesses are respected throughout
  3. Pursue prosecutions in only limited circumstances, as HIV most effectively addressed as a public health matter
  4. Establish a sufficient evidentiary basis for a prosecution
  5. Consider whether prosecution in a given case is in the public interest
  6. Generally consent to pre-trial release, absent exceptional circumstances
  7. Avoid arguments that could be inflammatory, prejudicial, or contribute to public misinformation about HIV
  8. Ensure correct interpretation of science and its limitations if seeking to prove actual HIV transmission
  9. Ensure no discrimination in sentencing
  10. Ensure sentencing is not disproportionate

Although the Guidance is aimed specifically at prosecutors, it will be useful for lawmakers, judges, and defence lawyers

So far, very few jurisdictions have produced such guidelines. Ensuring that advocates understand why these Guidelines are an important harm reduction tool in our work towards ending HIV criminalisation, and how to advocate for them, will be a major focus of our work moving forward.

Video toolkit: How to advocate for prosecutorial guidelines. This workshop held in Berlin in September 2012, discussed the challenges associated with the creation of such guidelines, providing important insights from prosecutors and civil society alike, and included the European premiere of HJN’s documentary ‘Doing HIV Justice: Clarifying criminal law and policy through prosecutorial guidance’.

The Guidance was developed for UNDP by our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE colleagues, Richard Elliott and Cécile Kazatchkine of the HIV Legal Network. The process, which took two years, involved multiple consultations. Several other colleagues, including HJN’s Executive Director Edwin J Bernard, HJN Supervisory Board member Lisa Power, and HJN Global Advisory Panel member Edwin Cameron were part of the Project Advisory Committee.

At the launch of the Guidelines earlier this week, UNDP committed to continuing to support civil society in working with law and policymakers, and the criminal legal system, towards ending HIV criminalisation as part of its ongoing follow-up work on behalf of the Global Commission on HIV and Law, which published its main report in 2012 as well as a 2018 supplement. An evaluation of the Global Commission, published this month, highlights the many ways the Global Commission has beneficially impacted HIV-related laws and policies, including galvanising the movement for HIV Justice.

HJN commemorates the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia!

Today, May 17, is celebrated globally as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT).

According to the May 17 website, the day “represents a major global annual landmark to draw the attention of decision-makers, the media, the public, corporations, opinion leaders, local authorities, etc. to the alarming situation faced by people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.”

This is a day to not only say no to violence and discrimination against LGBT+ persons but also a rallying cry to ensure equality, dignity, and full respect for human rights of all sexual and gender minorities, including all LGBT+ living with HIV.

The day was created in 2004 to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBT+ people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.  The date of May 17 was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

The theme for this year is “Together: Resisting, Supporting and Healing”

At HJN, we note that HIV still disproportionately affects many in the LGBT+ community. In many regions of the world, punitive laws and practices against LGBT+ individuals continue to block effective responses to HIV. Evidence and experience have shown that punitive laws and practices drive sexual minorities away from HIV services.

Some of these punitive practices include criminalisation of same-sex relationships, ‘effeminate’ behavior, cross-dressing, sodomy, and ‘gender impersonation.’

To learn more, this Wednesday, the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Groups on HIV & AIDS; Global LGBT+ Rights; and STOPAIDS will host a virtual parliamentary event: HIV and the criminalisation of LGBT+ communities to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

The event will bring together leading HIV and LGBT+ community representatives from around the world. Through a panel discussion and Q&A, they’ll be exploring the barriers that LGBT+ communities face from realising their right to health and how parliamentarians and the UK Government can advance the decriminalisation of LGBT+ and HIV.

Chaired by Rt Hon David Mundell MP, panelists include:

  • Joel Simpson – Managing Director, Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana)
  • Simran Shaikh, Co-Founder of Rajmala Welfare Society and Director Transgender Health at John Hopkins University School of medicine
  • Jesse Sperling, Deputy Director, Kaleidoscope Trust
  • He-Jin Kim, Regional Key Populations Programme Officer, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA)
  • Saoirse Fitzpatrick, Advocacy Manager, STOPAIDS

To RSVP, please email Anna Robinson at anna.robinson@parliament.uk

Uganda’s new Sexual Offences law a setback for HIV justice and human rights

The HIV Justice Network (HJN) joins other civil society and human rights organisations in condemning the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill in Uganda earlier this week.

The move by Ugandan Parliamentarians to pass the Sexual Offences Bill is a major concern for those working to end HIV and intersectional criminalisation. Considering that Uganda already passed the HIV Prevention and Control Act in 2014, which criminalises HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behaviour that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status, this new law goes further.

One of the definitions of rape in the Bill is ‘misrepresentation’, which runs the very real risk of being interpreted by the criminal legal system as HIV status non-disclosure, and if the accused is found to be living with HIV, this results in the death penalty.

The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) stated: “Singling out HIV and AIDS as a factor for aggravated penalty for rape, discriminates against people living with HIV. The provision places the burden on people living with HIV which do not fall to those living with other infectious illnesses. Using HIV and AIDS as a factor for aggravated offence treats people with HIV as vectors of disease, rather than as people with an interest in their own health and rights. This provision undermines the efforts to eliminate the stigma that surrounds people living with HIV and AIDS. … [This] law falls most heavily on those who ‘took the trouble’ to get tested and may even by engaging in safe sex options. This may discourage those who do not know their status from having an HIV test.”

The Bill, which attempted to fill a gap in current legislation around issues of sexual assault and rape, goes much, much further by also criminalising same-sex acts and sex work.

“It is clear from the Bill that some of the clauses directly reinforce sections of the Penal Code Act Cap 120 of Uganda that criminalise homosexuality and sex work. This is, therefore, a direct threat of chapter 4 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that promotes human rights of all Ugandans,” said Richard Lusimbo, the National Coordinator of the Uganda Key Populations Consortium.

His sentiments are echoed by Women with a Mission and Triumph Uganda, who have analysed the Bill’s implication to the LGBTQ+ and sex workers community, and who have urged for a re-review and amendments to the problematic clauses, which were passed suspiciously.

“We urge the President of Uganda to task parliament to re-review provisions of the Bill that will fuel human rights violations, impede, and undermine the registered gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We urge all stakeholders in the health sector to voice the negative implications of the law against HIV/AIDS, STIs, and justice on the key priority and marginalized communities and civil society organizations in Uganda.

With the passage of the legislation, the President is expected to assent the Bill into law within fourteen working days. The legislation was first tabled by Hon Monica Amoding, MP for Kumi Municipality on April 14, 2016, and was described as consolidating and amending the law to sexual offences from various enactments. At the third reading of the bill, the MPs included the various contentious clauses and amendments that are now being challenged.

[Update] Let’s ensure ending HIV criminalisation is a priority in the 2021 Political Declaration

You can’t end HIV without ending HIV criminalisation!

We must ensure that HIV criminalisation is included as a key indicator in the High-Level Meeting (HLM) 2021 Political Declaration.

It is crucial to ensure political commitment to remove laws and policies that unjustly impact people living with HIV in all of our diversities.

And so, HJN is calling on civil society to ensure that a specific focus on HIV criminalisation is included in the 2021 Political Declaration.

Today, 23 April, you can attend an interactive multi-stakeholder hearing that will be streamed live on the GNP+ Facebook page as well as on UN Web TV.  The hearing starts at 9 am in New York / 3 pm in Geneva.

You can also join the civil society debrief during the break at 12.30 pm New York / 6.30 pm Geneva if you register here.

This Civil Society Engagement Guide to the HLM 2021 includes some important engagement opportunities and places to start on this journey.

Other ways to get involved:

  • Contact key government officials engaged with the HLM to influence your country’s input into the negotiations around the Political Declaration
  • Advocate for your government to include representatives of affected communities in the country delegation to the HLM and advocate for the highest level of government representation at the HLMs
  • If your civil society organisation doesn’t already have ECOSOC status, you can register for special accreditation to participate in the HLM until this Sunday, 25 April.

April 16, 2021


HJN is urging all stakeholders engaged with the civil society dialogue on the new Global AIDS Strategy and the 2021 High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS to ensure that HIV criminalisation is included as a key indicator in the 2021 Political Declaration. We must ensure political commitment to remove laws and policies that unjustly target people living with HIV, who are often also members of other criminalised or marginalised populations.

The High-Level Meeting (HLM), which takes place between 8-10 June 2021, will review the progress made in ending HIV as public health threat since the last HLM in 2016. We expect the UN General Assembly to adopt a new political declaration to guide the future direction of the response as the world marks 40 years since the first case of AIDS was reported, and the 25th anniversary since UNAIDS was established.

As noted in the new Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026, End Inequalities, End AIDS, ending HIV criminalisation is central to ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030, noting: “Punitive laws, the absence of enabling laws and policies, and inadequate access to justice contribute to the inequalities that undermine HIV responses.”

The Strategy furthers states that HIV and other forms of criminalisation are a violation of human rights. “SDG 3 cannot be achieved if stigma, discrimination, criminalization of key populations, violence, social exclusion, and other human rights violations in the context of HIV are allowed to continue and if HIV-related inequalities persist. The evidence consistently shows that the criminalization of people living with HIV and key populations reduces service uptake and increases HIV incidence.”

HJN is therefore calling on all stakeholders to ensure that a specific focus on HIV criminalisation is included in the 2021 Political Declaration. Here’s how:

  • Contact key government officials engaged with the HLM to influence your country’s input into the negotiations around the Political Declaration
  • Advocate for your government to include representatives of affected communities in the country delegation to the HLM and advocate for the highest level of government representation at the HLMs
  • If your civil society organisation doesn’t already have ECOSOC status, you can register for special accreditation to participate in the HLM until 25 April.

And through the leadership of our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partner, GNP+, you can make your voice heard and included by responding to a survey that will support the development of a civil society statement with clear community recommendations to the HLM and Political Declaration.

The responses to this survey, which should take less than 10 minutes, are confidential and will only be used for the purpose of the HLM process. The closing date to submit your responses is next Tuesday, 20th April 2021.

English: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/27QGLGD
French: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/S9WWY58
Spanish: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W9WSTJ6
Russian: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WSZBW88
Portuguese: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WJJK257


Virginia becomes eighth US state since 2012 to modernise its HIV criminalisation laws

Even as Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, signed legislation late last month to modernise the US state’s HIV criminalisation laws, advocates noted that the inclusion of a felony penalty means that more work needs to be done to ensure that HIV criminalisation is finally ended in the state.

As the first US state in the South to modernise its laws (after Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Michigan and Washington), Virginia’s Senate Bill 1138 removes a number of discriminatory laws that are often used against marginalised populations, like sex workers and people who use drugs, and helps bring HIV in line with other sexually transmitted infections for which there is preventative care and treatment.

According to NBC News, the legislation repeals the felony criminal ban on blood, tissue or organ donation by people with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; makes HIV testing optional (rather than mandatory) for people convicted of certain ‘crimes’, including sex work and drug charges; and strikes down a statute making failure to disclose HIV-positive status before sex a crime.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, Positive Women Network-USA (PWN) and the Sero Project (Sero), said the signing was a “culmination of over two years of organizing and advocacy led by ECHO VA–the coalition founded by Positive Women’s Network – USA Virginia State Lead Deirdre Johnson and Dr. Cedric Pulliam–with the collaboration of PWN, Equality Virginia, and the Sero Project.”

They said the signing into law is the latest achievement of the movement to end HIV criminalisation in the United States. “And it’s great news for people living with HIV and who care about ending the HIV epidemic in Virginia,” they added.

However, even as the advocates celebrated this milestone, the new law’s “intentional transmission of HIV”, or “infected sexual battery,” remains a felony in Virginia, rather than a misdemeanor, as proponents had hoped. However, the new legislation now requires proof of actual infection, rather than just an allegation of potential or perceived exposure.

This is something PWN, Sero, and their partners hope to change in the near future. “Our next steps are to continue to work with our partners… to change the felony penalty to a misdemeanor. We are also working on making sure that the news of this historical change reaches communities impacted by these changes.”

Currently, 32 US states still have laws that criminalise HIV non-disclosure and/or potential or perceived HIV exposure, but efforts are currently underway across the US, many of them supported by PWN and Sero, to modernise or repeal these outdated and unjust laws.

Honouring Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31)

Honouring Transgender Day of Visibility

The International Transgender Day of Visibility is held annually on March 31 to celebrate trans-diverse people globally and honour their courage and visibility to live openly and authentically.

This year’s 12th annual celebration is a day to also raise awareness around the stigma and discrimination that trans people still face, especially young transgender people, trans people living with HIV, trans people who are currently transitioning and are therefore more likely to be identified as transgender, and transgender sex workers.

We also acknowledge there are too many invisibilities around the impact of HIV criminalisation on trans persons. Cecilia Chung, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Evaluation of the Transgender Law Center, who is also a member of our Global Advisory Panel told our Beyond Blame @HIV2020 webinar that there is not enough data on the impact of HIV criminalisation laws on transgender persons. She said such data are not “uniformly collected across the world… The numbers still remain invisible even though we know for sure there are [HIV criminalisation] cases.”

Although this day primarily serves to celebrate and honour trans-diverse persons, it also offers allies an opportunity to contribute to supportive legislation, policy and financial commitment of trans-diverse communities globally.

HJN also celebrates trans-diverse people globally and we honour their courage and visibility to live openly and authentically. We also call for more visibility for trans people in data collection, including our own, as well as reforms of HIV-related criminal laws and their enforcement that disproportionately target trans-diverse people.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE is five years old!

The HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW) coalition which campaigns to end HIV criminalisation around the world, will next week mark five years since its launch. It was on March 24th, 2016 when the seven HJWW founding partners and our key allies met in Brighton, UK to launch this coalition to coordinate a global response to the unjust use of criminal and similar laws against people with HIV.

The original seven founding partners were the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (now known as the HIV Legal Network), the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), the Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the Sero Project (Sero) and HIV Justice Network (HJN) which co-ordinates the joint work plan and serves as the secretariat for HJWW.

At the time of the launch, HJWW wanted to end HIV criminalisation by empowering people living with HIV and those who advocate on their 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 founding partners* and supporters at the launch of the coalition in Brighton, March 24th, 2016. Back row L-R: Rhon Reynolds (GNP+*), Edwin J Bernard (HIV Justice Network*), Jessica Whitbread (ICW*), Boyan Konstantinov (UNDP), Patrick Eba (UNAIDS), Sean Strub (SERO*). Front row L-R: Julian Hows (GNP+*), Sylvie Beaumont (HIV Justice Network*), Cécile Kazatchkine (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network*), Naina Khanna (PWN-USA*) and Michaela Clayton (ARASA*).

Five years on, we have achieved some remarkable progress. What started as a core group of seven working to shape the discourse on HIV criminalisation, has now grown to include more than 110 organisations and individuals sharing information and networking; building capacity; mobilising advocacy, and cultivating a global community collaborating to address HIV criminalisation.

From working on progressive, impactful statements on HIV science and the criminal law, and on COVID-19, to providing technical support to challenge proposed laws and strike down existing laws in various countries, to training advocates on how to work with the media, HJWW has also joined with other movements to highlight the intersectional aspects of HIV criminalisation with other key populations, as well as with movements for gender, racial and migrant justice, including during its flagship meeting, Beyond Blame.

However, although some progress has been made in preventing new laws from being passed, and reforming or repealing HIV criminalisation laws, many countries around the world continue to enforce a wide range of unjust laws against people living with HIV.

There’s still so much more to do, and we can do more when we collaborate. Why not join the movement? An an individual, network, or organisation you can help to make HIV justice worldwide a reality!

“We want a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine”

Yesterday was the Global Day of Action for a #PeoplesVaccine.

On 11 March, one year since the World Health Organisation declared a COVID-19 pandemic, influential leaders including Winnie Byanyima from UNAIDS and social justice organisations like Human Rights Watch, joined tens of thousands of individuals and organisations all over the world demanding a People’s Vaccine – a vaccine that is made freely available to everyone, everywhere.

Countries in the global South are currently unlikely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine until 2023. This is a scandal and threatens everyone.

In a feature story published yesterday, UNAIDS highlighted that as developing countries are facing critical shortages of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19,  few have been able to administer a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In contrast, rich nations have vaccinated their citizens at a rate of one person per second over the last month.

We wholeheartedly support this campaign to pressure pharmaceutical companies and governments to end vaccine monopolies.  Following yesterday’s WTO vote by rich countries  against waiving patent rules, we stand in solidarity with its demands that:

  • Pharmaceutical companies openly share vaccine know-how. They can do this by joining the World Health Organisation COVID-19 Technology and Access Pool (C-TAP).
  • Governments suspend patent rules at the World Trade Organisation on COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and testing during the pandemic. This will help break Big Pharma monopolies and increase supplies so there are enough doses for everyone, everywhere.

Click the link below to learn more about how you can support the People’s Vaccine campaign.

Learn more

Celebrating positive women and challenging HIV criminalisation on International Women’s Day

Women are often seen both as victims and perpetrators in regard to HIV criminalisation. There are, at least, ten reasons why HIV criminalisation harms women including, “negative public health outcomes, increased gender-based violence, and greater social and political inequalities for women.”

Consequently, women – especially women who experience racism, sex workers, sexual and gender minority women, those living with disabilities, refugees, and women who use drugs – are impacted by HIV criminalisation in a number of ways, and are often multiply criminalised due to their intersecting identities.

It is against this backdrop that, every year, we mark International Women’s Day on 8th March. The day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge‘. The theme is important in terms of HIV criminalisation as it is a call to all stakeholders – including governments – to protect the human rights of all women living with HIV.

Next week, some of our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners are hosting events to commemorate this day.

For the AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), International Women’s Day is a time to challenge HIV criminalisation against women, who historically, have been disproportionately prosecuted under HIV criminal laws.

This International Women’s Rights Day we #ChooseToChallenge HIV criminalisation because evidence has shown that women, especially in East and Southern Africa have been at higher risk of prosecution under HIV criminalisation laws. Women living with HIV have been stigmatised and discriminated against because of the HIV status in families and communities. HIV criminalisation leads to negative public health outcomes, increased gender-based violence, and greater inequalities for women.”

ARASA will also host a webinar titled “#ChooseToChallenge – Young African Women Fighting for Bodily Autonomy and Integrity.” Together with ATHENA Network, they will co-host a Twitter chat, under the “#WhatGirlsWant” campaign titled: “Disability, leadership, and sexuality”: how girls and women living with disabilities dream of, engage in and enjoy (or not) sex, what do they want the world to know about their sexuality and leadership capabilities?

Register here

Later in the week, Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) and other Black women leaders in the HIV movement will be launching the first annual Celebrate and Honor Black Women in the HIV Movement Day on 12th March. PWN-USA want to honour the expertise of Black women working for, and volunteering with, HIV organisations; support and fund Black women-led organisations, and demand a US HIV response that centres upon the needs and leadership of Black transgender and cisgender women.

Register here