The Compendium aims to provide lawyers with a tool to successfully defend people living with HIV who are being prosecuted for alleged HIV non-disclosure, exposure, or transmission. It catalogues and analyses criminal cases from across the world where “strong defence arguments have resulted in an acquittal or reduced penalty”.
The amendment, Bill No. 198, 2015, would have added to the list of heinous crimes – which currently includes murder, extortion, rape, child exploitation and spreading an epidemic that results in death – those who “transmit and infect consciously and deliberately others with the AIDS virus. (sic)”.
In Brazil, intentional transmission, that is, with intent, is already considered a crime. Articles 130 and 131 of the Penal Code already provide for imprisonment for those who infect others. Anyone who exposes someone to a venereal disease through sexual intercourse can be jailed for three months to a year or receive a fine. If the person intentionally wants to transmit the disease, the penalty is imprisonment, from one to four years, and fine.
“The initiative to criminalize HIV-positive people does not contribute to the fight against prejudice and discrimination, and it also throws the responsibility of prevention on the infected person,” says a statement released on Thursday by Foaesp Of the State of São Paulo).
In this same document, the Forum thanked Mr Pompeo for his request to withdraw from the PL. “We are now waiting for the House Board to abide by the request and file the bill, and we will also be careful that no other parliamentarian has a similar initiative.”
Activists from all over Brazil have celebrated the Bill’s withdrawal. Any new proposal cannot be considered by the current parliament and now must wait until after elections, scheduled for October 2018.
The director of the Department of STDs, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (DIAHV), Adele Benzaken, called the federal MPs Érica Kokay (PT-DF), member of the Family Social Security Commission (CCSF) and Coordinator of the Joint Parliamentary Front to Combat STDs, HIV , and AIDS – and Laura Carneiro (PMDB-RJ) and Deputy Pompeo de Mattos to thank them for their support against the procedure of PL 198/15. ““The effort of these parliamentarians was essential to educate their colleagues in the House to reassess that Brazil is a reference in the treatment of HIV / AIDS and that this will not help the Brazilian response at all.“ The director of DIAHV also highlighted the mobilisation made by civil society and the support of the Brazilian Office of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) that she said were key to the outcome achieved with the filing request.
For the UNFPA representative in Brazil, Jaime Nadal, the bill goes against the ideals and proposals of the United Nations regarding the HIV / AIDS epidemic. Criminalizing HIV transmission, in addition to reinforcing the stigmatization of people living with the virus, may discourage people from undergoing testing and treatment, since they would be under threat of becoming criminals, he said.The bill ignores the scientific advances in HIV / AIDS, which prove that antiretroviral treatments reduce the chances of transmitting the virus in sexual intercourse by up to 96%. “Many countries around the world are reforming their laws criminalising HIV transmission,” said Nadal, adding that the bill goes against the global trend.
UNAIDS Director in Brazil, Georgiana Braga-Orillard, reinforced the speech of the UNFPA representative. According to her, the bill further vulnerabilises populations with a positive serological status, since “it considers the more than 800 thousand people living with HIV in Brazil as potential criminals.”
In a technical note, UNAIDS outlined six counter-arguments to the bill: it penalizes the most vulnerable; it promotes fear and discrimination; it favours the selective application of the law; it disregards the scientific evidence on HIV; it compromises privacy and confidentiality, and it will make Brazil lose its leading role in the response to HIV / AIDS.
A public meeting with the Congressman, scheduled for July 4th, was cancelled at the last minute. However, the letter of withdrawal, although only publicly released yesterday, was dated May 11th.
Nevertheless, prosecutions under general laws continue.
In July, a newspaper reported that a 43 year-old heterosexual man was charged with serious bodily injury in a Rio de Janeiro court for ‘attempting to infect two women with HIV’ by having sex without a condom.
In an interview with the Rio newspaper Extra , the man admitted that he was HIV-positive and [allegedly] transmitted HIV to the women, but denied that he had had sex without a condom with the intention of infecting his partners.
The case continues.
US: Center for HIV Law and Policy releases updated ‘HIV Criminalization Sourcebook’
Today, the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) has released a third, updated version of their ‘Ending and Defending Against HIV Criminalization: State and Federal Laws and Prosecutions’ series, first published in 2010.
This resource for lawyers and community advocates outlines punitive laws, policies, and cases affecting people living with HIV (PLHIV) and other communicable diseases in all fifty states, the military, federal prisons, and U.S. territories. It may be used as an aid for attorneys of people living with HIV prosecuted for “HIV exposure” or non-disclosure of HIV status, as well as for advocates who want to reform HIV-related criminal laws in their state.
The ‘HIV Criminalization Sourcebook’ catalogues and analyses state and federal HIV criminal laws in the United States, providing examples of recent prosecutions and explanations of the major cases applying these laws, along with text and analysis of state laws on other sexually transmitted diseases that involve criminal penalties or other restrictions for exposing another person to possible infection.
Specifically, it covers laws that:
1. criminalize non-disclosure of HIV status or exposure of a third party to HIV;
2. make exceptions to confidentiality and privacy rights of people living with HIV;
3. provide for sentence enhancements for people living with HIV convicted of underlying crimes such as ‘prostitution’ and ‘solicitation’; and
4. require sex offender registration for people living with HIV convicted of these ‘crimes’.
The Sourcebook is part of CHLP’s campaign to support state advocates through tools that expand legal literacy on HIV criminalization. In addition to the Sourcebook, CHLP’s website includes a separate page for each state summarizing relevant HIV and STI criminal law sections, so that users can download everything they need just for their state in addition to accessing the entire Sourcebook.
The Center for HIV Law and Policy will be co-hosting a webinar on October 11, 2017 to review ways to use the Sourcebook in HIV criminal reform efforts. The webinar also will explore some of the different strategic pathways to reform, along with benefits and drawbacks to those different options. The discussion will cover some of the key factors and questions to consider in deciding on what reform strategy makes the most sense in a given jurisdiction.
The concern, as highlighted by Charles King, President and Chief Executive Officer, Housing Works, Inc, is that if HIV criminalisation reform focuses soley on changing laws so that those who are virally suppressed are not considered ‘a risk’ that this approach will not address the unjust disproportional impact of the US criminal legal system on people of colour, LGBTI people, sex workers, and the financially disadvantaged.
“Housing Works is a leading proponent of #UequalsU, and we believe public education about this scientific advance will lower stigma and thereby create a positive environment for HIV decriminalization. At the same time, it would be a travesty for #UEqualsU to be used to create a criminal class of people who are not durably virally suppressed. HIV criminalization in any form sets back efforts to end the AIDS epidemic, and is based on prejudice and not science.”
The creators and original endorsers of the Statement are: The Center for HIV Law and Policy, The Counter Narrative Project, Housing Works, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Center for Transgender Equality, National LGBTQ Task Force, PFLAG, Treatment Action Group, U=U, and Women with a Vision.
In the preamble, they note that:
discussions among people working on the ground on HIV criminal law reform have reflected a mix of views and some uncertainty about the best way to use these remarkable scientific advances in their advocacy. Some have proposed that advances reflected in the U=U campaign (“Undetectable = Untransmittable”) should be added as a defense in modernized HIV criminal laws. Others worry that putting this kind of language into an actual law will exclude or further disadvantage those who experience severe disparities in access to quality treatment—individuals who do not reach or maintain viral suppression may still face prosecution.
Beginning in March 2017, a small group of organizations and advocates began discussions of how to draft a statement that could clearly and accessibly capture concerns about the use of “Treatment as Prevention” (TasP) or “Undetectable = Untransmittable” (U=U) in the criminal law reform context.
Over the next several months, the statement was shared with a diverse range of organizations and advocates at both the state and national level. In June 2017—after multiple revisions, reviews, and discussions—the current statement was finalized.
To read and sign on to the Consensus Statement visit: www.hivtaspcrimlaw.org which provides links to a variety of resources that can help support the use of the statement, as well as an FAQ that further explores the issues, such as the many tensions facing advocates working to improve the legal environment for people living with HIV
For example, question 7 asks “isn’t some progress better than no progress at all?
This is a hotly debated issue, and people frequently disagree about it. For example, many people supported a federal law ending discrimination against lesbian and gay people that didn’t include transgender people because they felt it was easier to pass that way, and because some progress was better than none. Unfortunately, it usually takes a long time to change a law to cover the people left behind the first time. And some people think that progress that leaves some people out can be taken as putting a “seal of approval” on treating some people less fairly.
With public health messaging, it is always possible to try new and better campaigns. But when it comes to criminal law reform, change can be slow, and once a law is revised, lawmakers are very unlikely to consider further reforms in the near future. Criminal law reform advocacy focused on U=U might lead to a law that only helps some people—those with access to health care and ART—but provides no real help to those without it. Worst of all, legislators may be happy to claim a victory and not revisit the issue for years, decades, or ever again.
The issue of how best to utilise science in advocacy to combat HIV criminalisation is not unique to the United States, however. Last month, two staff members from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network published a blog post discussing how the ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ campaign might best be understood to impact HIV criminalisation advocacy.
Like the US Statement, they also urged caution in relying solely on science to help resolve the issue.
Advancing U=U as part of broader advocacy efforts to curb unjust prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure, however, warrants further consideration. Individuals who already face discrimination and marginalization may face unique barriers to attaining undetectable status. Research has shown, for example, that people who use drugs have a harder time attaining and maintaining an undetectable viral load. This is also likely to be true for people in prison, many of whom face HIV treatment disruptions because of the temporary unavailability of medications or transfers between institutions. Treatment for Indigenous communities may also be challenging due to the shameful inadequacy of culturally appropriate health care services in rural and remote communities. And women may have a harder time achieving undetectable viral loads for various reasons, including being diagnosed later in life, prioritizing the health of others, and higher rates of poverty, violence, housing instability and food insecurity.
While a growing body of research provides further evidence to consider when determining what constitutes a “realistic possibility of HIV transmission,” advocacy concerning cases of HIV non-disclosure must be informed by the unique challenges that marginalized groups living with HIV face in attaining undetectable status, so that the criminal law does not reproduce further inequities. Advocates must also acknowledge that the criminalization of people living with HIV has a negative impact on public health, regardless of viral load. Without laws and policies to ensure the removal of all barriers to HIV prevention and treatment, new scientific discoveries and their role in the courts may leave disparities between people living with HIV intact — or ultimately, do more to perpetuate them.