It’s Valentine’s Month! February is historically the month of love, and a time to show and share the love.
The HIV Justice Network is pleased to support campaigns in the month of love – February – focusing on HIV-positive living, loving, and justice.
Given the difficulty that some people living with HIV can face when it comes to finding love, including negotiating disclosure, sex for pleasure, and/or creating a family in the context of HIV criminalisation, it is important to acknowledge that everyone is deserving of love and affirmation.
To this end, the HIV Justice Network wishes to acknowledge the following Valentine’s campaigns for and about people living with HIV.
The #LovePositiveWomen campaign is a global initiative running every Feb 1st-14th for each of us to express, share and support women living with HIV or as a friend of the community. It was developed and led by the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), one of seven founding partners of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.
The campaign uses social media to link local grassroots gestures of love to each other. Using Valentines Day as a backdrop, #LovePositiveWomen “creates a platform for individuals and communities to engage in public and private acts of love and caring for women living with HIV.”
Going beyond romantic love to deep community love and social justice, the campaign is also a call to action. The HIV Justice Network has been supporting this campaign since 2017.
“#LovePositiveWomen is a response to the lack of attention and support and to make commitments. It requires participants to spend time reflecting on how they as either a woman living with HIV or an ally will commit to loving women living with HIV. Through action, change can be made to fueling economies of love and compassion. Working from a place of strength, it focuses on the idea of interconnectedness, relationship building, loving oneself, and loving one’s community. By starting from a place of love, within oneself, there are endless ways that the negative impacts that HIV has on women living with HIV can be lessened.”
For this year, their focus will feature some key messages around love, advocacy, human rights, justice, and accountability.
“Accountability International is well known for our fun and innovative Valentine’s Day campaigns and our collaborative, diverse, and inclusive way of working, so this year we have decided to put our Valentine’s campaign on steroids.”
Watch out for HJN’s Executive Director to be a part of the campaign, which uses the hashtags #LoveandAccountability and #LoveandHumanRights.
The HJN Team
HIV criminalisation presentations and posters at AIDS2020
There were a number of presentations, mostly e-posters, at AIDS2020:Virtual that focused on HIV criminalisation. We have compiled them all below given that access was (and remains) limited.
The only oral presentations specifically covering HIV criminalisation were delivered by HIV Justice Network’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, presenting in three pre-recorded video sessions.
Below you will find the presentation ‘Bringing Science to Justice’ for the IAPAC 90-90-90 Targets Update, produced for the session, ‘Creating Enabling Environments for Optimal HIV Responses’. This eleven minute presentation, that also includes a number of video clips, covers the following:
The detrimental implications of HIV criminalisation on human rights and public health
The impact of the ‘Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law’
Lessons learned from HIV criminalisation on punitive responses to COVID-19
Conclusion: It is more critical than ever to commit to, and respect, human rights principles; ground public health measures in scientific evidence; and establish partnerships, trust, and co-operation between scientists, law- and policymakers and the most impacted communities.
Update (29 July): During a California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers virtual satellite session, Dr. Ayako Miyashita Ochoa of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Department of Social Welfare, interviewed activist Marco Castro-Bojorquez about the modernisation of California’s HIV-specific criminal law as an example of of evidence-based policymaking.
There were a number of poster presentations that also focused on HIV criminalisation in the following countries/jurisdictions:
PEF 1737 United States
PEF 1738 England & Wales
PEF 1739 Australia
PEF 1740 Niger
PEF 1742 Malawi
PEF 1781 Florida, USA
PEF 1794 Uganda
PEF 1841 Taiwan
The abstracts are below. Click on the title to download the pdf of the poster.
BACKGROUND: In 2017, 36 states had laws penalizing persons with HIV (PWH) for sexual or no-risk behavior (e.g., spitting). Research shows these laws do not impact sexual risk behaviors or diagnosis rates. Citizens likely are unaware of these laws; we do not expect direct behavioral effects. However, laws reflect states’ values and may mirror community attitudes towards PWH. Understanding how structural factors relate to stigma is important for stopping HIV stigma. METHODS: National HIV Behavioral Surveillance used venue-based sampling methods to interview men who have sex with men (MSM) in 23 U.S. cities from June-December 2017. Using Center for HIV Law and Policy reports, we categorized states’ HIV-specific laws as of June 2017. We compared MSM”s perceptions of community attitudes towards PWH between MSM living in states with versus without HIV laws. We obtained adjusted prevalence ratios using log-linked Poisson models assessing the relationship between law and four community stigma attitudes (discrimination, rights, friendship, punishment), which we then compared between black MSM in states with versus without laws. RESULTS: Two-thirds of MSM lived in states with HIV-specific laws. MSM in states with laws were more likely to report black race (38% versus 15%), poverty (23% versus 12%), or incarceration (25% versus 19%). Multivariable models found laws were related to perceived community beliefs that PWH “got what they deserved” (aPR=1.13, 95% CI: 1.03-1.24), but not other attitudes. Compared to black MSM in states without laws, black MSM in states with laws were more likely to believe persons in their community would discriminate against PWH (64% versus 50%), not support PWH’s rights (25% versus 16%), not be friends with PWH (24% versus 13%), and believe HIV was deserved punishment (32% versus 22%). CONCLUSIONS: MSM in states with HIV laws were disproportionately from marginalized groups. Laws were related to perceived community attitudes that HIV was deserved punishment; understanding specific stigma attitudes can inform interventions. Although black MSM reported high community stigma overall, stigma was significantly higher for black MSM in states with HIV laws. States may consider repealing or reforming HIV laws and focusing on effective prevention efforts to End the HIV Epidemic.
BACKGROUND: In England and Wales it is possible to be prosecuted for the sexual transmission of infection under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 or the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. After the first prosecutions in 2003, National AIDS Trust (NAT) successfully advocated for legal guidance for prosecutors and worked with the Crown Prosecution Guidance (CPS) to develop this. DESCRIPTION: In 2018 NAT requested that the guidance be updated. In January 2019 the CPS shared a draft of their revised guidance with NAT, who then coordinated a joint response from NAT and other key stakeholders. This successfully ensured that the new guidance reflects medical developments such as Undetectable=Untransmittable and clinical guidance. Developments in case law have led the CPS to take the view that HIV/STI status deception may be capable of vitiating consent to sex. NAT is concerned that this could result in people who lie about their HIV status being prosecuted for rape or sexual assault, even with safeguards used and no transmission occurring. NAT prepared a briefing articulating legal, policy and public health arguments against this position, and presented it at a meeting with the CPS. As a result the CPS have added several caveats, but we still believe their position to be unacceptable and discussions are ongoing. LESSONS LEARNED: The successes we have had in improving the guidance demonstrate the importance of long-standing proactive engagement, relationship-building and collaboration. Collaborating with a range of key stakeholders including clinicians and lawyers enabled NAT to leverage wider authority and expertise. However, the issue of HIV status deception has illustrated the implications for HIV of legal developments in related but not directly transferable areas. Confidence in our understanding of the law and persistence in making our arguments heard has been crucial in ensuring ongoing engagement on this issue. CONCLUSIONS: The updated guidance will help to ensure that prosecutions for reckless or intentional transmission are conducted in a way that minimises harm to both individuals and the wider community. Regarding the issue of HIV status deception, possible next steps include securing parliamentary engagement, pro bono legal opinions, and further representations from local government and public health bodies.
BACKGROUND: A significant portion of people convicted of HIV transmission in Australia are not Australian citizens. Due to not holding citizenship, those convicted of serious criminal offences (which includes facing a prison term of 12 months or more), are at risk of having their visas cancelled and being removed from Australia. The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) has represented a number of these clients in both their criminal and subsequent immigration proceedings to assist these clients in preventing their removal from Australia. DESCRIPTION: Where a person is not an Australian citizen and commits a criminal offence they are at risk of detention and removal from Australia. In two recent case studies of people with HIV convicted of HIV transmission, following the completion of their custodial sentences steps were then taken to cancel their visas and place them into immigration detention. Both clients had their visas cancelled and had to take steps to appeal the decisions. Part of the reason for the cancellation was the perception of ongoing risk to the Australian community. Neither client had been convicted of intentionally transmitting HIV to their sexual partner. HALC continues to represent one of the clients mentioned and the other has now exhausted all appeal options. LESSONS LEARNED: There are often many and varied reasons for HIV non disclosure and, from HALC”s experiences, following criminal and public health interventions it is unlikely that a person with HIV would continue to place their sexual partners at risk of contracting HIV. Decision makers in migration proceedings appear to be unwilling to accept that a person with HIV would no longer place their sexual partner at risk of HIV transmission as the decision makers note in their decisions that they there remains a risk to the community. CONCLUSIONS: The outcomes of these cases demonstrates the need for ongoing advocacy and law reform in the removal of offences for HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, except where actual intent can be established to a criminal law standard. The cases also demonstrate the ongoing need for continued robust representation of those, often vulnerable migrants, who are facing visa cancellation.
BACKGROUND: To effectively fight against HIV, Niger adopted Law No. 2007-08 of April 30, 2007 related on HIV prevention, care and control. This law included problematic provisions, including the criminalization of exposure, HIV transmission, and the non-disclosure of HIV to the sexual partner. Actually, PLWHIV continue to be victims of the application of the provisions criminalizing the transmission of HIV through several criminal prosecution cases in 2017. DESCRIPTION: In June 2018, 13 civil society organizations created the “National Coalition for the Decriminalization of HIV in Niger”. This one benefited from the technical and financial support of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE. Its advocacy objectives, by 2021, are to : repeal of offenses criminalizing exposure and transmission of HIV ; research and disseminate reliable and convincing data on the impact of HIV criminalization on access to HIV-related services. Since its creation, the Coalition has carried out the following activities: National workshop for consulting civil society stakeholders on the exposure, transmission and non-disclosure of HIV in Niger; The development of the Memorandum of December 20, 2018 entitled ‘exploring ways and means to resolve the problems of legal proceedings against people living with HIV in order to reduce to zero the new infections, deaths and discrimination linked to AIDS; Organization of several advocacy meetings during the ‘zero discrimination’ day (March, 2019) for public decision-makers and partners. LESSONS LEARNED: Judicial police officers and magistrates have to exercise greater caution when considering a criminal prosecution, and in particular, carefully assess the latest scientific data on the risks of transmission and the consequences of the infection; National AIDS Control Program needs a comprehensive assessment of the application of criminal legislation on the transmission, exposure and non-disclosure of HIV status in order to measure its impact on the effectiveness of national response. CONCLUSIONS: The criminalization of HIV transmission undermines public health efforts and does not take into account the reality of PLWHIV and especially women who are not always able to disclose their HIV status without fear of reprisals or violence, or to impose the wearing a condom. The threat of possible criminal prosecution only increases their vulnerability.
BACKGROUND: Building on the work of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and in order to promote an enabling environment for achieving the 90-90-90 targets, UNDP has supported regional-and national-level work on removing legal barriers to accessing HIV services in sub-Saharan Africa. Covering over 20 countries, this work consists of regional-level capacity building for duty-bearers and rights-holders from the different countries and in-country activities tailored to local realities. DESCRIPTION: In 2019/20, we evaluated the impacts of this work through a review of project documents and key informant interviews with stakeholders including civil society representatives, government officials, and UNDP staff, and conducted an in-depth case study in Malawi. LESSONS LEARNED: Participation in regional spaces empowered national-level stakeholders in their country level work. A participatory legal environment assessment (LEA), jointly owned by government and civil society, served as the starting point and the resulting document, providing an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of HIV-related national laws and policies, has served as a cornerstone for subsequent activities. For example, national advocacy efforts informed by the LEA, and participation by the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on HIV in regional activities, were key to shaping a revised HIV law to better align with international human rights law. The new law has led to the reform of the institutional framework for the national HIV response. Judges participated in regional judges’ fora where they could request information on HIV-related science, discuss lived experiences with key populations’ representatives and hear about how legal issues were being addressed across the region. Lawyers from across the region took part in joint training. After one such training, and with technical support from regional partners to create a strong case, a lawyer chose to appeal the conviction of a woman under Malawi’s law criminalizing HIV transmission. The presiding judge had attended regional judges’ fora and, drawing on a firm understanding of HIV transmission dynamics, overturned the original ruling. CONCLUSIONS: A mix of regional and national level activities allows for tailoring of activities to national contexts while also providing space for peer networking and support where ‘difficult’ issues might more easily be discussed.
BACKGROUND: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2016, 108,003 people live with HIV (PLHIV) in Florida, which also has the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the country. Numerous complexities worsen Florida’s HIV risk environment, including sex work, human trafficking, injection drug use, and sex tourism. These topics are often bases for HIV-related arrests that journalists cover. HIV criminalization describes statutes that criminalize otherwise legal conduct or that enhance penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s positive HIV status. METHODS: This study employed a systematic review of Florida news articles on HIV-related arrests published between 2009-2019. Through qualitative content analysis, our study analyzed how race, gender, and journalistic tone coalesce in reports of HIV-related arrests. RESULTS: A 2018 report from the Williams Institute indicated that white Floridian women are primarily arrested for HIV-related crimes. The systematic review found zero news reports on HIV-related arrests of white Floridian women, and only one article identified a female perpetrator whose race was undisclosed. Sixty-four other articles reported solely on the HIV-related arrests of men, predominantly black men. We identified two categories of articles where HIV was either central to the arrest, or the person’s HIV-positive status was reported but exhibited little pertinence to the arrest. CONCLUSIONS: Journalistic and police reporting behaviors risk inadvertently stigmatizing PLHIV at a time when public awareness of HIV depends on perceptions of HIV. This information will be used to shape equitable local nonprofit campaigns for community prevention, and HIV decriminalization efforts, while also combating the perpetuation of HIV misinformation.
BACKGROUND: The purpose of the research: To assess the compliance of the Uganda HIV and AIDS Control and Prevention Act, 2014 (the Act) with international human rights law standards.
Problem: In 2014, the Government of Uganda enacted a law to control and prevent HIV and AIDS. However, human rights advocates contest that the law contains provisions that don”t comply with international human rights law standards. METHODS: Study period: August 2014 – August 2015 Study design: Qualitative design. Data collection: The study used a document analysis method. Method of analysis: The study identified international human rights law standards related to HIV and AIDS and used them as benchmarks for the review, analysis and synthesis of the literature. RESULTS: The study established that: The Act carries provisions that comply with international human rights law standards. These include HIV counselling, testing, and treatment; state responsibility in HIV and AIDS control; the establishment of the HIV and AIDS Trust Fund; HIV-related human biomedical research; and prohibition of discrimination in various settings on grounds of HIV status. The Act also contains provisions that are not compliant with international human rights law standards. These include mandatory HIV testing, disclosure without consent, criminalization of actual and attempted HIV transmission, and criminal penalties for vaguely defined conduct. The Act lacks provisions that would make it more effective in controlling and preventing HIV and AIDS. These include commitments by the state to be accountable for its obligations stated in the Act; definition of what constitutes discrimination in various settings; and addressing challenges such as the causes of discrimination, inadequate professional human resources at health facilities, lack of HIV-friendly services in health facilities, and unregulated informal sector in complying with the law. CONCLUSIONS: The study identified the compliance and non-compliance of the Act to international human rights law standards. It made recommendations to the Government of Uganda, organisations of people living with HIV and AIDS, organisations that advocate for human rights, and national human rights institutions, on the need to eliminate, revise and add some provisions in the Act to create an enabling legal environment that conforms with international human rights law.
BACKGROUND: Taiwan ranks top amongst the most progressive Asian countries, including being the first to pass marriage equality in Asia. Yet, stigma and discrimination of certain sub-populations, specifically people living with HIV (PLHIV) continue to prevail, as reflected in the Article 21 of HIV special law which overly criminalizes HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. METHODS: Using qualitative and quantitative approaches, Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association (PRAA) of Taiwan makes a case on how the current criminal justice system in Taiwan adapt the narrative of ‘HIV as a weapon’ to prevent PLHIV from asserting their rights. RESULTS:Article 21 states that individuals with knowledge of their HIV-positive status, by concealing the fact, engage in unsafe sex with others or share injection syringes, diluted fluids, and thus infect others, shall be sentenced for 5 to 12 years. Data showed over 30 cases were identified from 2012 to 2019, the majority of prosecutions were associated with sexual activities. However, unsafe sex was often defined exclusively with use of condom, and the court rarely recognized scientific advancements in antiretroviral therapy and suppressed viral load. Cases included: prosecution from ex-partner whom knew defendant’s HIV status before their relationship; state prosecution without plaintiff by turning 14 HIV-positive witnesses into defendants; 13-year incarceration despite medical expert’s testimony on the unlikelihood of HIV transmission. Those who haven’t been prosecuted continued to face both physical and emotional health threats, such as a woman threaten by her admirer to disclose her status if she turns him down. Bias and prejudice, worsen by difficulties in proving self-disclosure or condom use commonly resulted in convictions. CONCLUSIONS:Article 21 and out-of-date judicial interpretation of HIV transmission risks gravely deprive the rights of PLHIV and further perpetuates stigma against PLHIV and affected communities through special criminal law on HIV. There’s a strong case to be made for abolishing Article 21 under the Constitution of Taiwan and the International Bill of Human Rights. Training and support on HIV advancements shall be given to all members of judicial and criminal law system to further inform any application of criminal law in cases related to HIV.
Watch all the videos of Beyond Blame @HIV2020 – our “perfectly executed…deftly curated, deeply informative” webshow
“We have been being battling this fight for many years. Since the start of the HIV epidemic we as gay men, as gay women, as queers, as transgender people, as sex workers, as people using drugs, have been persecuted by the criminal law. And I’m here to say, “Enough! Enough!
We have achieved a great deal with our movement, with the HIV Justice Network. We have achieved a great deal in conscientizing law makers, law givers and the public. It is now time for us to join in unison to demand the end of these stigmatising, retrograde, unproductive, hurtful, harmful laws.
It is a long struggle we’ve engaged in. And it’s one that has hurt many of us. Some of us here today, some of us listening in, some of us who have spoken, have felt the most brutal brush of the law. They have been imprisoned, unjustly prosecuted, unjustly convicted, and unjustly sent away.
HIV is not a crime. But there is more to it. Criminalising HIV, criminalising the transmission or exposure of HIV, as many countries on my own beautiful continent Africa do, is not just stupid and retrograde. It impedes the most important message of the HIV epidemic now, which is that this epidemic is manageable. I’ve been on antiretroviral treatment now for very nearly 23 years. My viral load has been undetectable for more than 20.
We can beat this, but we have to approach this issue as public health issue. We have to approach it rationally and sensibly, and without stigma, and without targeting people, and without seeking to hurt and marginalise people.We’ve made calamitous mistakes with the misapplication of the criminal law over the last hundred years, in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. We continue to make a calamitous mistake in Africa and elsewhere by misusing the criminal law against queer people like myself. We make a huge mistake by misusing the criminal law against people with HIV.
Let us rise today and say, “Enough!”
HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE COVID-19 criminalisation statement now available in Arabic
The HIV Justice Network (HJN) continues to monitor the many ways legal, policy and police responses to COVID-19 is negatively impacting the human rights of people living with HIV, as well as individuals and communities most impacted by HIV.
Each week, Sylvie Beaumont, HJN’s Research / Outreach Co-ordinator, curates our HIV Justice Weekly newsletter. She ensures that all of the previous week’s key articles and podcasts critiquing punitive responses to HIV and/or COVID-19, as well as HIV and COVID-19 criminalisation cases can be found in one place.
A new study published this month by a group of leading Canadian social science academics provides damning evidence of the extraordinary over-representation of Black and Black immigrant male defendants in news reporting of Canadian HIV criminalisation cases.
Eric Mykhalovskiy and Colin Hastings from York University, Toronto; Chris Sanders from Lakehead University, Thunder Bay; and Laura Bisaillon from the University of Toronto Scarborough, analysed 1680 English-language articles published between 1989 and 2015.
“The result is a type of popular racial profiling in which HIV non-disclosure is treated as a crime of Black men who are represented as dangerous, hypersexual foreigners who threaten the health and safety of the public and, more broadly, the imagined Canadian nation.”
The study is important for more than its quantitative findings, as it also considers the role of the media in the construction of public perception.
The researchers argue that media reporting involves a process of “recontextualization,” which occurs when speech is selected and moved from one place (e.g. a court) and fitted into another for a different purpose (e.g. a media story). In other words, they say, information is “selectively reported and repurposed into news stories”.
Their analysis found that in media reporting of HIV criminalisation cases, ‘whiteness’ became a neutral position. This usually meant that when a person was white their ethnicity or immigration status was rarely, if ever, mentioned.
For Black men living with HIV, however, the researchers found that the reporting was racialised, depicting such men as morally blameworthy and discussing them in terms of their “immigration status, hypersexuality, and other forms of racialised difference”.
Consequently, they argue, Black men living with HIV are depicted in these news reports not only as a threat to individual complainants, but also as a threat to Canadian society.
The researchers also discussed how news media reporting routinely involves forms of writing that silence people facing HIV-related criminal charges. Their experiences are rarely heard which, they summise, is likely due to reporters’ decisions about who to quote, as well as defendants being discouraged by their laywers to publicly comment on their cases.
Consequently, people living with HIV involved in HIV criminalisation cases are only spoken about, and their lives are only known about within the context of crime stories.
The authors hope their analysis will help advocates “to intervene in popular news coverage of HIV non-disclosure”, urging the use of counter-narratives emphasising how HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission should be seen as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue.
The profound silencing of Black immigrant men in newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure suggests the need to support strategies that create an affirmative presence in mainstream media for Black men living with HIV.
Eric Mykhalovskiy, Chris Sanders, Colin Hastings & Laura Bisaillon (2020) Explicitly racialised and extraordinarily over-represented: Black immigrant men in 25 years of news reports on HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada, Culture, Health & Sexuality, DOI: 10.1080/13691058.2020.1733095
The Spanish Supreme Court has set an important precedent for HIV criminalisation cases, making it clear that it is not solely up to the defendant to prove that they disclosed their HIV-positive status, as other factors can inform a court’s judgement about whether or not a complainant knew the accused was HIV-positive. The ruling should also make it more difficult for people to pursue vexatious or ‘revenge’ cases against ex-partners.
As outlined in a (Spanish-language) analysis by Professor Miguel Angel Ramiro Avilés, Legal Clinic Coordinator at the University of Alcalá, this decision is an important step forward in the construction of a rights-based HIV response in Spain, permitting a defence based on the principle of dubio pro reo, and the constitutional guarantee of the presumption of innocence.
However, in his conclusion he notes:
Finally, at no time during the proceedings before the Court was the relationship of causality questioned, and an attempt was made to carry out a phylogenetic analysis; nor was the question of [the defendant’s] viral load raised before the Court. This is a step in a long road ahead.
However, informed consent (usually obtained by proving prior disclosure of known HIV-positive status by the accused to the complainant) can be a defence, as is the case in most jurisdictions using general criminal laws, and so cases hinge on whether or not a complainant was aware of an accused’s HIV-positive status before sex occurred and consented to the risk of ‘harm’.
The March 2020 Supreme Court decision relates to the case of a woman who began a romantic relationship with the defendant in 2012, living with him for approximately 18 months. She was diagnosed HIV-positive in September 2013. Police were called to their home in June 2014 following an argument. They separated approximately three months later.
Following the separation, the woman complained to the police based on her belief that she had acquired HIV from her ex-partner. The police filed an assault charge using Article 149.1 of the Spanish Penal Code: causing aggravated injury. The charge was based on her assertion that if she had known her partner had been living with HIV, she would not have had condomless sex with him.
After an initial ‘not guilty’ verdict at the Provincial Court of Madrid (due to the complainant’s inconsistent testimony), the case was elevated to the Supreme Court. Like the Provincial Court, the Supreme Court did not consider evidence relating to whether or not the man had actually transmitted HIV to the woman (considering neither viral load nor phylogenetic analysis), accepting the assertion of HIV transmission at face value. Instead, the case hinged on the credibility of the woman’s testimony and associated evidence, as considered through a lens of dubio pro reo, (‘in cases of doubt, then for the accused’; i.e. innocent until proven guilty.)
The woman testified that she had specifically asked her ex-partner whether he had HIV and he had denied it, so she did not know he was HIV-positive.
The court, however, was not convinced that she was unaware of his HIV-positive status for a number of reasons. She testified that she had used cocaine and hashish with him, which suggested to the Court that she knew he engaged in ‘high risk’ activities associated with HIV transmission. A former friend testified that ‘the entire neighbourhood knew’ that the accused had HIV, so he could not understand how the woman would not have known. The accused’s sister had also warned the woman to ‘protect herself’ and ‘take measures’: the sister said she was sure that the woman had understood her meaning given the context of their conversation.
Medical evidence showed that during the relationship the defendant had visible lesions on his penis, which worsened during and after sex, which the Court found the woman must have seen and understood to be evidence of a sexually transmitted infection.
Further, the court took a dim view of the fact that she reported her partner only after their separation, making no mention of the issue after her diagnosis or when police attended their home months earlier.
Points of law
The Court considered several points of law, including how to evaluate the available evidence. The judgement outlines that, generally, criminal law is not an appropriate tool where a person understands the risk; has as much control of the risk as the other party; consents to the act causing injury; and is injured as a result. These factors are comparable to a person deciding to have condomless sex with a partner they know has HIV, knowing that doing so can transmit HIV, with HIV transmission resulting.
Consequently, the Court found that instead of needing to focus legal analysis on the ‘presumption of innocence’ in relation to the accused, the appropriate principle to be tested was dubio pro reo, which tests whether ‘a credible doubt arises as to the veracity of the assertion of facts’. This principle means that, if ambiguity is found, the matter should be resolved in favour of the more lenient finding.
Ultimately, the court dismissed the charges of aggravated injury as the court found there was “a reasonable doubt as to the ignorance of the woman about the health status” of her ex-partner. The decision suggests that the woman could have deduced or may have known her partner had HIV.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Miguel Angel Ramiro Avilés for making his analysis of the court decision so promptly available to HJN.
UNAIDS “extremely concerned” by new COVID-19 laws that target people living with or vulnerable to HIV
“In times of crisis, emergency powers and agility are crucial; however, they cannot come at the cost of the rights of the most vulnerable,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Checks and balances that are the cornerstone of the rule of law must be exercised in order to prevent misuse of such powers. If not, we may see a reversal of much of the progress made in human rights, the right to health and the AIDS response.”
Notably, UNAIDS singles out EU member states, Hungary and Poland.
In Hungary, a new bill has been introduced to remove the right of people to change their gender and name on official documents in order to ensure conformity with their gender identity, in clear breach of international human rights to legal recognition of gender identity.
In Poland, a fast-tracked amendment to the criminal law that increases the penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission to at least six months in prison and up to eight years in prison has been passed—a clear contravention of international human rights obligations to remove HIV-specific criminal laws.
In addition, UNAIDS condemns overly zealous policing that is especially targeting key populations already stigmatised, marginalised, and criminalised.
UNAIDS is also concerned by reports from a number of countries of police brutality in enforcing measures, using physical violence and harassment and targeting marginalized groups, including sex workers, people who use drugs and people who are homeless. The use of criminal law and violence to enforce movement restrictions is disproportionate and not evidence-informed. Such tactics have been known to be implemented in a discriminatory manner and have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable: people who for whatever reason cannot stay at home, do not have a home or need to work for reasons of survival.
They also highlight Kenya as a model of cjvil society rapid response to human rights concerns following the release of an advisory note “calling for a focus on community engagement and what works for prevention and treatment rather than disproportionate and coercive approaches.”
The statement concludes:
While some rights may be limited during an emergency in order to protect public health and safety, such restrictions must be for a legitimate aim—in this case, to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. They must be proportionate to that aim, necessary, non-arbitrary, evidence-informed and lawful. Each order/law or action by law enforcement must also be reviewable by a court of law. Law enforcement powers must likewise be narrowly defined, proportionate and necessary.
UNAIDS urges all countries to ensure that any emergency laws and powers are limited to a reasonable period of time and renewable only through appropriate parliamentary and participatory processes. Strict limits on the use of police powers must be provided, along with independent oversight of police action and remedies through an accountability mechanism. Restrictions on rights relating to non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status, sexual and reproductive health, freedom of speech and gender identity detailed above do not assist with the COVID-19 response and are therefore not for a legitimate purpose. UNAIDS calls on countries to repeal any laws put in place that cannot be said to be for the legitimate aim of responding to or controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, December 10, 2019, Human Rights Day, National and Regional Networks and Civil Society Organizations on HIV Criminalization in the EECA Region are asking you to support the movement against HIV criminalization by endorsing the following Statement.
On November 25-26, 2019, the “Decriminalization of HIV transmission in the EECA region: the role of civil society and advocacy tools” meeting was held in Minsk, Belarus, by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA), the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and CO “100 PERCENT LIFE”. Activists representing national, regional and international networks discussed the current situation with HIV criminalization in the EECA region and options available to strengthen the movement in order to counter that HIV criminalization in the EECA region.
HIV criminalization is a global issue that undermines human rights and impedes the development of public health and, as a result, weakens the efforts to eradicate the HIV epidemic. An analysis of recent HIV criminalization cases shows that they do not reflect the demographics of local epidemics, and the likelihood of persecution is compounded by discrimination against marginalized groups on the basic of drug use, ethnicity, gender identity, immigration status, sex work and sexuality.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), among others, declare that any use of criminal law against people living with HIV should be strictly limited to exceptional cases of intentional and malicious HIV transmission to another person and only where real harm occurred. However, the law and law enforcement practice go beyond this limitation in many countries.
According to HIV Justice Worldwide, Europe and Central Asia is the region with the second highest number of laws criminalizing HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission. 18 of the 19 countries where such laws have been adopted are in the EECA region. Many of them allow criminal prosecution for actions that do not pose a risk of HIV or pose a low risk only. These laws do not recognize condom use or low viral load as a means of protection against prosecution. They criminalize oral sex, individual breastfeeding cases, as well as bites, scratches, bites, or spitting. Such laws were developed in the times when efficient ARV therapy was not yet available and the HIV diagnosis was equated with a death sentence. The implementation of such laws is most often informed by myths, misconceptions on HIV transmission ways, and stigma against people living with HIV and vulnerable communities.
The laws of the EECA countries criminalizing the HIV transmission vary in their severity and in specific sanctions. The Russian Federation and Belarus are global and regional leaders in terms of the number of criminal cases related to HIV6. In Uzbekistan, a person living with HIV can be prosecuted regardless of whether his/her partner wants to initiate a criminal case. In 2019, a punishment was introduced in the law in Tajikistan for those who refuse to receive HIV therapy7. In many EECA countries, the punishment for any crime involving an HIV-positive person is exacerbated by the positive HIV status.
Concerned by the fact that prosecutions are not always informed by the best available scientific and medical evidence, 20 of the world’s leading HIV scientists have presented the Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law.
The criminalization of HIV transmission is a growing human rights issue in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This fact is also confirmed by the first regional report, prepared in 2017 using the data of the communities of women living with HIV. The study was organized and conducted by EWNA with the support of GNP+ and HIV Justice Worldwide.
The study has shown that HIV criminalization is a gender issue10. The stories and cases documented in the report and other recently conducted studies illustrate that women are more likely to be persecuted, as they are often the first to become aware of their status through regular HIV testing during pregnancy, but they are less likely to safely disclose their HIV positive status to their partner due to gender inequality in the family, economic dependence and high levels of violence. In addition, women living with HIV are less likely to receive adequate legal assistance and to have competent representation in court. In their stories, women talk about violence, threats, and blackmail associated with their HIV-positive status. The laws adopted were designed to protect women from HIV. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the reality as HIV criminalization makes women more vulnerable to violence and structural disparities. HIV criminalization increases the vulnerability of women to deprivation of parental rights, property loss, and poverty.
EECA activists make essential efforts to advocate for the decriminalization of HIV infection. Thus, the active advocacy work conducted by the community of people living with HIV pushed Belarus to adopt an important legislative amendment: the HIV-positive partner should be exempt from criminal liability if he or she has timely warned the HIV-negative partner about HIV and the latter has voluntarily agreed to take actions, which created a risk of infection. However this step alone is not sufficient to solve the issue of HIV criminalization.
We call attention of the EECA countries to the fact that in a society with low stigma and discrimination, people are more likely to be voluntarily tested for HIV and, learning about their status, begin ARV treatment.
We urge communities of people living with HIV and other criminalized and marginalized communities, in particular sex workers, LGBT people, people who use drugs, to unite and take a consolidated position to counter HIV criminalization, presenting a united front against HIV stigma and discrimination embedded in the law.
We urge governments and parliamentarians to use general law to prevent HIV transmission in the harm to health context and, instead of applying criminal law in any cases other than actual infection transmission by malicious intent, take steps to encourage people to be tested, take ARV treatment, communicate their HIV status and have safe sex without fear of stigma, discrimination and violence. This can be achieved by adopting and applying anti-discrimination laws and organizing public information campaigns to dispel myths about HIV, as such campaigns are evidence-based and are led by people living with HIV.
We urge prosecution agencies and prosecutors, to use scientific evidence and evidence-based medicine, in particular the evidence included in the Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law, in pre-trial and trial proceedings, in order to limit or prevent abuse of criminal prosecution in cases of allegations of HIV transmission or exposure or in cases of non-disclosure of HIV status.
We urge the media to stop demonizing people living with HIV, presenting us as criminals and as sources of infection. We request the media to consider HIV related issues from the perspective of human rights and use facts and evidence-based medicine while covering such issues.
We encourage donors to invest in communities and advocates opposing HIV criminalization, which undermines human rights and public health.
Canada: Justice Committee report recommends wide-ranging reforms to HIV criminalisation, including removing HIV non-disclosure from sexual assault law
Yesterday, the House of Commons Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights released a ground-breaking report “The Criminalization of HIV Non-Disclosure in Canada” recommending that the Government of Canada works with each of the Canadian provinces and territories to end the use of sexual assault law to prosecute allegations of HIV non-disclosure.
People living with HIV currently face imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault and a lifetime designation as a sex offender for not disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners, even in cases where there is little or even zero risk of transmission. This means a person engaging in consensual sex that causes no harm, and poses little or no risk of harm, can be prosecuted and convicted like a violent rapist. We welcome the Committee’s recognition of this unjust reality and their call to end the use of sexual assault laws. We and our allies have spent many years advocating for this critical change.
The report also recommends that Canada limits HIV criminalisation to actual transmission only. The Legal Network notes:
But we must go further: criminal prosecution should be limited to cases of intentional transmission as recommended by the UN’s expert health and human rights bodies. Parliament should heed such guidance. Criminal charges and punishments are the most serious of society’s tools; their use should be limited and a measure of last resort.
However, one of the recommendations that the Legal Network takes issue with is the recommendation to broaden any new law to include other infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases are a public health issue and should be treated as such. We strongly disagree with the recommendation to extend the criminal law to other infectious diseases. We will not solve the inappropriate use of the criminal law against people living with HIV by punishing more people and more health conditions.
Currently, there is a patchwork of inconsistent approaches across each province and territory. Only three provinces — Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta — have a formal policy in place or have directed Crown prosecutors to limit prosecutions of HIV non-disclosure, and they all fall short of putting an end to unjust prosecutions.
A December 2018 federal directive to limit HIV criminalisation, which solely applies to Canada’s territories, is already having some impact — in January 2019 it led to Crown prosecutors in the Northwest Territories dropping a wrongful sexual assault charge against a man living with HIV in Yellowstone. “We followed the directive and chose not to prosecute,” said Crown attorney Alex Godfrey.
Other positive recommendations in the report include:
An immediate review of the cases of all individuals who have been convicted for not disclosing their HIV status and who would not have been prosecuted under the new standards set out in the recommendations of the Committee.
These standards must reflect “the most recent medical science regarding HIV and its modes of transmission and the criminal law should only apply when there is actual transmission having regard to the realistic possibility of transmission. At this point of time, HIV non-disclosure should never be prosecuted if (1) the infected individual has an undetectable viral load (less than 200 copies per millilitre of blood); (2) condoms are used; (3) the infected individual’s partner is on PrEP or (4) the type of sexual act (such as oral sex) is one where there is a negligible risk of transmission.”
The next step is actual law reform. The report makes clear that change to the criminal law is needed. Any new legal regime must avoid the harms and stigma that have tainted the law these past 25 years.
Kenya: Positive Justice campaign launched today to challenge unjust HIV-specific law
Today, on International Human Rights Day, the National Empowerment Network of People living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK) and the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) have launched the Positive Justice campaign to finally end HIV criminalisation in Kenya.
In 2015, in Aids Law Project v Attorney General and Others  the High Court of Kenya declared section 24 of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act unconstitutional and suspended the law. The High Court ruling focused on the absence of a definition for “sexual contact”, holding that it is impossible to determine what acts were prohibited. It also found the provision does not meet the standards for a justifiable limitation of the constitutional right to privacy.
Consequently, today KELIN have filed a petition asking the High Court in Nairobi to strike down as unconstitutional Section 26 of the Sexual Offences Act on the grounds that it discriminates against people living with HIV, women, and the poor, and violates a number of fundamental human rights.
The prosecuting authority’s interpretation of Section 26 of the Sexual Offences Act, as demonstrated by the prosecutions of several of the PLHIV challenging the law, effectively makes it a crime for a woman with HIV to birth and raise children. The prevailing interpretation also effectively criminalizes marriage between a person who has HIV and a person who does not.
“Laws that make criminals of people simply for having HIV ignore science. People who are on HIV treatment and are virally suppressed are not infectious. The key to a successful HIV response and ending AIDS is making sure everyone with HIV knows their status and gets on treatment. These laws make that impossible. Thousands of discordant couples and breastfeeding mothers living all over Kenya run the risk of being arrested and charged under this provision if they come forward for HIV testing,” noted M.A, the fourth petitioner and a representative of the Discordant Couples in Kenya.
HIV criminalization laws are also notorious for abuse and arbitrary enforcement. “Such abuse will always be targeted at persons living with, vulnerable to or believed to be living with HIV whether or not their actions were culpable and whether or not their actions exposed another to the risk of contracting HIV,” cautioned Mr. Nelson Otwoma, the Director at the National Empowerment Network of People living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK).
It is for this reason that five people living with HIV and stakeholders working in HIV response came together to file the petition and launch the campaign dubbed Positive Justice. The campaign seeks to raise awareness on the negative effects of enforcement of the law on PLHIV, and engage relevant stakeholders including the media, legislature, judiciary, law enforcers, and Ministry of Health in advocating for the rights of people living with HIV.
“This petition will not only safeguard the rights of those living with and affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections but also help alleviate the discrimination and stigma they face and help Kenya remain on track in achieving the 2020 UN AIDS Fast Track targets in ending AIDS,’ said Mr. Allan Maleche, the Executive Director at KELIN.