Africa: Moving towards revolutionising approaches to HIV criminalisation

“We have all agreed with the Sustainable Development Goal of ending HIV and Tuberculosis by 2030. We cannot get there while we are arresting the same people we are supposed to ensure are accessing treatment and living positively,” said Dr Ruth Labode, a member of Parliament from Zimbabwe opening remarks at a two-day global meeting co-hosted by the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and HIV Justice Worldwide (HJWW) on 24 and 25 April 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa, which focused on “Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission”.

The meeting was attended by advocates, civil society organisations, lawyers, judges, national human rights institutions and Members of Parliament from all over Africa and with some delegates from North America. Central to these deliberations was the draconian provisions within numerous HIV-specific laws being developed as government responses to the prevention and control of the HIV epidemic. The good intentions inherent in these pieces of legislation are often marred with provisions, which criminalise people based on their HIV status. Punitive provisions relating to ‘compulsory testing’, ‘involuntary partner notification’, ‘non-disclosure’ and ‘transmission’ of HIV are often cited, fueling stigma against people living with HIV.

The common theme binding these deliberations, was the negative impact of HIV criminalisation and the stories that were shared by colleagues.  The increasing trend of imposing criminal sanctions against people living with HIV, had resulted in adverse impact on public health outcomes for certain populations, especially women. While reinforcing stigma, HIV criminalisation impedes access to sexual and reproductive health services such as condoms, HIV testing and treatment. Further, HIV criminalisation discourages HIV-positive women from accessing ante-natal care, which leads to increased maternal and child mortality. The overly broad and vague nature of most HIV specific laws, accompanied by the imposition of criminal sanctions without empirical or scientific support, further underpins the rift between public health goals and the protection of human rights.

Representing the AIDS Legal Network, one of the partners who led the development of the 10 Reasons Why Criminalisation Harms Women, Johanna Kehler mentioned the fact that, “HIV criminalisation and HIV specific laws are often set against a social milieu that is patriarchal, heteronormative and perpetuates gender inequalities and utilises punitive approaches to “correct” imbalances.” She went on to add that these laws ultimately maintain and widen the divide between public health needs and human rights obligations.

Laurel 1“Most prosecutions globally involve no or negligible risk of transmission. Among the thousands of known prosecutions, cases where it was clear, much less proven beyond reasonable doubt, that an individual planned on or wanted to infect another person with HIV, are exceedingly rare. People are being convicted of crimes contrary to the best public health advice, but also contrary to scientific and medical evidence”, said Dr Laurel Sprague of the HIV Justice Network, who has since become the Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+).

During the meeting, various organisations shared their experiences around litigating these matters and community advocacy mounted to reform problematic laws or specific draconian provisions. Cases from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Niger showcased that challenges were experiences in most contexts.

The Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS (UGANET), together with other advocates and activists, continue to challenge the Ugandan law and constitutionality of the criminalisation provisions contained in the HIV Prevention and Control Act of 2014. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) spoke to the extensive work that they furthered in Malawi, which included a focus on arbitrary arrests and dentition. Malawi has taken the centre stage where HIV criminalisation is concerned, as they are currently in the process of tabling a decade-old Draft HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill, which contains draconian provisions around HIV criminalisation.

Amplifying the voice of survivors of HIV criminalisation, the meeting was privileged to engage with Kerry Thomas via telephone from a state correctional facility in Boise, Idaho in the United States of America. Mr Thomas, who was prosecuted for HIV non-disclosure and the sentence that he is serving, reinforced the unjust nature of these laws. Mr Thomas is currently serving his eighth year out of a 30-year sentence for non- disclosure to his ex-partner, despite there being no proof of transmission and the fact that he had consensual and protected sex. His appeal on the unconstitutionality of Idaho’s non-disclosure law, was overturned in the District courts in 2016.

The meeting concluded with very strong calls for everyone to joining the global HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement and organisations committed to utilise their existing resources to galvanise advocacy focusing on ending HIV criminalisation.

Participants agreed that there was a need to focus on the inter-sectionalities within the HIV criminalisation discourse, as well as a need for coordination and collaboration amongst legislators, members of the judiciary, parliamentarians, health care workers and civil society organisations to further advocacy related to this issue.

The participants also agreed that transformative approaches to HIV criminalisation, require both legal and social reforms, such as sensitisation of community members and the media. ARASA has committed to working with colleagues in developing a timeline of key events and advocacy opportunities, at which colleagues could participate.

Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission was supported by a grant from the Robert Carr civil society networks Fund.

Since its inception, ARASA has played an active role in addressing HIV criminalisation in the region and globally. ARASA has strengthened the capacity of civil society on the issue and supported partners to work with the media, parliamentarians, members of the judiciary and lawyers to address HIV criminalisation.

To read more about the meeting, follow #Decrim4Health on Facebook and Twitter. You can also view a gallery of photos taken during the meeting here.

Register now for ARASA’s Online HIV Criminalisation Course in June-July 2017

Next month, ARASA will host an short online course on HIV criminalisation for civil society, policymakers, religious leaders, healthcare providers and law enforcement officials.

The course is free, takes place in English, willl last six weeks (5 June 2017 – 14 July 2017) and will require four hours a week commitment.

This online course will introduce participants to information about the criminalisation of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure – often referred to as ‘HIV criminalisation’ – and the negative impact it has on the human rights of people living with HIV and key populations and on universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Human rights experts argue that most countries already have criminal laws, such as the laws against assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, that can be used to deal with intentional transmission of HIV and therefore there is no need to create new laws to deal specifically with HIV.

During the course, participants will:

  • Learn how to identify harmful HIV laws, including cases which have been recorded showing the impact of laws which criminalise people living with HIV.
  • Master the foundational steps and best practices.
  • Implement and support strategies to remove laws which harm people living with HIV.

The focus is on providing knowledge and skills so that participants can identify harmful HIV-specific laws and advocate for the removal of these laws. The online short course will share the current status-quo of laws which criminalise people living with HIV, including other resources that aim to strengthen your advocacy.

This course will strengthen participants’ understanding of:

  • How do HIV-specific laws criminalise those people living with HIV,  further affecting those most vulnerable such as women and key populations
  • How cases are being brought against the most affected populations, thus reversing the current successes made in HIV 
  • How does HIV criminalisation affect YOUR community, and what can you do about it?

How to Apply:

Kindly send ARASA the following:

1. A one page letter of motivation, setting out why you feel that you would benefit from participating in the short  course (Please outline how you will use the skills acquired during the course in your own country advocacy);

2. Your resume / CV;

3. A letter of support from the organisation you are currently working with / affiliated to.

Applications should be submitted by email to Bruce Tushabe at bruce(at)arasa.info  (and copy Lynette Mabote at lynette(at)arasa.info ).

All applications must be received by no later than close of business 22 May 2017. Kindly note that applications received after the closing date will not be considered. Successful applicants will be notified by no later than 1 June 2017. Should you not receive any feedback from us by 3 June 2017 kindly consider your application unsuccessful.

US: 2018 HIV Is Not a Crime National Training Academy to be held in Indianapolis, Indiana (Press Release)

SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network-USA Announce 2018 HIV Is Not a Crime National Training Academy in Indianapolis

May 15, 2017: Building on the amazing success of the HIV Is Not a Crime II National Training Academy last year, the SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network-USA are pleased to announce that the planning process is underway for the third HIV Is Not a Crime National Training Academy to support repeal or modernization of laws criminalizing the alleged non- disclosure, perceived or potential exposure or transmission of HIV. The training academy will be held at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) June 3-6, 2018.

As part of the announcement of HIV is Not a Crime III, Tami Haught, Conference Coordinator with the SERO Project says, “Dr. Carrie Foote and the HIV Modernization Movement, in coordination with other state organizations, will provide the conference with great support and leadership as a host committee. We hope that hosting the Training Academy in Indiana will highlight the archaic HIV-specific laws and empower advocates and allies to modernize Indiana’s statues.”

HIV is Not a Crime III will once again unite and train advocates living with HIV and allies from across the country on laws criminalizing people living with HIV and on strategies and best practices for repealing such laws. Skills-building training, with an emphasis on grassroots organizing, advocacy, coalition-building and campaign planning, will leave participants with concrete tools and resources to work on state-level strategies when they return home.

“The HIV Modernization Movement (HMM) is excited to welcome HIV is Not a Crime III to the IUPUI campus! Science has made extraordinary advances since the HIV epidemic began in the 1980s, but one area that hasn’t kept up is the body of laws that criminalize HIV. Lacking in scientific merit, these harmful laws stigmatize people living with HIV and are counterproductive to HIV treatment and prevention efforts. Organized activities like this one, that bring together people living with HIV and their allies to collectively strategize on reforming these draconian laws, are critical to ending the HIV epidemic,” says Dr. Carrie Foote, HMM Chair and Associate Professor at IUPUI.

Get involved in making HIV is Not a Crime a success! Sign up to participate in one of our planning workgroups here (bit.ly/HINAC-workgroup).

Are you interested in providing financial support for this important event?Please contact Sean Strub, SERO Project (sean.strub[at}seroproject.com) or Naina Khanna at Positive Women’s Network – USA (naina.khanna.work[at]gmail.com) for more information.

Questions? Please contact Tami Haught, SERO Organizer and Training Coordinator, at: tami.haught[at]seroproject.com.

“GNP+’s gain is also HJN’s gain”: proudly announcing Laurel Sprague’s appointment as Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+)

Photo credit: Nicholas Feustel
Dr Laurel Sprague at last month’s HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Strategy Meeting in Brighton. Photo credit: Nicholas Feustel

Today, we are proud to announce that Laurel Sprague, PhD, our Global Research Fellow on HIV, Gender, and Justice has been appointed as the new Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+). Laurel will join GNP+ in May to lead the organisation in the implementation of an exciting and ambitious strategic plan.

“For the past year, Laurel has been integral to the growth of both the HIV Justice Network (HJN) and the broader HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement, ensuring that the voices of those most impacted by HIV criminalisation are heard, and listened to, by those in positions of power,” said HJN’s Global Co-ordinator, Edwin J Bernard. “I don’t think of this welcome move as HJN’s loss: GNP+’s gain is also HJN’s gain. For many years, HJN and GNP+ have been close allies, and Laurel’s appointment simply means that we will work even closer together towards our common aim – ending all punitive laws and policies aimed at people with HIV based on our HIV-positive status.”

Dr Sprague says: “As criminal laws increasingly are enacted and used against people living with HIV, our networks of people living with HIV and other key populations, and our allies in legal and human rights organisations, must continue to strengthen our collaboration. It has been an honour to work with HJN and the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement and I look forward to the many opportunities for increased solidarity, coordination, and support.”

When Laurel met Sally at last month’s HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE strategy meeting in Brighton.  Photo credit: Nicholas Feustel
When Laurel met Sally at last month’s HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE strategy meeting in Brighton. Photo credit: Nicholas Feustel

Although it is not possible to replace Laurel, we are also very happy to announce that Sally Cameron recently joined the HIV Justice Network as our Senior Policy Analyst. Sally has worked closely with HJN for a number of years, including as co-author, with Edwin J Bernard, of both the Advancing HIV Justice and Advancing Justice 2 reports. Sally will oversee a number of important projects for us this year, including the forthcoming HIV Justice Advocacy Toolkit.

Based in Queensland, Australia, Sally has been working on issues relating to HIV, gender, community development and capacity building for many years, most recently as HIV Education and Health Promotion Officer – Policy at the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).

As well as co-authoring the two Advancing HIV Justice reports for HJN and GNP+, Sally has worked on many important HIV criminalisation publications over the years, including as author of ‘HIV, Crime and the Law in Australia: Options for Policy Reform – a law reform advocacy kit’ for AFAO; co-author of The Global Criminalisation Scan 2010: Documenting trends, presenting evidence for the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+); co-editor and author of The Criminalisation of HIV in Australia: Legality, Morality Realityfor the National Association of People Living with HIV (NAPWA); and author of the Guide to Australian HIV Laws and Policies for Healthcare Professionals‘ for Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM).

US: Florida State Senate Committee Supports Public Health Measure To Modernize HIV Laws (Press Release)

Press release from the Sero Project

Tallahassee March 22, 2017

The Florida HIV Justice Coalition today applauded members of the Florida State Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee for voting unanimously yesterday in favor of Senate Bill 628.

SB 628 will modernize Florida statutes regarding sexually transmissible infections (STIs) to reflect advances in scientific knowledge and medical treatment, particularly as they concern prevention and treatment of HIV.

The Florida HIV Justice Coalition, comprised of physicians, healthcare workers, legal, public health and policy professionals, people living with HIV and other allies, has led a statewide effort to raise awareness and mobilize support for reform.

Senator Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), the SB 628’s chief sponsor, said, “Florida doesn’t want to be first in new HIV cases; we want to be first in the effort to end the HIV epidemic. With the support of public health leaders, prosecutors, major HIV service providers in Florida, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Sero Project (a national network of people living with HIV) and others, we are going to get there. Today’s unanimous vote by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is an important step.”

Leaders in providing services for people with HIV in Florida, as well as nationally, agree that early testing and ongoing adherence to treatment can stop the spread of HIV.

“Virtually all HIV transmission in Florida is from people who have HIV but do not know it, because they have not been tested, or are not on treatment,” said David Poole, Director of Legislative Affairs at AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Florida’s leading HIV service provider. “Getting tested, treated and virally suppressed prevents HIV transmission. That’s why updating these statutes is a vital HIV prevention strategy for Florida.”

“Public health policies and criminal statutes should be aligned to incentivize HIV testing and treatment. Any criminal act concerning transmission of sexually transmitted infections should be based on an intent to harm, a significant risk of harm and actual infliction of harm,” said Mrs. Kamaria Laffrey, a Winter Haven resident who has led the Florida HIV Justice Coalition and is a woman living with HIV. “We will continue to work with Senator Garcia and other legislators to improve SB 628 as it continues through the legislative process.”

“We commend and thank Senator Garcia for his leadership. We look forward to working with the legislature and our allies to improve public health and ensure equality and justice for all Floridians,” said Tami Haught, a woman living with HIV who coordinates state organizing for the Sero Project, a national organization working to modernize HIV-specific criminal statutes in 32 states.

The bill next moves to the Senate Health Policy Committee. Similar legislation, HB 605, has been filed in the House and will be heard first by that chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Further information:

Kamaria Laffrey, Coordinator, Florida HIV Justice Coalition Kamaria.laffrey(at)seroproject.com

David Poole, Director of Legislative Affairs, AIDS Healthcare Foundation david.poole(at)aidshealth.org