US: NYCLU strongly supports the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act and encourages its expedient passage

Repeal STI Discrimination Act

While New York has made considerable progress in reducing the prevalence of HIV over the last decade, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated hurdles to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. Moreover, New York continues to see stark disparities in HIV’s impact with Black, Indigenous, and other New Yorkers of color, as well as transgender New Yorkers and young men who have sex with men, bearing the brunt of the epidemic. Repealing New York’s HIV and sexually-transmitted infection (STI) criminalization law, Public Health Law § 2307, is a critical step toward ending the epidemic.

The NYCLU strongly supports the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act and encourages its expedient passage.

2023 – 2024 Legislative Memorandum

REPEAL STI Discrimination Act
S.4603-A (Hoylman-Sigal) / A.3347-A (Gonzalez-Rojas)

Position: SUPPORT

While New York has made considerable progress in reducing the prevalence of HIV over the last decade 1, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated hurdles to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. Moreover, New York continues to see stark disparities in HIV’s impact with Black, Indigenous, and other New Yorkers of color, as well as transgender New Yorkers and young men who have sex with men, bearing the brunt of the epidemic.2

Repealing New York’s HIV and sexually-transmitted infection (STI) criminalization law, Public Health Law § 2307, is a critical step toward ending the epidemic.

Laws that criminalize people living with HIV/AIDS and STIs discourage people from learning and disclosing their status, ignore science, harm patient relationships with counselors and doctors, and perpetuate stigma. Recognizing these realities, 12 states have amended or repealed their laws criminalizing HIV/AIDS since 2014. New York must join them by passing the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act, S.4603-A (Hoylman-Sigal) / A.3347-A (Gonzalez-Rojas), which would repeal Public Health Law § 2307 and expunge past convictions under the law. The NYCLU strongly supports this bill and urges its immediate passage.

At present, New York criminalizes people for having sex if they have an STI. This crime carries no intent requirement and no transmission requirement, and open disclosure to one’s partners is no defense. Defense attorneys report that New York prosecutors have weaponized this statute to prosecute people living with HIV who have sex.

This is bad public policy. STI criminalization undermines public health and disproportionately impacts communities of color, particularly LGBTQ+ communities of color. For these reasons, the NYCLU strongly supports the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act and encourages its expedient passage.

1 New York State Budget and Policy Priorities NYS Fiscal Year 2025, Ending the Epidemic 2 (Nov. 2023).
2 Id.

Turkmenistan: UNAIDS launches campaign “Decriminalize” aiming to reduce punitive legal environments affecting key populations

Turkmenistan’s HIV/AIDS Challenges: Silence, Stigma, and Criminalization

UNAIDS launched a campaign “Decriminalize” aimed at raising awareness on issues surrounding HIV/AIDs on institutionalized levels across the world.

UNAIDS is the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. It aims at achieving zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, working alongside its global and national partners to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the SDGs.

The campaign highlights  2021-2026 Global AIDS Strategy, directed towards reforming laws that hinder the HIV response, aiming to reduce punitive legal environments affecting key populations. By 2025, the goal is for less than 10% of countries to criminalize activities such as sex work, drug possession, same-sex activity, and HIV-related behaviors.

The UNAIDS campaign underlines that criminal laws target key populations, among them are people who inject drugs, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, and people living with HIV. Such restrictive laws violate people’s human rights. In addition, criminalizing certain activities pushes people away from the support and services they need, exposing them to harm.

Below are the highlights from the campaign focusing on Turkmenistan and its neighboring countries’ data and laws, as well as major global statistics from 2021-2022 years.

As of today, there is no data on Turkmenistan on UNAIDS website (or other sources) on such aspects as:

  • Rates of HIV among adults and children;
  • New HIV-infections and AIDS-related deaths;
  • Number of AIDS-related orphans;
  • Phases of the HIV epidemic;
  • Rates of testing, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) coverage, and viral load suppression;
  • Coverage and numbers receiving ART;
  • Elimination of vertical transmission.

Data on combination prevention, such as condom use at last high-risk sex is only available for 2000. The only recent data available is on stigma and discrimination and only based on women’s responses from 2019 MICS.

Laws across countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Source: UNAIDS Laws and Policies Analytics, 2021-2022

  • 94 countries in the world criminalized HIV: Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries are in this list. In the meantime, the migration crisis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, spurred by conflicts like the war in Ukraine, has led to an urgent need for HIV services among displaced populations. Central Asian nations have experienced its largest influx since independence. Simultaneously, the HIV epidemic is worsening, with Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan collectively responsible for 93% of new infections in the area.
  • The Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, Article 116 on HIV Infection, punishes for knowingly putting someone at risk of HIV infection with imprisonment for up to three years. Deliberately infecting another person with HIV, knowing one has the disease, carries a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment. These penalties escalate if the acts involve multiple individuals or minors, punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. Additionally, medical or pharmaceutical workers who infect someone due to negligence in their duties face imprisonment for up to five years, possibly with the loss of professional privileges for up to three years.
  • 125 countries criminalize drug use or possession for personal use. There is no data for Turkmenistan, and with exception to Tajikistan where drug possession is not an offense, in other Central Asia countries, possession of any or all drugs is a criminal offense. According to the campaign, ​​decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal use leads to substantial reductions in HIV incidence among people who inject drugs. This is facilitated by improved access to harm reduction services, decreased violence, and reduced harassment by law enforcement. Repressive policing of drug use has been linked to increased HIV infection, needle sharing, and avoidance of harm reduction programs. Hence, law reform is essential to achieve the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
  • 67 countries criminalize same-sex relations. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan same-sex relations are penalized with imprisonment for up to 14 years. Article 133 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, defines sexual intercourse between men as sodomy, and punishes with a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, with or without residency restrictions. Repeat offenses or causing the victim to contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can lead to imprisonment for five to ten years. Negligence resulting in death, serious harm, or HIV infection incurs a sentence of ten to twenty years in prison, possibly with residency restrictions. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan same-sex relations are decriminalized. The UNAIDS campaign notes that countries that criminalize same-sex sexual activity have a significantly higher HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual men – up to 5 times more. Moreover, recent prosecutions amplify this risk even further, with rates up to 12 times higher.
  • 167 countries criminalize some aspects of sex work and 153 criminalize sex work. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the law encompasses other punitive and/or administrative regulation of sex work. Yet repeated sex work within a year after an administrative penalty is charged with a fine ranging from twenty to forty times the basic amount, or compulsory labor up to four hundred and eighty hours, or correctional labor up to two years, or imprisonment for up to two years, according to the Article 136 of the Criminal Code, while profiting from organizing and/or managing sexual services is criminalized (in the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, these are reflected in the articles 137, 138, 139, 140). In Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both are applied, however in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan there is partial criminalization of sex work, whereas in Kyrgyzstan sex work is not subject to punitive regulations and is not criminalized.
  • The campaign highlights that criminalizing sex work increases the likelihood of sex workers contracting HIV and exposes them to violence from clients, police, and others. Targeting clients worsens sex workers’ safety and health, diminishing condom access, increasing violence, and deteriorating overall well-being.

The campaign underlines that criminalization of key populations decreases their access to HIV prevention services. Criminalization also drives discrimination and structural inequalities and robs people of the prospect of healthy and fulfilling lives.

The campaign highlights progress: Belgium and Australia decriminalized sex work; Zimbabwe decriminalized HIV exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission; Central Africa Republic revised its HIV laws; and Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Singapore, and Barbados repealed colonial laws against same-sex activity. Kuwait ended laws targeting transgender individuals, and New Zealand lifted HIV-related travel restrictions. However, challenges remain: 134 explicitly countries criminalize HIV exposure; 20 criminalize and/or prosecute transgender persons; 67 criminalize consensual same-sex activity. Additionally, 48 restrict entry for people with HIV, 53 mandate HIV testing, and 106 require parental consent for adolescent HIV testing.

The campaign also provides additional resources on the topic, such as factsheets, maps, and reports, as well as offers a thematic quiz on awareness on the criminalization of key populations with additional information on the relevant subjects.

Photo: © UN Turkmenistan / 2018 / Eyeberdiyeva
Photo caption: The UN Turkmenistan celebrated

World AIDS Day to raise awareness of
the importance of getting tested for HIV

Mexico: Activists call for congress to repeal HIV Criminalisation statute in Tlaxcala

Activists urge the decriminalisation of “danger of contagion” for HIV and other diseases in Tlaxcala

Translated from Spanish with – Scroll down for original article

Activists and defenders of the human rights of people living with HIV have urged the Congress of Tlaxcala to pass an initiative to eliminate the crime of “danger of contagion” from the local Penal Code as soon as possible.

Antonio Escobar Muñoz, director of the HIV and Human Rights programme of the LGBTTTQI+ collective, argued that it is essential to eliminate any discriminatory treatment based on health status.

According to the activist, cases of discrimination and stigmatisation based on health status persist in Tlaxcala, especially in school, work and governmental environments, mainly in the health sector.

Escobar Muñoz pointed out that people with HIV face criminalisation based on their HIV status, but often choose not to report it for fear of stigma and re-victimisation.

She emphasised that in Tlaxcala more work is needed on awareness raising, sensitisation and education, although the decriminalisation initiative represents an important step towards ensuring safe and discrimination-free environments.

This day, the initiative was presented in the plenary of the Local Congress with a draft decree proposing to repeal the denomination of Chapter I of the Eleventh Title with its respective article 302; section V of article 434, both of the Penal Code for the Free and Sovereign State of Tlaxcala.

This initiative seeks to recognise the need to promote public policies that encourage prevention, education and support for people living with HIV, thus contributing to the fight against stigmatisation and discrimination, as well as highlighting the need to update legislation in Tlaxcala.

Urgen activistas despenalización de “peligro de contagio” por VIH y otras enfermedades en Tlaxcala

Activistas y defensores de los derechos humanos de personas que viven con VIH han urgido al Congreso de Tlaxcala a dictaminar cuanto antes la iniciativa para eliminar del Código Penal local el delito de “peligro de contagio”.

Antonio Escobar Muñoz, director del programa de VIH y Derechos Humanos del colectivo LGBTTTQI+, argumentó que es indispensable eliminar cualquier trato discriminatorio por condición de salud.

Según el activista, en Tlaxcala persisten casos de discriminación y estigmatización por condición de salud, especialmente en entornos escolares, laborales y gubernamentales, principalmente en el sector salud.

Escobar Muñoz señaló que las personas con VIH enfrentan situaciones de criminalización basadas en su estatus serológico, pero muchas veces optan por no denunciar por miedo al estigma y la revictimización.

Enfatizó que en Tlaxcala se necesita más trabajo en concientización, sensibilización y educación, aunque la iniciativa de despenalización representa un paso importante para garantizar entornos seguros y libres de discriminación.

Este día, se presentó en el pleno del Congreso Local la iniciativa con proyecto de decreto por el cual se propone derogar la denominación del Capítulo I del Título Décimo Primero con su respectivo artículo 302; la fracción V del artículo 434, ambos del Código Penal para el Estado Libre y Soberano de Tlaxcala.

En esta iniciativa, se busca reconocer la necesidad de promover políticas públicas que fomenten la prevención, la educación y el apoyo a las personas que viven con VIH, contribuyendo así a la lucha contra la estigmatización y la discriminación, además de destacar la necesidad de actualizar la legislación en Tlaxcala.

HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day goes global!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya: People living with HIV will continue to lobby for change after disappointing High Court decision

“HIV is not a crime!” – People living with HIV disappointed by High Court judgment in HIV criminalisation case

31 March 2023 – Nairobi, Kenya
Communities of people living with and affected by HIV are disappointed with the Nairobi High Court’s decision dismissing Petition 447 of 2018.

This is a Petition was filed in December 2018, that asked that the Court declare section 26 of the Sexual Offences Act 3 of 2006 to be unconstitutional, void and invalid, and therefore struck from the law. This law criminalises deliberate transmission and or exposure of life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The manner in which it has been interpreted has caused harm to persons living with HIV.

On 20 December 2022, Justice Ong’udi in the Nairobi High Court dismissed the
Petition, upholding the law’s constitutionality.

“We are disappointed with the judgment. Evidence from across the world shows us that criminalisation does not prevent HIV transmission. It makes effective HIV testing, treatment and disclosure harder and it increases stigma and discrimination”, said Carlin Kizito.

The communities were particularly concerned that the law leaves women living with HIV vulnerable to unjust prosecution. “Women are usually the first to find out about their
HIV status when they test during pregnancy. Because of this, the law makes them vulnerable to prosecution because they will be assumed to be the one who brought HIV into the relationship even when this is not the case,
” said Jerop Limo, Executive Director of Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health Program (AYARHEP)

Maurine Murenga of Lean on Me Foundation said that the State does not have the means to prove scientifically that one person necessarily transmitted HIV to another.
She said further, “Laws like this also spread misinformation about HIV. We’ve seen a number of women living with HIV being prosecuted for breastfeeding, yet breastfeeding guidelines state that breastfeeding is safe for women on HIV treatment. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends it.” Maurine further added that “HIV is not a crime or a death sentence. With effective treatment, you can live a long and healthy life. Effective treatment also makes HIV undetectable and therefore untransmissible. Testing, treatment and support should be our focus, not punishment,”

Bozzi Ongala of the Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health Program (AYARHEP) spoke on the need for using science to improve laws on HIV, “We urge that there be a progressive updates in the law in response to Scientific advancements on HIV research.”

“We, the networks of people living with HIV are encouraged that the Petitioners intend to appeal the judgment. We shall continue to lobby the government to change the law. On behalf of people living with HIV, we look forward to positive justice.” said Patricia Asero of ICW Kenya.

  1. Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health Program (AYARHEP)
  2. ICW Kenya
  4. Operation Hope Community Based Organization
  5. Network of People Living with HIV (NEPHAK)
  6. Lean on Me
  8. YPLUS Kenya

Celebrating love and advocacy this Valentine’s Day

February is not only the month of love, it is also the anniversary of the establishment of the HIV Justice Network through our founding document, the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation.

It’s only appropriate, then, to celebrate both love and advocacy this Valentine’s Day.

Given the difficulty that some people living with HIV can face when it comes to finding love, including negotiating disclosure, as well as sex for pleasure, work, and/or creating a family in the context of HIV criminalisation, it is important to acknowledge that everyone is deserving of love and affirmation.

Love is also about respect for our autonomy, and so this Valentine’s Day we also need to stand up against public health officials taking and sharing data by using our blood without consent.

This year the HIV Justice Network is supporting two Valentine’s Day campaigns for and about people living with HIV, led by women living with HIV.

#LovePositiveWomen Campaign

The Love Positive Women campaign, developed and led by women living with HIV, is a global initiative running every Feb Feb 1st-14th for each of us to express and share our love and support for all women living with HIV.

The campaign uses social media to link local grassroots gestures of love to each other. Using Valentine’s Day as a backdrop, Love Positive Women “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.

Follow the conversation using #LovePositiveWomen on social media.

#EndMHS Campaign

This Valentine’s Day, Positive Women’s Network-USA is spearheading a US-focused campaign tweeting at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with messages full of tough love and snark about ending molecular HIV surveillance (MHS).

Molecular HIV surveillance and cluster detection and response (MHS-CDR) is one of four pillars of the US Ending the Epidemic Initiative. PWN-USA and many other organisations working on the rights of people living with HIV, including the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition, have serious concerns about using personal medical information – including our blood – for surveillance purposes without meaningfully involving people living with HIV, without informed consent, and often even without our knowledge.

HIV surveillance and HIV criminalisation collide to put the human rights of people living with HIV at risk and can be especially dangerous for Black and Brown people, migrants, sex workers, transgender women, and other communities that are hyper-policed and over-surveilled.

Recently, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) unanimously passed an historic resolution that responds to these concerns, and urges the CDC to change their guidance on MHS-CDR activities.

Tell the CDC that they must implement the PACHA resolution by using the social media toolkit and the hashtags #ILoveConsent #MyBodyMyData #CommunitiesNotClusters #EndMHS


Watch HIV Justice Live! which explores the history behind, and impact of our founding document, the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation. Hosted by HJN’s founder and Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, the show, From Moment to Movement, featured some of the advocates who were behind the Oslo Declaration: Kim Fangen, Patrick Eba, Michaela Clayton, Ralf Jürgens and Susan Timberlake.




Mexico: LGBTQ+ community calling for the repeal of HIV criminalisation statute in Quintana Roo Public Health Law

LGBTQ+ community calls for changes to Quintana Roo Health Law

Translated via Please scroll down for original article in Spanish.

The LGBTQ+ community is calling for the repeal of the criminalisation of HIV transmission in the Quintana Roo Health Law.

The LGBTQ+ community, in a working meeting with local Congresswoman Estefanía Mercado Asencio, requested the repeal of Article 113 of the Quintana Roo Health Law, which criminalises the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, specifically HIV.

The repeal of this article, found in Title Eight, Chapter II, Communicable Diseases, has been requested for several Legislatures, but has been ignored, said Omar Ortiz, the President of the Civil Association “Información y Educación Sexual”.

At the meeting, which was attended by people representing sexually diverse populations, people involved in the HIV response and mothers of various sexually diverse populations, a request was made to encourage municipalities to have a Sexual Diversity Unit, as in Solidaridad, which is the only municipality with such a unit, and for the State Government to have a Secretariat for Sexual Diversity.

“We were attending to the pending legislative agenda, with respect to what is already advanced and what is pending in the matter, at the local level; we talked about article 113 of the Health Law, which criminalises the issue of HIV, as well as the fact that Solidaridad is the only municipality that has a Unit for the Attention to Sexual Diversity, and she, as a deputy, has the possibility of presenting an initiative so that all municipalities have this position,” he pointed out.

“The article criminalises the fact of transmission, when it is an issue that cannot be scientifically proven; I cannot prove that you have transmitted HIV to me because there is no scientific or laboratory mechanism that allows us to know that it was you and not another partner or my sexual contacts, nor at what moment it happened. There is no way to apply that article, it is basically up to interpretation and that cannot be in the law.

Another issue they asked the Congresswoman to address is the creation of the Unit for Comprehensive Care of Sexually Diverse Populations and Children and Adolescents who require specialised endocrinology care, which responds to the needs of social minorities, such as the transgender population, in order to carry out their transition process under medical supervision, without endangering their lives and health.

Exige comunidad LGBTQ+ cambios a Ley de Salud de Quintana Roo

La comunidad LGBTQ+ pide derogar la criminalización del hecho de la transmisión del VIH en la Ley de Salud de Quintana Roo.

La comunidad LGBTQ+, en reunión de trabajo con la Diputada local, Estefanía Mercado Asencio, solicitó derogar el artículo 113 de la Ley de Salud de Quintana Roo ya que, criminaliza el hecho de la transmisión de enfermedades venéreas, en específico del VIH.

El citado artículo, ubicado en el Título Octavo, Capítulo II, Enfermedades Transmisibles, se ha pedido su derogación desde hace varias Legislaturas, pero ha sido ignorado, apuntó el Presidente de la Asociación Civil “Información y Educación Sexual”, Omar Ortiz.

En el encuentro donde participaron personas de la diversidad sexual, de respuesta del VIH y madres de poblaciones de la diversidad, se solicitó la promoción de una iniciativa para que los Ayuntamientos tengan una Unidad de la Diversidad Sexual, como en Solidaridad, que es el único con esta instancia, y que el Gobierno del Estado tenga una Secretaría de la Diversidad Sexual.

“Estuvimos atendiendo la agenda Legislativa pendiente, respecto a lo ya avanzado y lo pendiente que tenemos en la materia, en el terreno local; hablamos del artículo 113 de la Ley de Salud, que criminaliza el tema del VIH, así como que Solidaridad es el único Ayuntamiento que tiene una Unidad para la Atención a la Diversidad Sexual, y ella, como diputada, tiene la posibilidad de presentar una iniciativa para que todos los municipios cuenten con esta figura”, señaló.

“El artículo criminaliza el hecho de la transmisión, cuando es un tema que científicamente no se puede probar; yo no puedo probar que tú me hayas transmitido el VIH porque no existe un mecanismo científico, de laboratorio, que permita saber que fuiste tú y no otra pareja o mis contactos sexuales, ni en qué momento se dio. No hay manera de aplicar ese artículo, está básicamente a interpretación y eso no puede ser en la ley”.

Otro tema que pidieron a la Congresista es la creación de la Unidad de Atención Integral a Poblaciones de la Diversidad Sexual y Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes que requieran atención especializada en endocrinología, que responda a la necesidad de las minorías sociales, como la población trans, a fin de realizar su proceso de transición bajo vigilancia médica, sin poner en peligro su vida y salud.

US: Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) issues resolution on Molecular HIV Surveillance and Cluster Detection

PACHA Unanimously Approves Resolution to Create Safeguards for People Living with HIV


Directs CDC to Adapt Surveillance Activities to Better Protect Human Rights for Vulnerable Communities

October 18, 2022PWN commends and applauds the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) for their leadership in unanimously passing an historic resolution that is critical to protecting the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV, the Resolution on Molecular HIV Surveillance and Cluster Detection Response.

This resolution responds to concerns raised by public health officials and community advocates, especially networks of people living with HIV and human rights and data privacy experts, and urges the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change their guidance on cluster detection and response (CDR) activities. Specifically, the resolution clearly and forcefully recommends that the CDC direct jurisdictions funded for such activities adapt their implementation of CDR to account for local conditions, including health data privacy protections and laws criminalizing people living with HIV.

“Basically, PACHA told the CDC that local context matters: if jurisdictions do not have adequate safeguards to protect the human rights and privacy of people living with HIV, the CDC must allow for a moratorium on CDR activities,” said Kelly Flannery, policy director at Positive Women’s Network-USA. “There is still room to create more robust protections for people living with HIV, such as informed consent standards. Going forward, we must ensure that there are no further developments and integration of new public health surveillance technologies impacting people living with HIV absent community input, oversight, and specifically involvement from networks of PLHIV.”

In the resolution, PACHA also urged CDC to work in partnership with networks of people living with HIV to create a stronger system of informed consent around the use of molecular HIV surveillance data. U.S.-based networks of PLHIV have been sounding the alarm about molecular HIV surveillance (MHS) since 2018, when the federal government first required that states and jurisdictions scale up the use of molecular surveillance technologies and activities as a condition of HIV prevention funding. By 2019, MHS was named one of the core pillars of the federal “End the HIV Epidemic” (EHE) Plan.

“As a result of massive mobilization and outcry by networks of people living with HIV and our allies, yesterday, we finally saw a response addressing community concerns,” said Venita Ray, co-executive director of Positive Women’s Network-USA. “Now it’s time for the CDC to take swift action to implement the recommendations from PACHA and networks of PLHIV.”

This resolution is a tremendous step forward for communities that are dually most impacted by HIV and by surveillance and policing – especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color, migrants, queer and transgender people, people who use drugs, those who work in in the sex trade, and those with the least access to quality, affordable healthcare. We are deeply appreciative to PACHA leadership and to the PACHA Stigma and Disparities Subcommittee for their tremendous efforts in response to concerns from networks of people living with HIV.

Now that it has now been unanimously approved by PACHA, what happens next will speak to the character and integrity of the CDC. Failing to implement these recommendations would represent an egregious breach of public trust. We will be closely monitoring the adoption of these important recommendations throughout the federal response.

The full PACHA resolution is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zimbabwe becomes the second country in Africa to fully repeal its HIV-specific criminal law

Last week, Zimbabwe’s parliament finally agreed to repeal the country’s HIV-specific criminal law, section 79 of the Criminal Code.  The law which contained the provision to repeal section 79 – the Marriages Act – was originally gazetted in July 2019.  It will now be signed into law by the president.

The significance of this cannot be underestimated. Zimbabwe becomes only the second country on the African continent to fully repeal its HIV-specific criminal law after the Democratic Republic of Congo repealed its law in 2018.

Although there have been remarkable advocacy successes elsewhere on the continent in preventing an HIV-specific criminal law being enacted in Malawi in 2017 and the suspension of one of Kenya’s two HIV-specific criminal laws on the grounds of unconstitutionality in 2015, it is rare for a sitting parliament to decide to completely repeal an HIV-specific criminal law.

That it did so is testament to a multi-year, multi-stakeholder campaign that began with civil society advocates sensitising communities and parliamentarians, notably the Honorable Dr Ruth Labode, Chairperson of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, who began pushing for a change in the law in 2018 having previously been in favour of the provision in order to protect her female constituents.

However, after attending a number of meetings, notably a November 2018 Symposium convened by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, ARASA and SALC, along with other civil society organisations, she began to appreciate that HIV criminalisation does not, in fact protect women, but actually harms them.

We all know very well that in Zimbabwe and the world-over, we do not have diagnostic equipment which can tell us who gave HIV to the other and at what time. There is an assumption that whoever has manifested the disease first is the one who transmitted the virus. It can be anybody and it could be the other way round. If you are a woman and suddenly you find yourself positive, you will not tell your partner because of this law yet if the law was not there you would tell your partner and go and access ARVs to live happily ever after.
Hon Dr Ruth Labode, 2018


Zimbabwe was, in fact, the first African country to enact an HIV-specific criminal law, including it in the Sexual Offences Act of 2001. The law, which was supported by women’s rights groups who sought to address violence against women, made a criminal of anyone diagnosed HIV-positive who “intentionally does anything or permits the doing of anything” which (s)he “knows … will infect another person with HIV”.

The law was further amended in 2006 through the enactment of section 79 of the Zimbabwe Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, 2004. The new law, erroneously titled “Deliberate transmission of HIV”, did not require HIV transmission or for an accused to have an intention to transmit HIV: only that they undertake an act that includes “a real risk or possibility” of transmitting HIV. Further, section 79 was so broad it could be applied to anyone who knows they have HIV or who realises “there is a real risk or possibility” they might have HIV. The only defence was if the HIV-negative partner knew their partner had HIV and consented.

There were many attempts before the first reported prosecution in 2008.  Since then, there have been at least 18 further HIV criminalisation cases, making Zimbabwe the country with the highest known rate of HIV prosecutions in Africa.

As prosecutions continued, it became apparent that Zimbabwe’s HIV-specific criminal law did not protect women. Numerous cases accused women, including where it was likely that the accused was infected by her accuser spouse (although she was diagnosed first) and where men have made allegations as revenge for complaints about domestic violence.

The disproportionate impact of the law on women was highlighted in a 2015 campaign, ‘HIV on Trial – a threat to women’s health’ by Zimbabwe Lawyer’s For Human Rights (ZLHR) at the same time that they – ultimately unsuccessfully – challenged the law at the Constitutional Court. The campaign highlighted the case of Samukelisiwe Mlilo, who features in a powerful 15 minute documentary, ‘Alone But Together – Women and Criminalisation of HIV Transmission: The story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo’.

The focus then turned to repealing the law, and by 2019 the campaign to repeal the law was in full swing, supported by a wide range of stakeholders – including HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE, the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV (ZNPP+) and UNDP.  

That year, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE published a range of policy documents aimed at different stakeholders – including people living with HIV, the media and parliamentarians – highlighting six key messages:

  1. Section 79 is vague, overly broad and open to unjust application.
  2. HIV criminalisation violates human rights and increases HIV stigma.
  3. HIV criminalisation laws are unscientific.
  4. HIV criminalisation does not prevent HIV.
  5. HIV criminalisation is a barrier to HIV testing, treatment and prevention.
  6. HIV criminalisation is harmful to women.

Now that Zimbabwe has repealed its law, it’s surely only a matter of time before the other 30 countries on the African continent with HIV-specific laws follow suit.  Advocates in Kenya – where the other HIV-specific criminal law is being challenged – and in Uganda – where the HIV-specific law is also being challenged – will be especially encouraged, as should all of us fighting for HIV justice around the world.