This year’s 12th annual celebration is a day to also raise awareness around the stigma and discrimination that trans people still face, especially young transgender people, trans people living with HIV, trans people who are currently transitioning and are therefore more likely to be identified as transgender, and transgender sex workers.
We also acknowledge there are too many invisibilities around the impact of HIV criminalisation on trans persons. Cecilia Chung, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Evaluation of the Transgender Law Center, who is also a member of our Global Advisory Panel told our Beyond Blame @HIV2020 webinar that there is not enough data on the impact of HIV criminalisation laws on transgender persons. She said such data are not “uniformly collected across the world… The numbers still remain invisible even though we know for sure there are [HIV criminalisation] cases.”
Although this day primarily serves to celebrate and honour trans-diverse persons, it also offers allies an opportunity to contribute to supportive legislation, policy and financial commitment of trans-diverse communities globally.
HJN also celebrates trans-diverse people globally and we honour their courage and visibility to live openly and authentically. We also call for more visibility for trans people in data collection, including our own, as well as reforms of HIV-related criminal laws and their enforcement that disproportionately target trans-diverse people.
WATCH! From Moment to Movement: HIV Justice Live! Ep 3 – Oslo Declaration 9th Anniversary
From Moment to Movement: HIV Justice Live! celebrates the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation
The 3rd episode of HIV Justice Live! aired on Wednesday, February 17, to celebrate nine years since the publication of the historic Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation. Hosted by HIV Justice Network’s Edwin J Bernard, the show featured some of the advocates who were behind the Oslo Declaration.
Kim Fangen, co-organiser of the side-meeting that finalised the Oslo Declaration, and who was the only person openly living with HIV on the Norwegian Law Commission, revealed that the Declaration was initially conceived as an advocacy tool to influence policy discussions in Norway as well as neighbouring Nordic countries.
Patrick Eba, now UNAIDS Country Director in the Central African Republic, explained that the reason the meeting took place in Oslo was because the Norwegian Government had supported UNAIDS to produce detailed guidance on how countries should deal with the overly broad use of the criminal law to HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, by examining scientific, medical and legal issues.
Former ARASA ED, Michaela Clayton, now a member of HJN’s Supervisory Board, said the Oslo Declaration was the first time there was a coming together of activists from both the global north and south around HIV criminalisation. She noted that although there had been some work done regionally and in-country, this was the first global solidarity statement around HIV criminalisation.
Ralf Jürgens, now Senior Coordinator of Human Rights at The Global Fund, who attended the Oslo meeting in an advisory capacity, spoke about his relief and delight that the work that he and others had done as part of the ‘first-wave’ of advocacy against HIV criminalisation was now being undertaken by the HIV Justice Network. Jürgens currently oversees the innovative Global Fund initiative, Breaking Down Barriers, which supports 20 countries to remove human rights-related barriers to health services for HIV, TB malaria, and COVID-19. He said the Global Fund has invested resources to fight laws and policies and discrimination overall and ensure access to justice. He added that the HIV Justice Worldwide movement now plays an “incredibly important” part in this work by providing global leadership and a wide range of advocacy resources.
There was a surprise appearance by Susan Timberlake, who was UNAIDS’ Senior Human Rights Advisor when the Oslo meetings took place. She recognised the Oslo Declaration as the moment that the global movement around HIV criminalisation began. Susan recalled the main meeting fell on Valentine’s Day and participants made posters with “make love, not criminal laws” messaging.
Our regular Mind the Gap segment featured Ellie Ballan, a member of our Global Advisory Panel, who is based in Lebanon. He was interviewed by Julian Hows, HJN’s Partnerships and Governance Co-ordinator.
Further, the Oslo Declaration has been referred to as key guidance on HIV criminalisation from global organisations such as UNAIDS, Amnesty International, and PEPFAR/USAID, cited in several peer-reviewed journals and used as a strategic planning and advocacy tool all over the world. The Declaration has also been featured in high-profile media, such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and POZ magazine.
HIV Justice Live Ep 3: Celebrating 9th Anniversary of the Oslo Declaration
To celebrate the 9th anniversary of the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation, the HIV Justice Network’s web show for advocates and activists, HIV Justice Live!, will this week feature some of the civil society activists who were behind the influential global call for a cohesive, evidence-informed approach to the use of criminal law relating to HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission.
On February 13, 2012, a group of individuals from civil society around the world, concerned about the inappropriate and overly broad use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV for behaviour that in any other circumstance would be considered lawful, came together in Oslo to create the Declaration.
The meeting took place on the eve of the global High-Level Policy Consultation on the Science and Law of the Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission, convened by the Government of Norway and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The Oslo Declaration, published on the brand new hivjustice.net website on February 22, 2012, became the founding document of the HIV Justice Network. Within weeks, more than 1700 supporters from more than 115 countries had signed up to the Declaration, creating a network of diverse activists, all fighting for #HIVJustice.
Now, nine years later, HIV Justice Live!will meet some of the advocates behind this historic statement including former ARASA Executive Director, Michaela Clayton, now a member of HJN’s Supervisory Board; former Senior Human Rights and Law Adviser at UNAIDS in Geneva, Patrick Eba, now UNAIDS Country Director in the Central African Republic; HIV activist Kim Fangen, a former member of the Norwegian Law Commission and co-organiser of the Oslo Declaration meeting; and Ralf Jürgens, co-founder of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, now Senior Coordinator of Human Rights at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
HJN’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, who co-organised the meeting that created the Oslo Declaration with Kim Fangen will be discussing the importance of the Declaration as well as taking stock of developments around HIV criminalisation globally over the past decade.
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!”
New date for Beyond Blame: Challenging Criminalisation for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE @ HIV2020 Online
Last September, the nine organisations comprising the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee announced that we had unanimously agreed to support HIV2020, and that Beyond Blame, our flagship meeting for activists, advocates, judges, lawyers, scientists, healthcare professionals and researchers working to end HIV criminalisation, would be integrated into the HIV2020 programme.
This year, the online version of Beyond Blame is a unique opportunity for both new and long-established activists to learn why HIV criminalisation matters, as well as hear about the wide range of initiatives and strategies that have been used by activists around the world to end the inappropriate use of criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV.
Michaela Clayton (GAP) and Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff (GAP)
The impact of HIV criminalisation on women and people who use drugs in EECA
Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Volgina (GNP+) and Svitlana ‘Sveta’ Moroz (Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS / ICW)
Building networks to challenge criminalisation in Mexico and across Francophone Africa
Gonzalo Aburto (Sero) and Cécile Kazatchkine (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network)
HIV criminalisation and key populations: who gets prosecuted, where, and why?
Cecilia Chung (Transgender Law Center / GAP), Jules Kim (Scarlet Alliance / GAP) and Elie Ballan (M-Coalition / GAP)
Bringing science to justice, and justice to science
Sally Cameron (HJN) and Alexander McClelland (GAP)
Naina Khanna (PWN-USA) with Paul Kidd (HJN Supervisory Board)
Edwin Cameron (former South African Constitutional Court Justice / GAP)
All virtual sessions offered as part of the HIV2020 Online series will be entirely FREE and made available later as recordings online. The webinar will be in English, but HIV2020 will provide simultaneous translation in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Russian.
In Amsterdam, more than 150 attendees from 33 countries attended the one-day meeting. Participation was extended to a global audience through livestreaming of the meeting on the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE YouTube Channel.
The nine organisations comprising the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee have today (September 18, 2019) announced that they have unanimously agreed to support HIV2020, the international meeting that will take place in Mexico City between July 5-7, 2020.
HIV2020, which is being led by people living with HIV (PLHIV) and other key populations, will be an alternative meeting for individuals who are unable to enter the United States or unwilling to attend the International AIDS Society’s conference in San Francisco next year.
HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE is a coalition of global, regional and national PLHIV networks and human rights defenders that campaigns to end HIV-related criminalisation.
Last week, two HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee members, the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), issued a joint endorsement for this community-led event.
“We know that it was not an easy decision for GNP+ and ICW, the only two global networks of people with HIV, to lend their support to an alternative conference rather than the San Francisco conference,” said Edwin J Bernard, Global Co-ordinator of the HIV Justice Network which serves as the secretariat for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.
“GNP+ and ICW have partnered with the International AIDS Society (IAS) for years to ensure that the voices of those most affected by policies and research are at the tables where decisions are made. However, it has become increasingly clear that not only does the IAS not view key population groups as equal partners, but also that entering the United States at this time poses grave danger to our communities.
“As a global coalition working to end HIV-related criminalisation, we are choosing not to place our communities, who are at particular risk for surveillance, policing, and violence, in harm’s way. As a consequence, Beyond Blame, our biennial pre-conference usually held prior to IAS international conferences will not take place in San Francisco, but instead will be incorporated into the HIV2020 programme in Mexico City.”
Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation is HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE’s flagship meeting for activists, advocates, judges, lawyers, scientists, healthcare professionals and researchers working to end HIV criminalisation. Previous meetings were held in Melbourne (2014), Durban (2016), and Amsterdam (2018).
In Amsterdam, more than 150 attendees from 33 countries attended the one-day meeting. Participation was extended to a global audience through livestreaming of the meeting on the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE YouTube Channel.
Registration for HIV2020 in Mexico City will start on September 23, 2019. Please visit www.hiv2020.org for more information.
We are proud to be joining with others who have issued HIV2020 solidaridy statements in recent days:
HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE aims to abolish criminal and similar laws, policies and practices that regulate, control and punish people living with HIV based on their HIV positive status. We are working to shape the discourse on HIV criminalisation and to share information and resources, network, build capacity, mobilise advocacy, and cultivate a community of transparency and collaboration. This work is based on an understanding that:
HIV criminalisation is discriminatory, a violation of human rights, undermines public health, and is detrimental to individual health and well-being;
HIV criminalisation is part of a larger problem of scapegoating, targeting, harassing and policing of vulnerable and marginalised communities;
efforts to end HIV criminalisation should be led by those most affected, including people living with HIV and organisations, networks, and institutions led by people living with HIV and/or those most impacted by these laws and prosecutions;
the knowledge and perspectives of those most impacted by an issue should be central to the decision-making processes; and
regional differences matter, and we respect local knowledge and local leadership.
The HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee currently comprises:
In June 2017, HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE invited organisations from around the world who share our values and principles to join the movement. Today, more than 100 organisations have joined the vibrant global community of advocates fighting to abolish HIV-related criminalisation.
On 18 October, 2019 in the premises of IA “Glavkom” UHHRU conducted the press-conference on the topic: “Why Ukraine must decriminalize HIV-status”. The main topics of the presentations included: raising awareness on actual HIV statistics in Ukraine, issues of overcoming stigma in relation to people living with HIV (PL HIV), and position of the lawyers regarding legal criminalization of HIV status (article 130 CC of Ukraine).
Oleksandr Pavlichenko, UHHRU Executive Director: “Despite the fact that recently we achieved significant success in treating HIV in Ukraine, obsolete legislative provisions are still in force – article 130 of the CC. This article treats all Ukrainian citizens with HIV+ status as potential criminals, envisages punishment of up to 3 years of imprisonment and gave base for dozens of court decisions each year. From the legal point of view of the European Convention on Human Rights the formulation incorporated in this article is vague, it cannot be considered as a law, and needs to be amended”.
Olena Stryzhak, Chairman of the Board of CO “Positive Women”: “Our organization for 5 years already advocates the amendments to the legislation and 3 years ago we submitted the package of amendments in which we insisted on decriminalization of HIV-status. All years of our work, both as service organization and as organization protecting human rights, prove that HIV stigma and criminalization lead to the situation where people are afraid of disclosing the status, which further hinders effective treatment and socialization of PL HIV”.
Valeriya Rachynska, Director of the Department for Work with the Regions, “All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS”: “First of all, I would like to mention that in addition to legislative problems there is one more problem – general indifference of mass media to highlighting the situation with HIV/AIDS. If that was not the case everybody would know that in July 2018 there was an official WHO Statement stressing that people having HIV status, who undergo antiretroviral therapy and have minimal viral load have practically no chances for HIV sexual transmission. The risk is equal to zero. In Ukraine, 92% of PL HIV, which take ART, have minimal viral load. It is the obsolete legislative provision that additionally stigmatize them and assaults their dignity. We must finally stop the witch-hunting and decriminalize HIV-status”.
Svitlana Moroz, Chairman of the Board of Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS: “Our organization pays special attention to the problem of HIV-status criminalization. We are monitoring 12 countries in the region and have information of absolutely outrageous cases related to PL HIV criminalization. For example, when raped women is afraid to apply to court against the rapist, because she has positive status. Current legislation not only makes criminals out of HIV+ people, it shifts the blame for getting infected exclusively on PL HIV and creates wrong perception of the citizens’ protection. Following this logic, the state shall prohibit discordant couples and HIV+ women giving birth. Besides, Ukrainian criminal legislation contradicts the Law on AIDS where a lot is said about counteracting PL HIV stigmatization. Article 130 of the CC of Ukraine fosters stigma, hinders access to treatment, and in general does not takes into account scientific achievements in fighting HIV/AIDS during the recent 20 years”.
Justification of the legal position of CO “Positive Women” regarding immediate HIV status decriminalization can be found at the link.
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union implements the project the project “Development of the legal network for protection of the people living with HIV/AIDS, representatives of key PLHIV communities and persons ill with TB” with the financial support of the Charitable organization “All-Ukrainian Network of the People Living with HIV/AIDS” in the framework of implementation of the project “Releasing the Burden of TB and HIV infection through creation of the open access to timely and quality diagnostics and treatment of the TB and its resistant forms, expanding evidence based prevention, diagnostic and treatment of HIV infection, and creation of stable and sustainable health protection systems”, which is implemented with the financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
Canada: Alexander McClelland reports on the 8th Symposium on HIV, Law and Human Rights
Working to end the criminalization of HIV in Canada
On June 14, I travelled to Toronto to meet with leading activists, researchers and experts working to end the criminalization of HIV in Canada for the 8th Symposium on HIV, Law and Human Rights. Organized by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the annual forum for the past few years has focused solely on advocacy to end Canada’s position as a global leader in the criminalization of people living with HIV for alleged non-disclosure, exposure and transmission.
At a time when HIV has lost traction on both the political and public radar, years of dedicated advocacy to reform HIV criminalization have commanded political will to address change on this issue. This year, I felt the impact of our advocacy and the increased political will in the presence of Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General the Hon. David Lametti and in the remarks that he made. Mr. Lametti opened the day with a promise to continue the process, initiated by his predecessor Jody Wilson-Raybould in 2016, to reform the “over-criminalization” of HIV. He acknowledged that the recent federal directive (which is only applicable to the territories) was not enough, further committing to engage with provinces to motivate similar directives in the provinces to address ongoing criminalization.
During the Q and A, he was pressed on the Ontario government’s recent cuts to legal aid, which will have a devastating impact on people’s right to access justice, including people living with HIV who are criminalized. Lametti promised to work to support legal aid services and also told the media afterwards that, if re-elected, he would continue reform efforts, even making HIV criminalization an election issue.
The real-life impact of criminalizing HIV non-disclosure
Following Mr. Lametti came the panel on the lived experiences of people who have been criminalized. Here, I presented outcomes from my doctoral research, where I interviewed people across Canada who had been charged or prosecuted with aggravated sexual assault due to alleged HIV non-disclosure. Many of these individuals are now registered as sex offenders. Research was also presented from the Women, ART and the Criminalization of HIV (WATCH HIV) study, revealing how women with HIV live in fear, under constant surveillance due to HIV criminalization.
During this panel session of lived experiences came the most powerful moment of the day: Michelle W., a member of the Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization and survivor of HIV criminalization, spoke of her experiences as an Indigenous woman, surviving years of sexual abuse at the hands of men, and of her life as a former sex worker and drug user in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. She is now a registered sex offender, having served an over two-year sentence on charges of aggravated sexual assault for alleged HIV non-disclosure. The charge came about after she fled her abusive ex-boyfriend, who then went to the police out of revenge. Michelle brought the room to tears, garnering a standing ovation. Her experiences outline the vital importance of centring our advocacy efforts on lived experiences, and the need for an intersectional analysis of the issue of HIV criminalization to hold the legal system accountable for the devastating impact it has had on women, particularly Indigenous women.
Canada “one of the worst in the world”
A particularly eye-opening moment during the day was when Edwin Bernard, global coordinator for the HIV Justice Network, presented an overview of the global environment of HIV criminalization. He mentioned his own fears of the distinctively harsh context in this country, noting that as someone living with HIV, he feels scared when visiting from the United Kingdom that he could become subject of our harsh laws. He further stated, “Canada’s criminalization context for people living with HIV remains one of the worst in the world.” But he also said that activism here is mobilizing for change in inspiring and pioneering ways.
To address next steps for changing our global distinction and the ongoing harms of the criminal law, further sessions focused on how to achieve legislative reform, as well as the consequences of changing the current legal approach. This included discussions of removing the laws of sexual assault from being applied to cases of HIV non-disclosure, meaning that the sex offender registry would no longer be a mandatory outcome of prosecutions.
Next steps and potential pitfalls
Discussions also focused on the double-edged sword of mobilizing science for legal reform. Science has so far helped to inform reform efforts, such as the recommendation that criminal laws no longer be applied to people who have an undetectable viral load. However, this has the potential to turn viral suppression into a dividing line for criminalization, opening the door to further marginalize and criminalize people without (or with limited) access to medication coverage, such as migrants and homeless people.
A further complication with reform efforts is that a shift away from criminal laws may mean a greater reliance on public health authorities, who are also known to apply coercive and stigmatizing practices. This might mean intensified forms of surveillance of people living with HIV, such as mandatory viral load reporting, and the increased use of public health legislation to mandate treatment.
The week after we met, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released their report on the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. The report included a major positive recommendation, to remove HIV non-disclosure from the laws of sexual assault ̶ This development was many years in the making. However, the report also asks for a new law to be developed, one that would apply to all communicable diseases. There’s still more work to do.
Strategizing collectively has been a success of the movement to reform HIV criminalization in Canada, one of the inspiring things about Canada’s response that Bernard noted in this presentation. In the end, this symposium helped to continue to strengthen and galvanize our work to change Canada’s heinous distinction as a global leader in criminalizing our community.