Watch all the videos of Beyond Blame @HIV2020 – our “perfectly executed…deftly curated, deeply informative” webshow

Earlier this month, advocates from all over the world came together for two hours to discuss the successes and challenges of the global movement to end HIV criminalisation.

All of the recordings of Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE are now available on the HIV Justice Network’s YouTube Channel.

“HUGE pleasure 2B at #BeyondBlame2020 conference – deftly curated, deeply informative; speakers were great; the passion & commitment to #HIVjustice was palpable. Much progress yet a sober reminder that the work is far from over.”

Kene Esom, Policy Specialist: Human Rights, Law and Gender, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


The full-length director’s cut version – with enhanced audio and video – is now available in English as well as with the audio track of the recorded simultaneous translation in French, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.

The English version is also available as a YouTube playlist in ‘bite-size’ chunks, with each segment of the webshow available as standalone videos.  This means, for example, if you just want to watch (or share) the segment on ‘women challenging HIV criminalisation in Africa‘, or on ‘bringing science to justice, and justice to science‘, it’s now possible.

“That webinar was perfectly executed. Great sound, engaging transitions (they actually played people on and off!), and multiple speakers in various collections. Having ALL OF THEM back at the end showed the breadth of this technical accomplishment and the depth of the speakers’ field of expertise. Not everyone may notice these things but boy, I sure do, and it was totally pro. I’ve seen big name conferences who couldn’t get this right… Congratulations all around, and especially to [director] Nicholas Feustel.

Mark S King, My Fabulous Disease


We have also made available for the first time the standalone recording of Edwin Cameron’s closing speech, which inspired so many.  The transcript is included in full below.

“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

New date – Wednesday 8 July 2020

Registration for Beyond Blame at HIV2020 Online now open

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.

Now that the HIV2020 conference has been reimagined as a series of virtual convenings that will take place between July and October, we are delighted to announce that Beyond Blame: Challenging Criminalisation for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE has been selected by the HIV2020 programme committee to take place on Wednesday 8 July 2020, from 3pm-5pm Central European Time.  See the time in your time zone here.

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.

The first part of this interactive web show will be hosted by HJN’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, and features interviews with various members of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee, as well as members of the HIV Justice Network’s Global Advisory Panel (GAP).

The second part of the session is an interactive Q&A, hosted by PWN-USA’s Naina Khanna. Throughout the session attendees will be further engaged with polls, video clips, and a surprise guest.

By the end of the session, attendees will be equipped with a greater understanding of the importance of HIV criminalisation, knowledge of strategies used for advocacy, and a set of follow-up actions.

Register now at HIV2020 Online

Programme (subject to change)

Welcome to Beyond Blame 2020

Edwin J Bernard (HJN)

“Nothing about us without us”

Sean Strub (Sero)

Women challenging HIV criminalisation in Africa

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)

Interactive Q&A

Naina Khanna (PWN-USA) with Paul Kidd (HJN Supervisory Board)

Closing message

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.

Previous Beyond Blame 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.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE fully supports HIV2020; no Beyond Blame at AIDS 2020

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 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.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE is supported by a grant from the Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks

RCF new logo colour adjusted

Ukraine: The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union raises awareness on the need to decriminalise HIV-status

Valeria Rachynska: “We must finally stop the witch-hunting and decriminalize HIV-status”

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.

Author: Alexander McClelland

US: Closing session of CDC's national HIV Prevention conference highlights stigma and HIV-specific criminalisation laws as barriers to improving outcomes in prevention and care

HIV Stigma in Focus at Closing Session of CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference

HIV-related stigma and its impact on HIV-related health disparities were the topic of the final plenary session at CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference. The March 21 session examined social and cultural factors that have contributed to stigma as well as efforts to combat the effects of HIV-related stigma on specific populations. Moderator Johanne Morne, director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, reminded the conference participants that stigma is an historic and continuing theme that must be addressed to improve outcomes along both the HIV prevention and care continuums.

HIV Stigma and What Can Be Done to Combat It

Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, delivered the keynote address, “Progress: Same or Different? HIV Stigma at 37.” He noted that while many of the most extreme forms of stigma from the early days of the HIV epidemic have dissipated over time, inaccurate beliefs about the HIV risk of casual social contact persist.

Such stigmatizing beliefs are supported by societal factors such as HIV criminalization laws, Mr. Millett said. He pointed to the fact that 29 states still have HIV-specific criminalization laws on the books and while over 800 people have been prosecuted using these laws, none of the prosecutions were for any actual HIV transmission. He highlighted a CDC assessment that found that HIV criminalization laws have no detectable HIV prevention effect given there was no association with HIV diagnosis rates or AIDS diagnoses in states with such laws.

Further, he observed that not only are people with or at risk for HIV too often stigmatized, but the effective tools to prevent HIV such as PrEP are also stigmatized. A recent study found that individuals who experienced a high degree of stigma around their choice to use PrEP were 50% less likely to be on PrEP at their next clinical visit. Additionally, he pointed to syringe services programs (SSPs) that are known to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs. Yet, stigma related to both HIV and people who use drugs limits public support for SSPs, limiting their expansion in many communities that could benefit from them, he said.

One factor that may enable this enduring stigma, Mr. Millett posited, is Americans’ lack of personal knowledge of people living with HIV. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that only 45% of Americans say they know someone with HIV. To counter that, he encouraged more people living with HIV to be open about their status since that would contribute to stigma reduction. He also applauded creative efforts from the HIV community to combat stigma. These included public announcements by people living with HIV of their status on social media, anti-stigma campaigns, and even a series of social media videos about living with HIV.

Combatting HIV-related Stigma and Improving Outcomes for Specific Populations

A series of presentations followed, each discussing unique approaches to combating HIV stigma and offering recommendations on how to help reduce it to improve HIV prevention and care outcomes.

  • Daniel Driffin, co-founder of THRIVE SS, discussed building innovative, community-driven solutions to address HIV disparities among African American men living with HIV. Originally founded as a support group in Atlanta, the program has grown to an online platform that engages and offers support to more than 3,500 people across the southeast United States. Among THRIVE SS’s innovations are programs to re-engage and retain men in HIV care, a mental health group, and a photo campaign. Mr. Driffin shared results of a 2018 program participant survey that revealed that 92% of the men surveyed self-reported being virally suppressed. “Black men living with HIV are achieving viral suppression,” Mr. Driffin declared. “I challenge you to no longer say these men are ‘hard to reach.’” His advice for others seeking similar outcomes included: using the lived experiences of people living with HIV to inform HIV care and prevention, re-imagining everything, and supporting community-created approaches.
  • Omar Martinez, assistant professor at Temple University’s School of Social Work, examined HIV-related stigma among sexual and gender minority Latinx individuals. He observed that members of this community often experience stigma related to many aspects of their lives including culture, language, and immigration status, all of which impact their HIV risk. Dr. Martinez profiled several programs that have demonstrated success, including a number that engage non-traditional partners or that address legal and other needs. He advised stakeholders to focus on affirming models of care; to examine immigration status as a social determinant of health; and to continue to invest in the development and replication of “locally-grown” HIV prevention, treatment, and anti-stigma interventions that have proven effective.
  • Gail Wyatt, PhD, professor and director of the UCLA Sexual Health Program, discussed HIV stigma and disparities among African American women, reminding the audience of the importance of the inclusion of women’s perspectives in HIV prevention, care and treatment, and research. She discussed the impact of trauma on women’s health-seeking behaviors and treatment retention. She emphasized that an effective HIV response requires attention to holistic health, including mental health, to improve outcomes for women living with HIV. She also argued that some health care providers need to be re-educated about African American women given that many have biases about Black women that may hinder their delivery of effective health care services.
  • Cecilia Chung, co-director of programs and policy at the Transgender Law Center, shared her personal story as an Asian transgender woman living with HIV and discussed the power of personal storytelling to change hearts. She remarked, “Storytelling can help us get past differences, stigmas, and biases, and humanize individuals.” Being able to confidently tell one’s story affects the listener and also empowers the storyteller as they move forward on their path as a person living with HIV.

Dr. Eugene McCray, Director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, closed the session, thanking the participants from across the nation and the more than 500 of them who had shared results of their work with others in sessions, poster presentations, and exhibits during the conference. He noted that CDC was pleased to have been able to share more details of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan through several plenary session addresses and in a community engagement session. Implementing that Plan, he observed, will require ongoing dialogue and collaboration. With the powerful tools now available, the insights that data offer, leadership from all sectors, and community-driven and -developed plans, Dr. McCray indicated that he was confident that the nation could achieve the goal of reducing new HIV infections by 90% in ten years.

To view all or part of this plenary session, view CDC’s National Prevention Information Network video of Wednesday’s plenary session on their Facebook page .

Beyond Blame 2018 Meeting Report and Evaluation Now Available

Beyond Blame 2018: Challenging HIV Criminalisation was a one-day meeting for activists, advocates, judges, lawyers, scientists, healthcare professionals and researchers working to end HIV criminalisation. Held at the historic De Balie in Amsterdam, immediately preceding the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), the meeting was convened by HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE and supported by a grant from the Robert Carr Fund for Civil Society Networks.

The Meeting Report and Evaluation, written by the meeting’s lead rapporteur, Sally Cameron, Senior Policy Analyst for the HIV Justice Network, is now available for download here.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 10.56.59The meeting discussed progress on the global effort to combat the unjust use of the criminal law against people living with HIV, including practical opportunities for advocates working in different jurisdictions to share knowledge, collaborate, and energise the global fight against HIV criminalisation. The programme included keynote presentations, interactive panels, and more intimate workshops focusing on critical issues in the fight against HIV criminalisation around the world.

The more than 150 attendees at the meeting came from 30 countries covering most regions of the world including Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin and North America and Western Europe. Participation was extended to a global audience through livestreaming of the meeting on the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE YouTube Channel, with interaction facilitated through the use of Twitter (using the hashtag #BeyondBlame2018) to ask questions of panellists and other speakers. See our Twitter Moments story here.

Following the meeting, participants were surveyed to gauge the event’s success. All participants rated Beyond Blame 2018 as good (6%), very good (37%), or excellent (57%), with 100% of participants saying that Beyond Blame 2018 had provided useful information and evidence they could use to advocate against HIV criminalisation. 

A video recording of the entire meeting is available on HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE’s YouTube Chanel.  

Key points

  • The experience of HIV criminalisation was a poor fit for individual’s actions and the consequences of those actions, particularly where actions included little or no possibility of transmission or where courts did not address scientific evidence
  • The consequences of prosecution for alleged HIV non-disclosure prior to sex are enormous and may include being ostracised, dealing with trauma and ongoing mental health issues, loss of social standing, financial instability, multiple barriers to participation in society, and sex offender registration
  • Survivors of the experience shared a sense of solidarity with others who had been through the system, and were determined to use their voices to create change so that others do not have to go through similar experiences
  • Becoming an advocate against HIV criminalisation is empowering and helps to make sense of individuals’ experiences
  • The movement against HIV criminalisation has grown significantly over the last decade but as the movement has grown, so has understanding of the breadth of the issue, with new cases and laws frequently uncovered in different parts of the world.
  • As well as stigma, there are multiple structural barriers in place enabling HIV criminalisation, including lags in getting modern science into courtrooms and incentives for police to bring cases for prosecution.
  • Community mobilisation is vital to successful advocacy. That work requires funding, education, and dialogue among those most affected to develop local agendas for change.
  • Criminalisation is complex and more work is required to build legal literacy of local communities.
  • Regional and global organisations play a vital role supporting local organisations to network and increase understanding and capacity for advocacy.
  • There have already been many advocacy successes, frequently the result of interagency collaboration and effective community mobilisation.
  • It is critical to frame advocacy against HIV criminalisation around justice, effective public health strategy and science rather than relying on science alone, as this more comprehensive framing is both more strategic and will help prevent injustices that may result from a reliance on science alone.
  • There have been lengthy delays between scientific and medical understanding of HIV being substantiated in large scale, authoritative trials, and that knowledge being accepted by courts.
  • Improving courts’ understanding that effective treatment radically reduces HIV transmission risk (galvanised in the grassroots ‘U=U’ movement) has the potential to dramatically decrease the number of prosecutions and convictions associated with HIV criminalisation and could lead to a modernisation of HIV-related laws.
  • Great care must be exercised when advocating a ‘U=U’ position at policy/law reform level, as doing so has the potential to deflect attention from issues of justice, particularly the need to repeal HIV-specific laws, stop the overly broad application of laws, and ensure that people who are not on treatment, cannot access viral load testing and/or who have a detectable viral load are not left behind.
  • Courts’ poor understanding of the effectiveness of modern antiretroviral therapies contributes to laws being inappropriately applied and people being convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms because of an exaggerated perception of ‘the harms’ caused by HIV.
  • HIV-related stigma remains a major impediment to the application of modern science into the courtroom, and a major issue undermining justice for people living with HIV throughout all legal systems.
  • HIV prevention, including individuals living with HIV accessing and remaining on treatment, is as much the responsibility of governments as individuals, and governments should ensure accessible, affordable and supportive health systems to enable everyone to access HIV prevention and treatment.
  • New education campaigns are required, bringing modern scientific understanding into community health education.
  • Continuing to work in silos is slowing our response to the HIV epidemic.
  • HIV criminalisation plays out in social contexts, with patriarchal social structures and gender discrimination intersecting with race, class, sexuality and other factors to exacerbate existing social inequalities.
  • Women’s efforts to seek protections from the criminal justice system are not always feminist; they often further the carceral state and promote criminalisation.
  • Interventions by some purporting to speak on behalf of women’s safety or HIV prevention efforts have delivered limited successes because social power, the structuring of laws and the ways laws are administered remain rooted in patriarchal power and structural violence.
  • Feminist approaches must recognise that women’s experiences differ according to a range of factors including race, class, types of work, immigration status, the experience of colonisation, and others.
  • For many women, HIV disclosure is not a safe option.
  • More work is needed to increase legal literacy and support for local women to develop and lead HIV criminalisation advocacy based on their local context.
  • When women affected by HIV have had the opportunity to consider the way that ‘protective’ HIV laws are likely to be applied, they have often concluded that those laws will be used against them and have taken action to advocate against the use of those laws.

At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to make some closing observations. These included:

  • Recognising that the event had allowed a variety of voices to be heard. In particular, autobiographical voices were the most authentic and most powerful: people speaking about their own experiences. This model which deferred to those communicating personal experiences, should be use when speaking to those in power.
  • Appreciating that there was enormous value in hearing concrete examples of how people are working to address HIV criminalisation, particularly when working intersectionally. It is important to capture these practical examples and make them available (noting practical examples will form the focus of the pending Advancing HIV Justice 3 report).
  • Understanding that U=U is based on a degree of privilege that is not shared by all people living with HIV. It is vital that accurate science informs HIV criminalisation as a means to reduce the number of people being prosecuted, however, people who are not on treatment are likely to become the new ‘scapegoats’. It is important that we take all opportunities to build bridges between U=U and anti-HIV criminalisation advocates, to create strong pathways to work together and support shared work.
  • Noting the importance of calling out racism and colonialism and their effects.
  • Observing that more effort is required to better understand and improve the role of police, health care providers and peer educators to limit HIV criminalisation.
  • Exploring innovative ways to advocate against HIV criminalisation, including community education work through the use of art, theatre, dance and other mechanisms.
  • Concluding that we must challenge ourselves going forward. That we must make the circle bigger. That next time we meet, we should challenge ourselves to bring someone who doesn’t agree with us. That we each find five people who aren’t on our side or don’t believe HIV criminalisation is a problem and we find ways and means (including funding) to bring them to the next Beyond Blame.

Media session at Beyond Blame preconference outlines stigmatising and harmful media reporting

By Mathew Rodriguez

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — As a news consumer, how can you tell if a story you’re reading about HIV criminalization is actually fair, or has the interests of people living with HIV in mind? Despite a noticeable shift in better coverage for HIV criminalization cases, activists at the Beyond Blame pre-conference to the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam reported that too many journalists rely on harmful frameworks when reporting stories about potential HIV exposures and people with HIV whose bodies are criminalized.

Here are a few ways to see whether or not you’re being told a story that is doing way more harm than good for people living with HIV, as outlined by Janet Butler-McPhee, director of communications and advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Nic Holas, co-founder of Australia’s HIV movement The Institute of Many.

The HIV Monster

Though Butler-McPhee said this narrative is slightly fading, too many journalists still rely on this frame as a way to garner clicks. This narrative paints people with HIV as purposefully hiding their status in order to be deceptive to an HIV-negative person or people. This framework also implies that people with HIV have some innate intent to transmit the virus and that HIV-positive people are all terrifying potential perpetrators of criminal activity.

Aside from othering people with HIV, this narrative also turns HIV-negative people into innocent victims with zero agency in their own lives. These narratives often omit pertinent details about the relationship between the accused and accuser. It turns a complex relationship into victims and villains.

It’s racist AF

HIV criminalization and obvious racism go hand in hand. This is very similar to the HIV monster narrative but also relies on racist tropes to tell its story. For instance, in many countries like Canada and the United States, black men are often painted as vectors of disease who are preying on innocent white women or white gay men. This narrative happens with other marginalized groups, as well.

The story claims HIV criminalization will protect you!

Some stories share the names and information about an HIV-positive person’s HIV criminalization case as a form of “public good” — saying that the public deserves to know someone’s private health information. Butler-McPhee stressed that this is unfortunately rooted in the idea that people with HIV do not have basic rights to privacy and that outing them will do more public good than personal bad — which is wrong . Coverage that relies on outing people with HIV is often inherently racist as well. Their names are published to protect white women.

Stories like this once again put all the onus of public health on HIV-positive people. It also sets HIV apart from every other STI or blood-borne infection, reinforcing the stigmatizing idea that it is somehow scarier or deadlier. Coverage like this also retraumatizes the accused.

Additionally, Holas stressed, local police officers often rely on media to get an accused’s name in headlines and stories to get other potential sex partners to come forward to build a case around them. In cases like this, the media may be unknowingly doing the police force’s work to help criminalize a person with HIV.

The story reports that HIV is easy to transmit and a death sentence.

Any coverage of HIV in 2018 that treats HIV as an automatic death sentence is unscientific and wrong. While it’s true that many people in the global South and even certain regions in the United States might see worse outcomes due to an HIV diagnosis than others, putting the onus on the virus instead of racist socio-economic conditions puts people with HIV at risk. When discussing HIV criminalization, stories too often rely on people’s fear of the virus rather than reality to prove their point.

“It’s easy to disclose your HIV status, so just do it!”

If there’s one thing that HIV criminalization stories prove, it’s that living with HIV in 2018 is a serious risk for personal safety. However, many stories still push the idea that disclosure is the end-all-be-all of living with HIV and that it is the “morally correct” thing to do, even when the story itself is showing the many negative consequences that can come along with HIV disclosure.

These stories also don’t take into the account the pervasive violence and stigma that people living with HIV face daily. As Holas said, these stories revolve around the idea that “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”  

For those in the media interested in improving their coverage or for advocates looking to make sure their messaging on HIV criminalization is media-ready, the HIV Justice Network does have a guide on HIV criminalization and the media.


Published in INTO on July 23, 2018

Beyond Blame symposium highlights intersectionality of issues related to HIV criminalisation at AIDS 2018

Strategies to oppose the unscientific criminalisation of HIV transmission received a high profile at events in advance of the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam this week.

These included the launch by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law of a Supplement to its 2012 Report, Risks, Rights & Health, and the HIV Justice Worldwide symposium, Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation.