New UNAIDS report summarises key developments in the legal environment for HIV responses in Asia Pacific region

Legal and policy trends impacting people living with HIV and key populations in Asia and the Pacific 2014–2019

This report provides a summary of key developments in the legal environment for HIV responses in Asia and the Pacific. It is the product of a desk review conducted for UNAIDS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2019. The report highlights key trends and developments in laws affecting people living with HIV and key populations in Asia and the Pacific over the five-year period 2014–2019. It updates the legal and policy review conducted in 2016 for UNAIDS, UNDP and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). A database of laws of the 38 Member States of ESCAP was created as part of this review. The database identifies laws that are either punitive or enabling for people living with HIV and key populations in Asia and the Pacific. A summary of the findings is presented in Annex 1. An overview poster is also available.

The report can be downloaded here.

Canada: HIV Legal Network publishes new guide to assist journalists in reporting responsibly about HIV criminalisation cases

Media Reporting: HIV and the Criminal Law

This guide is an evidence-based resource to assist journalists in Canada in reporting responsibly and accurately about alleged HIV non-disclosure and resulting criminal cases.

People living with HIV in Canada can be prosecuted for “aggravated sexual assault” (one of the most serious charges in the Criminal Code) if they don’t tell their sexual partners, in advance of intimate contact, that they have HIV. The criminalization of “HIV non-disclosure” is severe and rooted in stigma: people face charges even in cases where there is little or no risk of transmitting HIV. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and a conviction carries with it a mandatory designation as a sex offender. This approach has been criticized, both domestically and internationally, as being contrary to human rights and principles of public health, including by United Nations experts. Instead of reducing HIV transmission, HIV criminalization is now recognized by many experts as a driver of the epidemic.

There have been dramatic advances in treating and preventing HIV, which have resulted in a gradual change in public discourse and understanding. But there’s still a lot of misinformation. Media can play a vital role by modernizing the discussions we’re having about HIV and by reporting about HIV non-disclosure in an evidence-based and responsible way that doesn’t perpetuate stigma.

The guide is available in English and in French

How is the Expert Consensus Statement bringing science to justice?

Two years ago this month saw the launch of the Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law (Expert Consensus Statement) at a press conference during AIDS2018 in Amsterdam, published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS), and translated into French, Russian and Spanish.

Authored by 20 of the world’s leading HIV scientists, and endorsed by more than 70 additional expert scientists, as well as IAPAC, IAS and UNAIDS, the Expert Consensus Statement described current evidence on HIV transmission, treatment effectiveness and forensics so that HIV-related science may be better understood in criminal law contexts.

The Expert Consensus Statement was the end result of a multi-year process developed by a partnership comprising the International AIDS Society (IAS), the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee.

The HIV Justice Network has now published an interim scoping report, written by HJN’s Senior Policy Analyst Sally Cameron, that explores the impact of the Expert Consensus Statement in the two years since its publication.  It is now available in English and French (see bottom of page for download links).

The report concludes that the Expert Consensus Statement is meeting both its primary aim (to support defence arguments in HIV criminalisation cases) and its secondary aim (supporting lobbying for law and policy reform) in many jurisdictions. But it also found that the process of developing and promoting the content of the Expert Consensus Statement has delivered additional benefits that further support advocacy efforts to end HIV criminalisation.

In summary, the Expert Consensus Statement is being used to:

  • Assist HIV criminalisation defence arguments and strategic litigation, changing courts’ understanding of transmission risks associated with HIV and the effectiveness of modern treatments.
  • Shape advocacy for law and policy reform, including mobilising stakeholders to lobby for reform, delivering law and policy reform, improving legal and judicial practice, facilitating community advocates’ access to government and judicial bodies, and gaining support from public health bodies and customary and religious leaders.
  • Inform scientific and medical thinking, including being cited in many peer reviewed articles and in scientific and medical press, being hosted on the sites of scientific/medical/academic organisations, and being ranked the #1 JIAS article to date.
  • Develop stronger relationships that cross silos and advance capacity, enabling efficient and informal communications between partners to rapidly move projects forward, with Expert Consensus Statement authors supporting community organisations by assisting in defence cases, answering ad hoc questions and co-authoring abstracts, presentations and articles.
  • Disseminate accurate, positive messages about people living HIV and the issue of HIV criminalisation, including facilitating keynote addresses and presentations at notable conferences and meetings, and generating global mainstream, community and social media. Ultimately, interest in the Expert Consensus Statement has elevated the global conversation about HIV criminalisation, with co-ordinated messaging translating into a powerful positive narrative in many sites.

 

Launch of GNP+ PLHIV Stigma Index Advocacy Toolkit

PLHIV Stigma Index Advocacy Toolkit – People Living with HIV Stigma Index

A toolkit to equip networks of people living with HIV to take forward advocacy actions based on key findings and recommendations from PLHIV Stigma Index Reports

The People Living with HIV (PLHIV) Stigma Index is a standardised tool to gather evidence on how stigma and discrimination impact the lives of people living with HIV. It was developed to provide much-needed data and evidence that could be used to advocate for the rights of people living with HIV. Importantly, it was designed to be used by and for people living with HIV and was created to reflect and support the Greater Involvement of People living with HIV and AIDS (GIPA) principle, where PLHIV networks are empowered to lead the whole implementation of the study. The updated and strengthened PLHIV Stigma Index 2.0 (2018) reflects the latest context in the HIV response globally and has now been completed in 10 countries as per March 2020.

For over a decade, the PLHIV Stigma Index has been a catalyst for change in over 100 countries around the world and the results and recommendations used in evidence-driven advocacy at all levels of the HIV response. National networks of people living with HIV are using Stigma Index Reports creatively in a variety of ways – as a tool for fundraising, community education and anti-stigma campaigns.

PLHIV Stigma Index Reports are already guiding changes to HIV service delivery and informing national health legislation and treatment policy. However, to date, they have not been used as fully as they could have been to challenge wider societal and legal norms or to tackle institutionalised discrimination in the areas of education, workplaces or the justice system.

Why this advocacy toolkit?

The purpose of this advocacy toolkit is to complement and strengthen ongoing work by supporting community advocates to develop advocacy strategies that target discriminatory policies and practices head-on, take ownership of the advocacy agenda, demand their rights and hold those in power to account.

Specifically, the toolkit has been developed to:

● Provide a set of practical tools that support community advocates to take concrete steps to turn the data and key findings of PLHIV Stigma Index Reports into practical advocacy actions

● Help networks of people living with HIV
to identify and take forward advocacy actions based on the key findings and recommendations from PLHIV Stigma Index Reports

● Support Stigma Index teams who are at the data analysis stage of the project or who are in the process of developing reports

● Build the capacity of advocates to use data on stigma to make a case for change

The toolkit can be downloaded here

New Francophone Africa HIV criminalisation advocacy factsheet published today

Today, HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE releases a new advocacy factsheet developed by and for Francophone activists engaged in the fight against HIV criminalisation in Francophone Africa.

Co-authored by Cécile Kazatchkine of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Alain Kra, an expert in HIV and human rights Expert from Côte d’Ivoire, on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE, the factsheet is the first of several that will be published throughout the year focusing on a particular language and region.

“We are delighted to share this new resource with you today,” Cécile Kazatchkine writes below. “In it, you will find everything you need to know about HIV criminalisation in francophone Africa, the issues it raises and the strategies adopted by activists to address it. Many thanks to Alain Kra, an expert in human rights and HIV from Côte d’Ivoire, who co-authored this factsheet, and to our colleagues from the Francophone HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE network for their contributions and for sharing their experiences.”

Nous sommes heureux de partager aujourd’hui cette nouvelle ressource développée par et pour les militants francophones engagés dans la lutte contre la pénalisation du VIH. Vous y trouverez tout ce que vous devez savoir sur la pénalisation en Afrique francophone, les enjeux qu’elle soulève et les stratégies adoptées par les militants pour y répondre. Un grand merci à Alain Kra, Expert en droits humains et VIH de Côte d’Ivoire et co-auteur de ce feuillet d’information ainsi qu’à nos collègues du réseau francophone HIV Justice Worldwide pour leurs contributions et le partage de leurs expériences.

Cécile Kazatchkine, le Réseau juridique canadien VIH/sida

 

To provide a taste of the content to English-speakers, here are some of the introductory paragaphs from the 16-page PDF.

African HIV legislation was drafted on the basis of the N’Djamena model law developed during a three-day workshop in 2004 organised by Action for West Africa Region-HIV/ AIDS (AWARE-HIV/AIDS) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  This model, presented as a tool for the rapid dissemination of “good practices”, has led to a veritable “legislative contagion” in terms of HIV criminalisation across the continent, particularly in francophone Africa.

“Nineteen countries in francophone Africa currently have HIV-specific laws. Sixteen of these laws, which are supposed to guarantee the rights of people living with HIV, also criminalise HIV transmission or exposure. Criticism of the model law and a better understanding of the risks associated with HIV criminalisation have led to the revision of some laws in Togo, Guinea and Niger to limit the scope of HIV criminalisation.

“Similarly, criminal provisions in HIV laws adopted in 2010 in Senegal, 2011 in the Congo and 2014 in Côte d’Ivoire are more protective of the rights of people living with HIV. Like the revised laws, they include provisions expressly excluding criminalisation in certain circumstances, such as where condoms have been used or in cases of mother-to-child transmission. Congolese law precludes criminal liability in the greatest number of circumstances. In Cameroon and Gabon, HIV bills with provisions criminalising HIV were eventually abandoned, while in Comoros and Mauritius, HIV laws have never included criminalising provisions. Finally, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the section of the HIV law criminalising the ‘deliberate’ transmission of HIV was repealed in 2018.”

The information sheet goes on to cover the disproportionate impact of HIV criminalisation on women across Africa; shows the many reasons why HIV criminalisation does more harm than good to the HIV response; explores the impact of science on laws and prosecutions; and includes links to further resources including those contained in the French-language version of the HIV Justice Toolkit.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE COVID-19 criminalisation statement now available in Arabic

Today, the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee statement on lessons learned from HIV criminalisation as it relates to COVID-19 criminalisation, has been published in a fifth language, Arabic.

Download the statement in Arabic / تحميل البيان باللغة العربية

We are grateful to our Global Advisory Panel member, Elie Balan, head of the LGBT Health Department (M-Coalition) at the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, for undertaking the translation. 

The statement was originally published on 25 March in English, French and Spanish, and on 26 March in Russian.

The HIV Justice Network (HJN) continues to monitor the many ways legal, policy and police responses to COVID-19 is negatively impacting the human rights of people living with HIV, as well as individuals and communities most impacted by HIV. 

Each week, Sylvie Beaumont, HJN’s Research / Outreach Co-ordinator, curates our HIV Justice Weekly newsletter. She ensures that all of the previous week’s key articles and podcasts critiquing punitive responses to HIV and/or COVID-19, as well as HIV and COVID-19 criminalisation cases can be found in one place.

If you haven’t already signed up to receive the newsletter, published each Friday, you can do so at: https://www.hivjustice.net/hiv-justice-weekly

 

Global HIV Criminalisation Database launched today
on the new HIV Justice Network website

Today, we are delighted to announce a new version of the HIV Justice Network (HJN) website, www.hivjustice.net.

The centrepiece of the new website is the Global HIV Criminalisation Database, which comprises three separate but interrelated databases:

  • Laws and Analyses – a new portal providing updated information and analysis of HIV criminalisation laws previously collated by GNP+ as part of the Global Criminalisation Scan;
  • Cases – a regularly updated searchable global database of reported HIV criminalisation cases; and
  • Organisations – a new directory of organisations around the world actively working against HIV criminalisation.

Each section of the Database also features an interactive search tool and global map providing a visual account of where different kinds of laws are used, where various types of cases have been reported, and where organisations operate.

Laws and Analyses

The list of laws used for HIV criminalisation contained in the Global HIV Criminalisation Database is based on GNP+’s groundbreaking Global Criminalisation Scan.

“We hope this new, improved version of our website will continue to be an essential source of up-to-date information for individuals and organisations advocating against HIV criminalisation around the world. We would especially like to acknowledge GNP+’s tremendous work developing and promoting their Global Criminalisation Scan, and take seriously our responsibility as custodians of global HIV criminalisation data moving forward.”

Edwin J Bernard, HJN’s Executive Director

Further substantial assistance was provided by Australian law firm Hall & Wilcox, with support from the UNAIDS secretariat in Geneva, as well as networks of advocates and civil society organisations from around the world.

In addition, we are grateful to the Center for HIV Law and Policy for allowing us to link to their regularly updated original research and analysis on HIV-related criminalisation in the United States, excerpted from ‘HIV Criminalization in the United States: A Sourcebook on State and Federal HIV Criminal Law and Practice’.

We are currently confirming data for a number of jurisdictions, particularly those in the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. Those data will be published shortly.

Cases

We continue to include a searchable list of cases primarily curated from media reports. Although the reports do not usually reflect the views or values of HJN, they provide examples of the way HIV criminalisation cases are publicly described. 

We count cases from the moment there is a media report, even if the case does not reach a court. However, total estimated case numbers for any particular jurisdiction may not always tally with the number of case reports on our site, because not all cases are reported in the media. We also include a range of other sources to estimate case numbers, including information provided to us by local community agencies and academic institutions, and/or found in court databases.

Therefore cases, and case numbers, should be considered illustrative of what is likely to be a more widespread, poorly documented use of criminal law against people living with HIV.

Organisations

Another new element of the Global HIV Criminalisation Database is a directory of organisations undertaking a range of activities related to HIV criminalisation, including case monitoring, community mobilisation, legal support, political advocacy, public education, research, and work with the media.

The directory only includes organisations that have ‘opted-in’ to our previous surveys by asking to be included in the directory, and inclusion does not imply endorsement by HJN. If your organisation is not included in the directory and you would like to be included, please fill in this form. If you wish to amend your organisation’s details, please contact us, letting us know the information you wish to change.

News, Publications, Videos

The website continues to feature regular news about all aspects of HIV criminalisation, including news curated from other sources that we think is relevant to the global movement to end HIV criminalisation.

Earlier this year we relaunched our newsletter, HIV Justice Weekly. Published each Friday, it is a dynamic and useful summary of the week’s news collated by HJN. Given the current parallel pandemic of bad laws and overly zealous law enforcement, this is where we are also currently covering punitive responses to COVID-19, especially where these responses intersect with HIV criminalisation.

Recent publications produced by the HIV Justice Network, including our Advancing HIV Justice 3 report, and videos produced by us and others can also be found on the website.

About HJN

The HIV Justice Network (HJN) is a global information and advocacy hub for individuals and organisations working to end the inappropriate use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV. Our mission is to collate, create and disseminate information and resources enabling individuals and communities to effectively advocate against inappropriate criminal prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure and transmission.

The HIV Justice Network also serves as the secretariat for a global coalition campaigning for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW), run by a nine organisation Steering Committee and with more than 100 members. Visit www.hivjusticeworldwide.org (also available in French, Russian, and Spanish) to learn more about what we do, what you can do, and how you can join the movement to end HIV criminalisation.

HJN is also the lead grantee for the HIV Justice Global Consortium, funded by Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks, which is the mechanism through which HJN – and most HJWW activities – are funded.

HIV Justice Network reaches key milestone with the publication of our first annual report

Today, the HIV Justice Network (HJN) reaches an important milestone with the publication of our first annual report, covering January – December 2019.

2019 was a landmark year for HJN, not only in terms of organisational growth, but also in terms of the scale-up of key resources – most published in four languages – and the provision of technical and financial support to organisations and networks in many regions of the world, all of which led to some remarkable advocacy successes.

HJWW2020 HJN board and teamThe HJN Team and Supervisory Board (SB) dine together following a successful Strategy Meeting in Amsterdam, January 2020 (L-R): Paul Kidd (Secretary, SB) , Sally Cameron (Senior Policy Analyst), Rebekah Webb (Senior Associate), Sylvie Beaumont (Outreach / Research Co-ordinator), Lisa Power (Chair, SB), Dymfke van Lanen (Finance Manager), Edwin Bernard (Executive Director), Julian Hows (GAP Co-ordinator) and Raoul Fransen (Treasurer, SB).

 

“Our 2019 Annual Report illustrates the importance of joined-up activism towards a common goal. We can all play a part in resisting HIV criminalisation at home and across the globe. HJN, under the passionate leadership of Edwin Bernard, gives us the tools, the structures and the inspiration to do the job.” Lisa Power, Chair, Supervisory Board

 

Members of HJN’s team also participated in a number of global and regional meetings, presenting on various aspects of our work, such as monitoring, supporting strategic litigation, and working with the media.

As a result, we forged stronger relationships with many organisations undertaking human rights work around the world, including establishing new contacts for possible collaborative projects in the future.

As well as HJN’s own workplan, much of the team’s time is spent co-ordinating a wide range of activities on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW), as well as managing the Robert Carr Fund grant to the HIV Justice Global Consortium.

“This report highlights the achievements of our small team and our global partners in the last year, and demonstrates that we are delivering on our mission of challenging HIV criminalisation around the globe. We strive to defend the human rights of marginalised people with HIV in the face of unjustified and unscientific punitive laws – something that is now in even sharper focus with the coronavirus pandemic.” Paul Kidd, Secretary, Supervisory Board

 

There are exciting plans ahead for HJN in 2020, including a new version of HJN’s website that will incorporate – and update – data previously collected in GNP+’s Global Criminalisation Scan, and the debut of HJN’s live streamed web show, HIV Justice Live!

UNAIDS “extremely concerned” by new COVID-19 laws that target people living with or vulnerable to HIV

This week, echoing the concerns of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee, amongst others, UNAIDS issued a strongly worded press release condemning governments for abusing the current state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic for overreaching their powers and enacting laws that target people who are living with, or vulnerable, to HIV.

“In times of crisis, emergency powers and agility are crucial; however, they cannot come at the cost of the rights of the most vulnerable,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Checks and balances that are the cornerstone of the rule of law must be exercised in order to prevent misuse of such powers. If not, we may see a reversal of much of the progress made in human rights, the right to health and the AIDS response.”

Notably, UNAIDS singles out EU member states, Hungary and Poland.

In Hungary, a new bill has been introduced to remove the right of people to change their gender and name on official documents in order to ensure conformity with their gender identity, in clear breach of international human rights to legal recognition of gender identity.

In Poland, a fast-tracked amendment to the criminal law that increases the penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission to at least six months in prison and up to eight years in prison has been passed—a clear contravention of international human rights obligations to remove HIV-specific criminal laws.

In addition, UNAIDS condemns overly zealous policing that is especially targeting key populations already stigmatised, marginalised, and criminalised.

UNAIDS is also concerned by reports from a number of countries of police brutality in enforcing measures, using physical violence and harassment and targeting marginalized groups, including sex workers, people who use drugs and people who are homeless. The use of criminal law and violence to enforce movement restrictions is disproportionate and not evidence-informed. Such tactics have been known to be implemented in a discriminatory manner and have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable: people who for whatever reason cannot stay at home, do not have a home or need to work for reasons of survival.

They single out Uganda where “23 people connected with a shelter for providing services for the LGBTI community have been arrested—19 have been charged with a negligent act likely to spread infection or disease. Those 19 are being held in prison without access to a court, legal representation or medication.”

They also highlight Kenya as a model of cjvil society rapid response to human rights concerns following the release of an advisory note “calling for a focus on community engagement and what works for prevention and treatment rather than disproportionate and coercive approaches.”

The statement concludes:

While some rights may be limited during an emergency in order to protect public health and safety, such restrictions must be for a legitimate aim—in this case, to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. They must be proportionate to that aim, necessary, non-arbitrary, evidence-informed and lawful. Each order/law or action by law enforcement must also be reviewable by a court of law. Law enforcement powers must likewise be narrowly defined, proportionate and necessary.

UNAIDS urges all countries to ensure that any emergency laws and powers are limited to a reasonable period of time and renewable only through appropriate parliamentary and participatory processes. Strict limits on the use of police powers must be provided, along with independent oversight of police action and remedies through an accountability mechanism. Restrictions on rights relating to non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status, sexual and reproductive health, freedom of speech and gender identity detailed above do not assist with the COVID-19 response and are therefore not for a legitimate purpose. UNAIDS calls on countries to repeal any laws put in place that cannot be said to be for the legitimate aim of responding to or controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNAIDS recently produced a new guidance document that draws on key lessons from the response to the HIV epidemic: Rights in the time of COVID-19: lessons from HIV for an effective, community-led response.