Uganda: 5 months after filing their initial petition, activists renew their call to amend HIV law

Activists renew call for HIV law amendment

By Noah Jagwe

They argue that the law contains clauses that could deter all the benefits in the fight against the scourge.

According to this group, the law instead instills fear in communities about HIV disclosure and also fuels stigmatization.

Earlier this year, some 60 civil society organizations across the country challenged the criminalization of HIVin Uganda as well as other ‘harmful’ provisions in the Act.

Dora Kichoncho Musinguzi, the executive director Uganda Network on Law and Ethics, said the salient features that are scanned out in the law which they consider discriminatory are: Clauses 21, 41 and 43 of the Act that seek to criminalize HIV, particularly intentional transmission.

The Act would require mandatory disclosure of one’s HIV status, failure of which would be regarded as “criminal”, and attempting to or, intentionally transmitting the virus.

Failure to use a condom where one knows their HIV status would constitute a criminal offence, making them liable for prosecution.

The provisions in the HIV Act, according to Kichonco, do not only stigmatize and discriminate against people living with HIV, but also deter communities from seeking HIV services such as HIV testing and subsequently HIV treatment.

“It is five months since we filed the petition. The government has not responded to our case. This is procedurally wrong and negates justice,” she said.

Kichoncho said if the law continues “as we could see”, it would heighten stigmatization of people living with HIV and that many of the targets such as 90% of people knowing their status, 90% of those who with HIV are on treatment and 90% with suppressed  viral load set by the country might not be achieved.

“The law has been counterproductive to all the achievements Uganda has made.”

She said the legal environment in Uganda is not conducive and human rights have not been respected. “Laws that criminalize and stigmatize people with HIV must be repealed.”

Meanwhile, Dorothy Nassolo, communications officer of Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda said there is a crisis the country might not stand.

She said a number of patients have been hacked to death because they have been discovered by their spouses for taking ARVs covertly.

National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS officer Milly Katana said the most affected group by the law are women through gender-based violence at home.

Katana said it’s better for Uganda to look at other alternatives for instance biomedical tools, medical male circumcision and condoms. –

Published in New Vision on Dec 1, 2016

Canada: UN experts recommends that Canada review its criminal laws to prevent unjust prosecutions of people living with HIV

UN experts make historic recommendations to Canada: End unjust HIV criminalization, repeal law restricting supervised consumption services, and implement needle and syringe programmes in prison

GENEVA, November 18, 2016 — The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued its Concluding Observations today following its review of Canada’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This is the first time the Committee reviewed women’s rights in Canada since 2008.

Documents can be downloaded here

Czech Republic: Police drop charges against all 30 gay men living with HIV following Prague Public Health Authority ‘witch hunt’

All criminal charges have been dropped against the 30 gay men living with HIV who were reported to the police by the Prague Public Health Authority earlier this year after they were diagnosed with an STI, Czech media report today.

The draconian behaviour of Prague Public Health led to widespread condemnation by human rights defenders.

A change.org petition initated by the European AIDS Treament Group (EATG) was signed by more than 1000 supporters, including the HIV Justice Network.

Today’s media report in Aktuálně.cz notes that three of the 30 men had been indicted for potential HIV transmission (under a law criminalising ‘the spread of infectious human diseases‘) but prosecutorial authorities withdrew the charges due to lack of evidence.

Police spokesman, Jan Danek, told the paper that following an investigation there was no case to prove against any of the 30 men and all charges had been dropped.

Canada: HIV activists form national coalition to lobby for an end to the criminalisation of people living with HIV

HIV activists form Canadian coalition to fight criminalization

Aggravated sexual assault convictions for HIV non-disclosure are unjust, members say.

A group of HIV activists, lawyers, and service providers from across Canada have formed a national coalition to call for an end to the criminalization of people living with HIV.

The Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization, years in the making, will lobby nationally for people who have been charged for not disclosing their HIV status. Up until now, this work was only done locally and provincially, and mostly by lawyers rather than people most affected by the law.

“We have an amazing expert community of lawyers working on this issue,” says Alexander McClelland, a Montreal-based HIV criminalization researcher and member of the coalition. “But lawyers talk to other lawyers and haven’t been engaged more broadly. So hopefully we can shift things with the way the coalition is organized. We’re really centrally placing lived experience of people on our steering committee.”

Under Canadian law, a person living with HIV must disclose their status to anal and vaginal sexual partners or face the charge of aggravated sexual assault, which carries a maximum lifetime sentence and registry as a sex offender. This standard was most recently upheld in a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada ruling based on outdated science. The court ruled that to be considered safe enough not to disclose, HIV carriers must have very low viral load and wear condoms. Research now shows, however, that low viral load itself is enough to be nearly perfectly safe.

Coalition members met in October after many attended the HIV Is Not A Crime 2 Training Academy in Huntsville Alabama. Realizing the national level of organization in the United States led by people who have been charged and convicted, the attendees realized Canada needed something similar.

The coalition wants to limit prosecutions to intentional transmissions of HIV. Of over 180 known HIV prosecutions in Canada since the discovery of the virus as the cause of AIDS, there have been just two known intentional transmissions, according to Cecile Kazatchkine, senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The large percentage of unjust prosecutions in Canada, she says, has a chilling effect on people living with the virus.

“Many [HIV positive] people fear being prosecuted, of that happening to them at some point, like an old partner coming back to them and saying things that may not be true but it’s one word against another.”

The law is constructed to protect the sexual autonomy of women, Kazatchkine says, but it can often have the opposite effect on many HIV-positive women living in abusive relationships who fear their partners could use their status against them if they tried to leave.

“There’s a climate of fear and uncertainty that guides everything that we do and so it would be great to intervene in that and change the current situation,” adds McClelland, who lives with HIV.

Though still in its early stages, the coalition is concentrating on three areas: involving the lived experiences of those who live with the virus and have been criminally charged, lobbying provincial and federal politicians to change the Criminal Code and how it is enforced, and publicizing unjust prosecutions.

The group is also working on specific demands for the federal government, which writes the criminal law, and for provincial governments, which administer the law through the courts.

McClelland says coalition members have spoken to Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, which he finds promising, since no such meeting took place under the previous Conservative government.

“It’s also really, really hard to get the Criminal Code reformed,” he notes, “but if we can appeal to members of parliament that it’s being applied so unjustly, then potentially there’s an option for that.”

Published in DailyXtra on Nov 14, 2016

US: Idaho activists are looking to reform Idaho's HIV Criminalisation laws

Local activists are looking to reform and modernize Idaho’s code on the transfer of bodily fluid containing HIV or AIDS virus. The law was created in the 1980’s, a time when HIV and AIDS was a rising issue in the country.  In the last 10 years, 32 people have been charged under the law. Activists and health officials say scientifically its outdated.

In 1988 Idaho created a law to punish anyone HIV positive, who transferred their body fluids with intentions to expose or infect someone else. Ian Troesoyer a Registered Nurse and Epidemiologist at Southeast Idaho Public Health says,”Singling out HIV from a biological perspective it doesn’t make perfect sense. But in the 1980s when the law was created there was a lot more fear and greater lack of knowledge regarding the transmission.”

Under the code body fluids are: Semen, blood saliva, vaginal secretion, breast milk and urine. But 28 years later health experts say, “So saliva and urine, saliva in particular, they are not known to transmit HIV.” Which is why local activists in Pocatello want to modernize Idaho Code 39-608. Kevin Lish the Board Chair of All Under One Roof says, “These laws come down a lot of times to a ‘He said, she said’ situation.”

The crime carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. In the last decade 12 people across the state have been convicted including a man named Kerry Thomas. He’s serving 30 years for not telling his partner. He says in a video posted on SEROProject.com, “I’m glad that she, three years down the road… she’s not positive.”

Health experts and activists say with an outdated law, there’s a stigma associated with the disease that could increase people’s risks. Lish says, “We have the tools to get to an HIV free generation. One of the things we need to do is update laws like this so people feel good about being tested and are getting tested when they need to.”

Activists say speaking to legislators about changing the law will take years. Educating the public is their first mission before heading to the capitol steps in Boise. On National AIDS Awareness Day, All Under One Roof will host an event on December 1st at 234 North Main Street at 7 p.m. There they will educate the public on the statue, and how they’d like to change it.

On Friday November 11, representatives will speak with Elizabeth Taylor’s granddaughter in Boise about how the Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Foundation can help their cause.

Published on KPVI on Nov 10, 2016

US: Movement to reform Michigan's HIV-specific law is gaining momentum

A movement to reform Michigan’s HIV-specific law is gaining momentum in the state House. Activists report a lobby day last month has garnered eight co-sponsors for the legislation, proposed by Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo.

The legislation is being promoted by the grassroots organization Michigan Coalition for HIV Health and Safety.

“The coalition is excited to have the support and sponsorship of our modernization bill from eight of our Michigan state representatives, but we have a long way to go,” said Kelly Doyle, Coalition Manager. “We need activists and volunteers willing to talk to elected officials about the harm and threat to public health these laws are creating.”

In addition to Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, the bill’s author and lead sponsor, state representatives who have all agreed to sign on as co-sponsors include: Reps. Andy Schor, D-Lansing; Tom Cochran, D-Lansing; Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield; David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; George Darany, D-Dearborn; LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit; and Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park. Advocates will be gathering at least five more co-sponsors before Hoadley introduces the legislation.

The legislation would change Michigan’s HIV-specific law from a felony to a misdemeanor and provide legal structure around prosecutions which would require prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended to transmit the virus and took actions which had a significant likelihood of transmission. Those who are proven to have intended to transmit the infection and actually did would face up to one year in jail; those who intended to transmit the infection but didn’t would face up to 93 days in jail.

Key to the modernization is a requirement that prosecutors and courts take into account current science about HIV transmission. Studies have shown that a person who is HIV-positive but successfully treating their infection with antiretroviral drugs so the virus is not detectable in their blood are extremely unlikely to transmit the infection. However, Michigan’s law currently does not allow this information as a defense.

Michigan’s law, passed in 1988, requires those who know they are infected with HIV to disclose that status prior to any sexual penetration, “however slight.” The law came out of a Republican House Task Force Report on AIDS in 1987 which wanted to stop those persons “who would deliberately or recklessly expose others to the infection.” Studies of the impact of Michigan’s law have found that behavior that is unlikely to transmit the infection has resulted in prosecutions. In addition, there appears to be a racial disparity in prosecutions focusing on black men who have sex with women. And finally, there is evidence that the law has become a weapon for domestic abusers as a way to control their intimate partners. Additional studies have found a small, but significant, minority of people at high risk for HIV infection are less likely to be tested for or discuss their risk for infection with medical providers because of such laws.

“This is an important modernization and is needed to protect the health and safety of everyone in Michigan,” said Hoadley. “Our laws are out of date. This effort would align our laws with modern HIV science, keep our communities safe and recognize the lived experiences of people living with HIV.”

Activists will lobby lawmakers again on Nov. 10 and Dec. 6 in Lansing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. They will start the day at the ninth floor conference room of the House Office Building, 124 North Capital Ave., Lansing. For more information email Todd@MCHHS.info or visit MCHHS.info.

Russia: European Court of Human Rights rules that Russia must compensate a Ukrainian woman deported based on her HIV status

English version – Translation (For Russian version, please scroll down)

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Russia to pay 15,000 euros compensation to a Ukrainian citizen for her family separation due to her HIV status.

Lawyer Irina Khrunova, representing the interests of the applicant, stated that the court found Russia was guilty of violating the right to respect for family life and of excessive interference in a person’s private life.

Khrunova said her client had lived in Russia since the early 2000s and met her future husband there. When in 2012 a woman was traveling from Ukraine to Sochi, the border officers did not let her into the country, citing the ruling of Rospotrebnadzor came into effect on undesirability of stay HIV-positive non-citizens in Russia.

The Ukrainian’s appeal against this decision had failed in Russian courts.

Европейский суд по правам человека (ЕСПЧ) обязал Россию выплатить 15 тысяч евро компенсации гражданке Украины, разлученной с семьей из-за ВИЧ.

Адвокат Ирина Хрунова, представляющая интересы заявительницы, сообщила, что суд признал правительство России виновным в нарушении статьи об уважении семейной жизни и излишнем вмешательстве в личную жизнь человека.

Хрунова рассказала, что ее подзащитная жила в России с начала 2000-х годов и познакомилась здесь со своим будущим мужем. Когда в 2012 году женщина ехала из Украины в Сочи, пограничники не пустили ее в страну, сославшись на вступившее в силу постановление Роспотребнадзора о нежелательности пребывания в России ВИЧ-положительных неграждан.

Обжаловать это решение в российских судах украинке не удалось.

Originally published in Radio Svoboda

Australia: Australian experts publish statement urging courts to consider current scientific evidence in criminal cases involving alleged HIV transmission or exposure

A group of leading HIV experts are calling for “caution to be exercised” when considering criminal charges against people who recklessly spread the disease.

In a consensus statement published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian researchers and scientists — including Professor Sharon Lewin and Professor Andrew Grulich — argue that “criminal cases involving HIV transmission or exposure require that courts correctly comprehend the rapidly evolving science of HIV transmission and the impact of an HIV diagnosis”.

The statement cites scientific evidence that shows the risk of HIV transmission to be negligible if a person is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load. It also claims that HIV isn’t as serious a condition as it used to be: “Most people with HIV are able to commence simple treatment providing them a normal and healthy life expectancy, largely comparable with their HIV-negative peers.”

“Given the limited risk of HIV transmission per sexual act and the limited long-term harms experienced by most people recently diagnosed with HIV, appropriate care should be taken before prosecutions are pursued,” says the statement.

While acknowledging that cases of deliberate transmission of HIV are “extremely unusual”, the group urge authorities to change behaviours through counselling rather than the courts.

“Careful attention should be paid to the best scientific evidence on HIV risk and harms, with consideration given to alternatives to prosecution, including public health management.”

The statement has been welcome by HIV advocacy groups.

“It’s incredible to see these experts come together and make a bold statement regarding HIV and the law,” said Richard Keane, President of Living Positive Victoria.

“The impact of HIV criminalisation or even the threat of it is a dangerous form of stigma and we’re still feeling the ripple effect more than two decades later.”

There have been at least 38 Australian criminal prosecutions for HIV sexual transmission or exposure since 1991.

“You don’t have to be convicted or even prosecuted for HIV criminalisation to affect you,” said Keane.

“The HIV community lives with the threat that a complaint can be made against us and the stigma that criminal prosecutions amplify and perpetuate.”

Keane hoped the statement’s focus on utilising the public health system rather the criminal courts in dealing with behaviour change would lead to better outcomes on policy.

“Most people on treatment are able to achieve an ‘undetectable’ viral load which makes it highly likely that the person will remain healthy and pose a negligible risk of transmitting HIV,” Keane said.

“The evidence outlined in this statement shows that the per-act risk of HIV transmission from even the most risky sex is still low. The message should be to encourage individuals to take care of their health and eliminate barriers to accessing treatment rather than intimidation through the justice system.

“By focusing on what the studies and science is telling us about treatments, relative risk and harm, that’s how we reduce HIV transmission whilst protecting the rights and dignity of people living with HIV. HIV is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”

Additional reporting Positive Living.

Published in Gay News Network on Nov 6, 2016

Ghana: New law to protect the rights of people living with HIV approved by parliament with discrimination against persons living with HIV to attract jail term

Parliament has approved a three year maximum jail term for discriminating against persons living with HIV/AIDS.

This follows the passage of the Ghana AIDS Commission Bill, 2015 into law by the House on Tuesday.

According to the new Act, a person who discriminates against a person infected with HIV/AIDS commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine or a term of imprisonment of not less than 18months and not more than three years or both.

The punishment extends to persons who deny burial for person suspected or perceived to be HIV/AIDS positive as well as persons who disclose information that concerns the HIV/AIDS status of another person.

The punishment also applies to persons who deny or exclude a person suspected or perceived to be HIV positive from insurance, retirement, social security benefits, or any other rights the affected persons.

The new law also frowns on discrimination against an employee who has been affected with the diseases as well as institutions which deny educational rights on the basis of the actual or perceived HIV/AIDS status of that person.

The Act, prohibites the denial of persons infected with the virus the right to be elected to a public office or the right to vote on an account of the HIV/AIDS status of that person.

Persons living with the disease shall also not be denied the freedom of movement, right of residence, right to sexual and reproductive health, or right to family.

The Act also gives the Ghana AIDS Commission a legal backing and proposes the establishment of the National HIV and AIDS Fund.

It provides for the sources of funds for the AIDS Commission which includes moneys from the National HIV/AIDS Fund, monies approved by Parliament, and loans contracted and guaranteed by the government.

The National HIV/AIDS Fund is to provide financial resources for the national HIV/AIDS reponse to target, in particular, HIV prevention, including the reduction of mother-to-child transmission, stigma reduction, treatment, and the care and support of persons living with HIV.

The sources of money for the fund include moneys approved by Parliament for the fund, grants, donations, gifts and other voluntary contributions, returns on investment of funds by the commission, monies that the minister responsible for finance may determine with the approval of Parliaent and other moneys or property that may become lawfully payable and vested in the board of the fund.lo

Source: Gilbert Ankrah/www.parliamentafrica.com

Mexico: Quintana Roo activists submit proposal for a change in the State HIV criminalisation law

Submission to eliminate the criminalisation of people with HIV (Desplácese hacia abajo para el artículo original)

This initiative has been proposed by the organisation ‘Vida Positiva’.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Q. Roo

A proposition to eliminate the criminalization and general criminalization of people with HIV having sex, focussing on cases of willful intent by amending Article 113 of the Criminal Code of Quintana Roo, is being put forward.

This initiative has been proposed by the civil association ‘Vida Positiva’ and delivered to deputy Laura Beristain Navarrete, president of the Commission for Health and Social Welfare of the XV Legislature to be adapted and submitted to the State Congress at the beginning of October.

Rudolf Geers, president of the activist group said that its aims are for the legislation mentioned to be replaced by a new article which sanction the transmission of a chronic or fatal disease deceitfully and when protection methods have not been used.

“What we propose is that the law be changed to only prosecute cases of actual transmission, removing talks of risks, and cases where there was actual deception and where people did not use protection, in order to qualify the intent of the situation. In the case of pregnant women, to only prosecute cases where the mother had the express intention of infecting the baby. There was one prosecution in January this year, “said the leader of Vida Positiva.

On this matter, Deputy Beristain Navarrete said it was an issue that will be analyzed in a responsible manner, which will be reviewed properly to be subsequently pass on to the committee because every project must be adapted for proper submission, especially when concerning such a sensitive issue as health risks.

Background information

Meanwhile, Geers highlighted that looking at the history of the law, this Article has only served to motivate cases of blackmail and extortion, which have threatened to expose people because of their HIV status, even without evidence, and even when cases did not proceed, the name of the person with the condition had been made public.

“This year, we have had  reports of four cases and the advice was to ignore them and just 3 years ago, a lawsuit under this law was recorded. Furthermore this legislation is based on a federal law adopted in 1991; a time when it was a deadly disease with no treatment; It also violates several national and international standards and is counterproductive to an effective response to HIV.

According to CENSIDA, this measure was taken internationally, including in Mexico since the last decade of the last century as a preventive measure against transmission or as a punishment of behaviours that are perceived as ‘willful’, however, we can state that this has not worked with punitive measures, and without public health policies.

“We need to increase resources and efforts with recommended HIV prevention strategies, improve the quality and comprehensiveness of care and reduce stigma and discrimination towards key populations and people living with HIV and other STIs, considering them as part of the solution and contributiors to a fair, inclusive and democratic Mexico”, stated the  National Center for the Prevention and Control of HIV and AIDS on the criminalisation of HIV and other STIs transmission.

Rudolf Geers, president of the civil association Vida Positiva stressed that in these cases the responsibility to prevent further transmission is shared; anyone who has casual sex should use a condom.

—————————————————————————

Proponen eliminar la criminalización de las personas con VIH

Esta iniciativa ha sido propuesta por la asociación civil ‘Vida Positiva’.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Q. Roo.- Proponen eliminar la criminalización y la penalización general de las personas con VIH por tener relaciones sexuales, especificando casos de intencionalidad consumada, mediante la modificación del artículo 113 del Código Penal de Quintana Roo.

Esta iniciativa ha sido propuesta por la asociación civil ‘Vida Positiva’ y entregada a la diputada Laura Beristaín Navarrete, presidenta de la Comisión de Salud y Asistencia Social de la XV Legislatura para su adecuación y presentación ante el Congreso del Estado a inicios del mes de octubre.

Rudolf Geers, presidente de dicha agrupación activista explicó que se tiene como objetivo que dicha legislación se sustituya por un nuevo artículo el cual sancione una transmisión de una condición de salud crónica o mortal con engaño y sin usar métodos de protección.

“Lo que nosotros proponemos que se cambie esta ley para que solo se castigue en caso de existir una transmisión, quitar la palabra peligro,  castigando los casos en que hubo engaño y que no usaron protección, para poder calificar la intencionalidad de la situación. En el caso de la mujer embarazada, solo cuando la madre tiene la intención expresa de infectar al bebé sea castigado. De estos tuvimos un caso en enero de este año”, dijo el dirigente de Vida Positiva A.C.

Antecedentes registrados

Al respecto la diputada Beristain Navarrete señaló que es un tema que se estará analizando de manera responsable, que se revisará de manera adecuada para posteriormente pasarla a comisión, ya que todo proyecto hay que adecuarlo para su correcta presentación, en especial un tema delicado en referencia a riesgos sanitarios.

Por su parte, Geers aseguro que de acuerdo a los antecedentes registrados, este artículo solo ha servido para motivar casos de chantajes y extorsiones, que han amenazado con exponer a personas por su condición de VIH, incluso sin pruebas y aunque posteriormente no proceda la demanda, pero si haciendo público el nombre de la persona con este padecimiento.

“De estos hemos tenido este año reportes de cuatro casos y el consejo simplemente fue ignorarlos y hace 3 años se registró un caso de una demanda por esta ley. Además esta legislación, está basada en una federal de 1991; época en que era un padecimiento mortal al no haber tratamiento; además viola varias normas nacionales e internacionales y es contraproducente para una respuesta eficiente ante el VIH.

De acuerdo a CENSIDA, esta medida había sido tomada a nivel internacional, incluyendo a México desde la última década del siglo pasado como una medida de prevención de transmisión o castigo de conductas que se perciben como ’dolosas’, sin embargo, aseguran que esto no tendrpa éxito con medidas punitivas si no políticas de salud públicas.

Prevención y control

“Es necesario incrementar recursos y esfuerzos en las estrategias recomendadas para prevenir la transmisión del VIH, mejorar la calidad y la integralidad de la atención y disminuir el estigma y la discriminación hacia las poblaciones clave y las personas afectadas por el VIH y otras ITS, considerándolas como parte de la solución y contribuyendo a un México justo, incluyente y democrático”, señala sobre la penalización por transmisión del VIH y otras ITS en Centro Nacional para la Prevención y Control del VIH y el Sida.

Rudolf Geers, presidente de la asociación civil Vida Positiva enfatizó que en estos casos la responsabilidad para evitar nuevas transmisiones es compartida; cualquier persona que tenga relaciones sexuales casuales sebe de usar condón.