US: New study from the Williams Institute analyses data on HIV criminalization in Tennessee

Enforcement of HIV Criminalization in Tennessee

Tennessee’s two primary HIV criminalization laws—aggravated prostitution and criminal exposure—are considered a “violent sexual offense” and require a person convicted to register as a sex offender for life. Using data obtained from Tennessee’s sex offender registry, this study examines the enforcement of HIV criminalization laws in Tennessee from 1991 to 2022.

To read the full report, please go to: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/hiv-criminalization-tennessee/

Uganda: Final arguments in landmark case challenging HIV criminalisation law to be made within a week

Uganda Constitutional Court gives activists seven days to file final arguments in HIV criminalization suit

The Constitutional Court of Uganda gave plaintiffs seven days from June 7 to file their final arguments in a landmark case challenging sections of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2014 that criminalize HIV transmission and require disclosure of one’s serostatus to sex partners.

The Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), leading a coalition of more than 50 civil society organisations, is challenging the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2014 which they allege is discriminatory and an impediment to the fight against AIDS. Their petition was originally filed in 2016 and has been stalled in the court system for close to seven years.

Francis Onyango, lawyer for the petitioners, told RightsAfrica Tuesday in Kampala that the parties will have to wait further the ruling after final arguments are made.

Among the controversial provisions in the Act are mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners, and allowing medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent.

The law also criminalizes HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behavior that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status. Ugandan LGBTQI+ rights activists filed petitions to the Ugandan Parliament when the the bill was being considered.

Female sex workers also see the law as a hinderance to the fight against HIV because they are wrongly believed to harbor intentions to spread HIV to their clients. Sex work is illegal in Uganda, despite a spirited fight by activists for decriminalization.

Mandatory HIV testing and the disclosure of medical information without consent are contrary to international best practices and violate fundamental human rights, the petitioners say. They also argue that criminalization of HIV transmission is overly broad and difficult to enforce.

They argue that the act is being used by state agencies as a tool of discrimination and humiliation. LGBT people have complained of forced anal examinations in recent arrests as part of mandatory HIV tests when they are in police custody. Many human rights organisations have called the law flawed and deeply troubling, and in contradiction of science and human rights.

Uganda is currently bidding to host the Society for AIDS in Africa’s (SAA) 2023 International Conference on HIV/AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA 2023).

Among the requirements for potential ICASA host countries, SAA demands that host countries have no discriminatory government policies based on gender, HIV status and religion.

 

Uganda: Legal Environment Assessment recommends changes to the penal code to address HIV and sex work criminalisation, stigma, discrimination and gender-based violence

Ugandan Laws Constraining Fight against HIV/AIDS – Report

 

A report titled “Legal Environment Assessment (LEA) for HIV/AIDS in Uganda” released by the Uganda AIDS Commission on Friday has revealed that some Ugandan laws, regulations and policies constrain effective HIV response in the country.

The Report is based on data collected during the period of July 2021 to February 2022.

The main objective of the Report was to assess the extent to which existing laws, regulations, and policies enable or constrain key protections for people affected by HIV in Uganda.

The Report also aimed to identify all relevant laws, policies, and strategies that affect, positively or adversely, the successful, effective, and equitable delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services to people living with HIV and HIV-affected persons; to assess the key human rights issues affecting people living with HIV; to assess the availability, accessibility, and affordability of interventions that promote rights of people living with HIV and other people affected by or at risk of HIV in Uganda.

The Report also aimed to analyse the extent to which people living with HIV and those affected by or at risk of HIV in Uganda are aware of existing legal frameworks and support systems to access services; and to provide recommendations for the creation of an enabling legal, social, and policy framework to eliminate HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and violence against people living with, affected by or at risk of HIV in Uganda.

KEY FINDINGS

HIV Prevention and Control Act; Sections 41 and 43 criminalises attempted transmission of HIV, and intentional transmission of HIV respectively, thus discouraging HIV testing and the disclosure of positive test results. Intention to transmit HIV is difficult to prove in situations where people may not know their HIV status.

HIV Prevention and Control Act; Section 18 (2) allows a health worker to disclose HIV test results to a third party without the consent of the affected person, thus violating their right to privacy and potentially discouraging people from testing for HIV if they think their results may be disclosed to third parties without their consent.

Releasing HIV test results to another person without the consent of the client may also result in stigma or violence against the client.

HIV Prevention and Control Act Section 13 (b) provides for routine HIV testing of a pregnant woman, and Section 13 (c) provides for routine HIV testing of a partner of a pregnant woman.

However, health workers routinely make it appear mandatory for pregnant women and their partners to be tested for HIV, with or without their consent. This has the effect of violating their right to privacy and autonomy and discourages people from visiting health facilities.

Uganda’s Penal Code Act (PCA) Sections 136-139 criminalise sex work and other activities associated with prostitution with the effect of unfairly targeting key and vulnerable populations and exposing them to arbitrary arrest and mistreatment by law enforcement, while male clients rarely receive the same treatment.

The harassment of sex workers has the effect of increasing societal stigma towards them, denying them the livelihood, which is their only source of income, driving them and keeping them away from health and justice support services.

The Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, Dr Nelson Musoba, said that while the Government of Uganda is committed to the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, there is also increasing recognition that this goal cannot be achieved unless the country addresses structural barriers such as legal impediments, and issues such as human rights, stigma, discrimination, gender inequality and gender-based violence.

The President of the Uganda Law Society, Pheona Nabasa Wall said that although Uganda has HIV Prevention and Control Act (2014) and other regulations, prosecution under this law has been challenging partly due to its discriminative nature and challenges associated with proving most of the provisions under it.

Persons charged with HIV related offences are instead often subjected to public humiliation and bail applications, mandatory tests upon arrests, and in cases of defilement of children, maximum penalties are pleaded and recommended by prosecutors even in the absence of scientific evidence of transmission of HIV she said.

She added that HIV victims have a number of issues which include among others; stigma nutritional needs, denial of justice and palliative care, forced HIV testing, discrimination in gaining access to medical care, education, employment, and violation of right to medical privacy.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Review and repeal sections 136 & 139 of the Penal Code Act to decriminalise sex work.

Harmonise the legal provisions on abortion and decriminalise abortion in order to give women access to safe abortion services, guarantee autonomy and decision-making power over their reproductive lives (Provisions in Sections 142 and 143 of the Penal Code Act and Article 22 of the Constitution of Uganda present contradictions on the issue of abortion. Ministry of Health guidelines on abortion were suspended).

Repeal sections 167 to 169 of the Penal Code Act because they are archaic, out-dated, and no longer serve the purpose for which they were created. Uganda Police Force and the DPP should desist from charging and prosecuting individuals with these provisions.

Prosecute HIV-related cases such as those relating to intentional transmission of HIV under general criminal law, not HIV. specific laws.

Reform the law to make it explicit that pregnant mothers should be tested upon giving consent, after receiving full information from health care providers.

Reform the law to remove the provision for a health worker to disclose results to a third party without the consent of the client; instead support the process of disclosure by the client himself/herself.

The Report was launched by the Acting Minister of Justice and Constitution Affairs, Muluri Mukasa who applauded Uganda AIDS Commission and development partners for conducting the assessment.

The Report, he said, shades light on the impact of Ugandan laws in response to HIV/AIDS

Minister Muluri added that the Report findings will provide policy makers with evidence to carryout good legislation and develop policies and laws that will ensure that government does not default on its commitment to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030.

The full report can be downloaded here

US: Indiana to undertake a review of its criminal code for laws concerning HIV

Laws criminalizing HIV to be reviewed by legislative interim study committee

Heeding a call from a bipartisan group of legislators, Indiana will undertake a review of its criminal code for laws concerning HIV, with the focus on modernizing state statutes and helping to end the HIV epidemic.

Ten Republicans and six Democrats sent a letter in late March to Speaker Todd Huston, highlighting the bills that had been passed in previous sessions that updated and revamped Indiana’s laws as more became known about HIV. However, the legislators noted, the state’s criminal code still needs to be amended to reflect the research and biomedical advancement regarding the disease.

“During the early years of the epidemic, states enacted HIV-specific criminal laws based on the perception of HIV at that time — a time of fear and stigma when much less was known about HIV and there were no effective treatments,” the legislators wrote in their letter. “Many of these laws, including Indiana’s, criminalize behaviors that cannot transmit HIV — such as biting or spitting — and apply regardless of intent or whether HIV was actually transmitted.”

The Indiana General Assembly’s Legislative Council approved the review of HIV laws Tuesday morning as part of Resolution 22-06, which assigned study topics to legislative interim study committees.

The HIV study proposal was among the more than 110 topics suggested, according to George Angelone, executive director of the Legislative Services Agency. However, the list was narrowed to 32 topics spread across 11 interim study committees, one subcommittee and five special committees.

The Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code will conduct the review of HIV laws.

Also, the group will take a look at efforts and programs to ensure patients and offenders released from Indiana’s psychiatric hospital and the Indiana Department of Correction are connected to the appropriate care. Sixteen Representatives, mostly Democratic, sent a letter to the Legislative Council leaders asking for this review.

Both letters are available online.

In addition, Indiana will again take a look at marijuana-related products.

The Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services has been charged with examining Delta 8, Delta 9 and other THC products regarding potential health benefits, possible decriminalization and other consequences.

After the Legislative Council hearing, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray downplayed the possibility that Indiana would make any dramatic changes to prohibitions on marijuana. Still, he said the study would be helpful because many in the General Assembly are likely not familiar with the pros and cons of the products.

“We in Indiana have been slower to go in that direction than states surrounding us,” Bray said. “… I think this is going to be an important conversation to have this summer for where Indiana moves in the coming years.”

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said he was glad to see his colleagues on the other side of the aisle looking at THC. However, he also said he was disappointed that an examination of veterans’ issues was not included as a study topic.

“We could make sure that our veterans are having adequate access to all the benefits that are available to them,” Taylor said. “It’s our responsibility to actually provide that pathway for people to get their benefits that they deserve.”

 

US: Georgia’s Governor signs Senate Bill 164 to modernize state’s HIV laws

Press Release: Georgia makes strides in modernizing HIV disclosure law

May 11, 2022 (ATLANTA, GA.) — After more than five years of work by the Georgia HIV Justice Coalition, Georgia Equality, and advocates living with HIV, Georgia’s HIV disclosure law has been modernized with the signing of SB 164 this week. This legislation was introduced by State Senator Chuck Hufsteler and supported in the House by Rep. Sharon Cooper leading to almost unanimous support in both chambers.

Previously, a person living with HIV (PLHIV) could face a felony and up to 10 years in prison for not disclosing their HIV status prior to any type of sexual act. The degree of risk of HIV transmission was not a factor in the statute; including circumstances where there was no HIV transmission, nor even any risk of HIV transmission.

Under the revised law, a PLHIV who knows their status but fails to disclose it only commits this felony if they engage in a sexual act where there is “a significant risk based on scientifically supported levels of risk of transmission” and they have the specific intent to transmit the disease. Any person with a “specific intent” to transmit HIV to another person also remains subject to prosecution.

“The Georgia HIV Justice Coalition salutes and applauds Sen. Hufstetler’s and Rep. Cooper’s efforts to modernize a decades-old law and thanks our partners in the coalition for their hard-work” states Eric Paulk, Coalition Co-Chair and Deputy Director of Georgia Equality. “Today we affirm that no one should be singled out for punishment solely on the basis of their HIV status and the Coalition will continue to advance efforts to dismantle a culture that seeks to utilize the criminal legal system to address public health issues instead of addressing social determinants of health.”

“As a person living with HIV, I’m encouraged that the legislature understands the advances in HIV science. Ending the stigma around HIV is a necessity to ending the HIV epidemic and I look forward to continuing efforts that support PLWH,” states Malcolm Reid, Coalition Co-chair and Federal Policy Chair for the People Living With HIV Caucus.

The new law reflects the significant advances in HIV science and will bolster the efforts to end the HIV epidemic in Georgia. “This historic legislation is the product of years of work from community members, movement advocates, and elected officials. I am inspired and grateful for the tireless efforts of my colleagues and peers. Though I recognize there is still much work left to  be done, I am pleased with what we have achieved, ” said Charles Stephens, Executive Director of the Counter Narrative Project.

Kamaria Laffrey, Project Director at the Sero Project, states that, “this effort is the  product of the power of the people; the PLHIV whose lives will have a lessened layer of stigma. The mobilization and centering of the voices that are most impacted by these laws in partnership with the strategic relationship building with legislative champions is the key piece to how people living in Georgia have made this amazing achievement possible.”

Today we affirm that no one should be singled out for punishment solely on the basis of their HIV status and the Coalition will continue to advance efforts to dismantle a culture that seeks to utilize the criminal legal system to address public health issues instead of addressing social determinants of health.

ABOUT

Founded in 1995, Georgia Equality is the state’s largest advocacy organization working to advance fairness, safety, and opportunity for Georgia’s LGBTQ communities and our allies. 

Argentina: New HIV law seeking to provide comprehensive response to HIV approved

The Chamber of Deputies gave half sanction to the new HIV law with a large majority

Automated Google translation. For article in Spanish, please scroll down.

The initiative was approved with 241 affirmative votes; the project seeks -among other issues- to guarantee universal and free access to treatment for HIV, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

With a large majority, the Chamber of Deputies today approved the bill that seeks to provide a comprehensive response to HIV , viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . The initiative proposes, as a central axis, universal and free access to the treatment of these diseases, guaranteed by the public health system, social works and private health throughout the country.

The average sanction was achieved with 241 affirmative votes and 8 negative ones. The initiative – the result of the work of different civil society organizations – was promoted by the pro-government deputy Carolina Gaillard and had the support of the entire political spectrum.

The bill, in addition to guaranteeing universal and free access to treatment for HIV, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), proposes that all tests to detect these pathologies should be voluntary, free, confidential and universal. In addition, it promotes the creation of a special retirement regime, of an exceptional nature for those who experience HIV and hepatitis B or C diseases, as well as a non-contributory pension for life, for those who are in a situation of social vulnerability. In this way, those who prove at least ten years since the diagnosis of the disease and twenty years of retirement contributions, can request retirement from the age of 50.

The pro-government parliamentarian Mara Brawer celebrated the half sanction with social organizations. “With the organizations in the street celebrating the half-sanction of the new #HIV , tuberculosis and viral hepatitis law,” she wrote.

For her part, the libertarian deputy Victoria Villaruel was one of the eight people who rejected the initiative . “With Javier Milei we voted not to hold lobbying” , he justified on Twitter, and continued: “Instead of guaranteeing rights, privileges increase, an HIV observatory is created within INADI, that is, we continue with the spending party, payment to the militancy and public office to people like [Victoria] Donda. With my NO vote.

The eight parliamentarians who voted against the project were: José Luis Espert (Liberty Advances), Carolina Píparo (Liberty Advances), Javier Milei (Liberty Advances), Victoria Villarruel (Liberty Advances), Ricardo López Murphy (Together for Change ), Pablo Torello (Together for Change), Paula Omodeo (Together for Change) and Francisco Sánchez (Together for Change).

The project that now awaits its session in the Senate of the Nation also promotes training, research, the dissemination of massive campaigns, and the formation of a National Commission for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, other STIs and Tuberculosis , integrated interministerially and intersectoral by representatives of state agencies, scientific societies, civil society organizations working on these pathologies, whose integration must be determined by regulation, guaranteeing federal and gender representation; and a National Observatory on Stigma and Discrimination, in order to make visible, document, dissuade and eradicate the violations of the human rights of the affected people.


La Cámara de Diputados le dio media sanción a la nueva ley de VIH con amplia mayoría

El Salvador: Proposal to treat HIV and STI exposure as aggravating circumstance in cases of sexual assault

Automatic Google translation. For original article in Spanish, please scroll down.

Consciously transmitting diseases and drugging the victims should be an aggravating circumstance in crimes of rape, the Criminal Magistrate recommends to deputies

Judge Sandra Luz Chicas arrived this Friday at the Women’s Commission of the Assembly, to give her contributions for the amendment to Articles 158 and 162 of the Penal Code, proposed by the ruling party.

On March 8, within the framework of International Women’s Day, the New Ideas caucus presented a piece of correspondence containing a proposal to reform articles 158 and 162 of the Penal Code.

The objective of the initiative is to increase the sentence from 8 to 12 years in prison for rapists. Currently, the Penal Code punishes this crime with imprisonment from 6 to 10 years.

The motion of the Nuevas Ideas party contemplates aggravating circumstances that increase the penalty detailed in article 162 of the aforementioned regulations.

The pro-government deputies propose adding an aggravating circumstance when the violations are against older adults.

The modifications began to be studied within the Women’s Commission of the Assembly. In order to know her point of view, this Friday the presiding magistrate of the Criminal Chamber, Sandra Luz Chicas de Fuentes, was summoned.

At this point, the magistrate observed that the ruling party’s proposal does not take into account as a qualified aggravating circumstance, when the active subject of the crime, knowing that they have a contagious sexually transmitted disease or that they are carriers of AIDS or HIV, sexually assault a his victim.

“We have had many cases that at the time of the rape they have transmitted a venereal disease or AIDS or HIV, I do not see this as a qualified aggravating circumstance and many countries have it,” recommended Chicas de Fuentes.

Likewise, it specified that it has not been considered an aggravating circumstance when the aggressor intoxicates the person or the drug to facilitate the rape.

In addition, the magistrate observed that the typical behavior itself is not being touched. In this aspect, Chicas de Fuentes explained that there is rape if there is vice in consent, for example, she mentioned that there are cultural patterns that in some circumstances “re-victimize” the victim, wanting to make it appear that she was guilty of the rape.

“A person can be a sex worker, but if that person at the time of carnal access says no, and the (other) person continues, there is rape, care must be taken that there is no vice in consent,” he clarified.

Even, he said, someone can agree to have sex with another person, but suddenly regrets it and says no, they could even be naked, but if the other person continues, it is also rape.

Rape is also considered when the forced penetration occurs in one of the two cavities, be it the vagina or the anus, it is enough for it to be in one of them to constitute the crime, he added and said that in other countries a third is opened possibility, and it is the oral route.

He also spoke of other cases in which more than one person could participate in the act of rape.

“A person may be having carnal access with a woman, another holding her lower limbs and another the upper ones, even if they do not have carnal access, they are co-authors of the crime of rape,” he exemplified.

The magistrate was in favor of reforming the Penal Code, as she pointed out that sexual crimes occupy one of the first places in statistical data.

The president of the commission, Alexia Rivas, stated that within the aggravating circumstances, the fact that the victim becomes pregnant as a result of sexual assault could also be contemplated.

The magistrate gave a favorable opinion, because not only would the legal right of sexual freedom be violated, but it is “multi-offensive”, including the violation of other rights by forcing the victim to become a mother, a consequence that must be carried by all his life.

Despite the reforms, when looking at comparative law, according to information that Justice Chicas de Fuentes revealed in the commission, El Salvador would be one of the countries in the region with fewer years in prison for crimes of rape, only above from Guatemala.

Costa Rica applies a sentence of 10 to 16 years; in its article 156 of the Penal Code; Honduras between 9 to 13 years according to article 240 of the Penal Code; in Guatemala the sentence is from 5 to 8 years, stipulated in article 173 bis of the Penal Code; and in Mexico, there is a prison of 8 to 20 years, according to article 265 of the Federal Penal Code.

“In principle, I do support the reform proposal, but always inviting the issue of proportionality to be studied,” advocated the magistrate.


Transmitir enfermedades conscientemente y drogar a las víctimas debe ser agravante en delitos de violación, recomienda a diputados magistrada de lo Penal

La magistrada Sandra Luz Chicas llegó este viernes a la comisión de la Mujer de la Asamblea, a dar sus aportes para la enmienda a los Artículos 158 y 162 del Código Penal, propuesto por la  bancada oficialista.

El pasado 8 de marzo en el marco del Día Internacional de la Mujer, la bancada de Nuevas Ideas presentó una pieza de correspondencia conteniendo una propuesta para reformar los artículos 158 y 162 del Código Penal.

El objetivo de la iniciativa es incrementar la pena de entre 8 a 12 años de cárcel para los violadores. Actualmente, el Código Penal sanciona ese delito con prisión de 6 a 10 años.

La moción del partido Nuevas Ideas contempla agravantes que aumentan la pena detalladas en el artículo 162 de la normativa en mención.

Los diputados oficialistas proponen que se agregue una agravante cuando las violaciones sean en contra de personas adultas mayores.

Las modificaciones comenzaron a ser estudiadas en el seno de la Comisión de la Mujer de la Asamblea. Con el objetivo de conocer su punto de vista, este viernes fue citada la magistrada presidenta de la Sala de lo Penal, Sandra Luz Chicas de Fuentes.

En este punto, la magistrada observó que la propuesta del oficialismo no toma en cuenta como agravante cualificada, cuando el sujeto activo del delito, a sabiendas de que tiene una enfermedad contagiosa de transmisión sexual o que son portadores del SIDA o del VIH agreden sexualmente a su víctima.

“Hemos tenido muchos casos que al momento de la violación le han transmitido una enfermedad venérea o el SIDA o VIH, esta no la veo como una agravante cualificada y muchos países lo tienen”, recomendó Chicas de Fuentes.

Asimismo, especificó que no se ha considerado como agravante cuando el agresor embriaga a la persona o la droga para facilitar la violación sexual.

Además, la magistrada observó que no se está tocando la conducta típica en sí. En este aspecto Chicas de Fuentes detalló que hay violación si hay vicio en el consentimiento, por ejemplo, mencionó que hay patrones culturales que en algunas circunstancias “revictimizan” a la víctima, queriendo hacer ver que la culpable de la violación fue ella.

US: Tennessee Senate votes to remove sex offender registry requirement for HIV related offences

Lawmakers Seek to Reduce Penalties for HIV Criminal Exposure Law

The Tennessee Senate voted Wednesday to reform one aspect of a decades-old law that makes it a crime to not disclose an HIV diagnosis to a sexual partner.

At the height of the HIV epidemic in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, many states created these criminal penalties, although activists have long said they are harmful because of their punitive nature.

Tennessee’s own exposure law, passed in 1994, labels non-disclosure a class C felony that can result in three to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The law additionally punishes blood transfusions and donations.

Tennessee is also one of just six states that add people to a sex offender registry for HIV related offences. More than 70 people are currently on Tennessee’s registry for an exposure charge.

A new bill – approved by a wide margin in the senate with bipartisan support this week – does away with this sex offender registry requirement and retroactively allows for the removal of those already on it, provided they are not listed for any additional offenses.

Republican Rep. Bob Ramsey, who is sponsoring the house version of the measure, says HIV laws are outdated and need to be updated to reflect modern treatment for the virus.

The goal, he says, is “to look at this disease in a more realistic light and try to de-stigmatize it so that we could actually identify it and treat it, more so than trying to punish it.”

While there is still no cure for HIV, modern antiretroviral drugs now allow for a near normal lifespan and can reduce the level of virus in the body so low that it’s effectively impossible to spread. It is now considered a chronic condition people can manage rather than a fatal diagnosis.

Ramsey, who is also a dentist, calls the registry requirement a “misguided overreaction to the disease.”

Violent sex offenders have to register for life and check in with authorities three times a year to keep their addresses up to date. They are not allowed to live or work near schools, daycares or parks, which advocates say can make it extremely hard to find housing or employment and even seek treatment.

Amna Osman, head of the advocacy organization Nashville CARES, told lawmakers last month that parents on the registry can face barriers such as an inability to attend their children’s school functions and that the stigma can create mental health issues.

“Nobody should be on a sex registry by virtue of having a manageable illness,” she said during testimony. “I’ve heard people who have tried to commit suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety because they’ve been on the sex registry for 14, 15, 16 years.”

The laws have also backfired, she said, because they undermine a need to get tested, which is vital to ending the epidemic.

“There [are] fears about this law…for people that don’t want to get tested because if you don’t know your status, this law does not apply to you,” she said, noting that nationwide one in seven people infected with HIV are unaware.

An original version of Ramsey’s bill sought more substantial reform to the state’s current law, including reducing the penalty to a misdemeanor, which would bring it in line with other communicable diseases such as Hepatitis C and B. The measure also took into account someone’s intent such as if they acted to reduce the risk of transmission through condom use or adherence to antiviral medication.

But after receiving pushback from other lawmakers, it was amended to just address the sex offender registry requirement, which Ramsey called a “baby step” in the right direction.

Rep. Bruce Griffey spoke out against the measure during debate in committee.

“This bill is going to expose potential future Tennesseans to HIV unnecessarily,” he said.

Ramsey disagrees and points out that the current law creates instances where disgruntled individuals can allege they were not informed of a partner’s positive status, and the accused will often lack hard evidence to dispute them in front of a prosecutor or judge.

“It became a ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ kind of situation,” Ramsey says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say HIV-specific laws “have been shown to increase stigma, exacerbate disparities and may discourage HIV testing.” In recent years, several states have passed reforms, saying the laws unnecessarily target some of the most vulnerable.
.
“There needs to be an overhaul to this whole state annotation altogether,” says Dewayne Murrell, a member of the Tennessee HIV Modernization Coalition, which is pushing for broad changes to Tennessee’s statues.

His organization is backing a complaint that says the state’s HIV laws violate federal law. He says lawmakers also need to eliminate a crime known as aggravated prostitution, a felony affecting those who are sex workers and are HIV positive.

Rep. Ramsey expresses confidence that his amended legislation will pass the House next week. Although he’d like to see more action in the future, he says this stride is an opportunity to bring public awareness to a condition that is too often misunderstood.

“That’s what the aim of this bill was to educate and bring a rational, unstigmatized view of the disease and how it affects people’s lives.”

Cyprus: Decision to deport HIV positive student on the grounds of “carrying an infectious disease” is reversed

Deportation of HIV student halted after uproar

The civil registry and migration department on Saturday responded to being lambasted for ordering the deportation of a third-country student because he was HIV positive, saying they would be issuing him a residence permit under certain health conditions.

The Aids Solidarity Movement earlier in the day condemned the deportation order, labelling it an act of “severe discrimination” and calling for the reversal of the decision.

According to the statement, the student was informed by the civil registry and migration department on March 16 by letter that he would be deported on March 21 on the grounds of “carrying an infectious disease”.

The movement said that this decision completely ignored letters of support from both the Gregorios treatment centre and the Solidarity Movement itself, as well as the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, which state “that when a person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load, due to the effective medication they receive, they cannot transmit the virus, even through unprotected sex”.

“The student has access to medication from his country, does not burden the state in any way in relation to his antiretroviral treatment or medical supervision, and does not pose a risk to public health,” the statement added.

Moreover, with the student’s written consent, the movement sent his medical results, along with a note from Doctor Ioannis Demetriades, the head of the Gregorios Clinic and the head of the ministry of health’s HIV and Aids programme, to the migration department’s acting director, asking that the student be allowed to complete his studies.

“We denounce this serious discrimination based on the HIV status of an individual and demand the immediate change of the decision from all the competent bodies of the state that support human rights,” the statement concluded.

Later on Saturday a statement from the migration department said it would in the end be issuing the residence permit after receiving a confirmation from the competent medical services of the state that the student was not contagious.

The condition of the permit is that the student receive regular health checks at the Gregorios Clinic.

It added that it had only been following the law, which “prohibit entry into the country, or carry out deportations for those persons who are carriers or suffer from communicable or infectious diseases and which are a danger to public health”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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