Report: End HIV criminalisation to address LGBT+ inequities

A new report published by the Global Equality Caucus examines what elected officials can do to ensure LGBT+ people receive equitable access to HIV healthcare.

The report titled Breaking barriers in HIV: Action for legislators to address LGBT+ inequities, includes ten recommendations for legislators and others to take forward, including repealing or modernising outdated HIV criminalisation laws, and doing more to safeguard health data privacy.

The report notes that HIV criminalisation laws are “out of step with modern scientific understanding and perpetuate outdated HIV stigmas.” Removing such laws would help to tackle prejudice and refocus HIV as a public health crisis.

Also relevant to our ongoing work on molecular HIV surveillance, the report further recommends that where data is collected, anonymity should always be assured, and “this applies to HIV testing, immigration status, or whatever other circumstances that may place LGBT+ people in danger should their health data be shared with other government authorities.”

Parliamentarians have a responsibility to ensure government departments respect the privacy of citizens and that health data is not being shared with agencies that could present additional barriers to the lives of LGBT+ people, such as immigration authorities or justice departments.

WATCH HIV Justice Live! (Ep 4): How to advocate for prosecutorial guidance for HIV-related cases

The fourth episode of HIV Justice Network’s web show, HIV Justice Live! that streamed live on July 14 is now available to watch on YouTube.  The episode, which our colleagues at the HIV Legal Network called a master class in advocacy” discussed the newly launched UNDP’s Guidance for Prosecutors on HIV-related criminal cases and provided insights into how to work with prosecutorial authorities so that they have a clear understanding of how to – and more importantly how not to – use HIV criminalisation laws.

Guidance like this is a good example of a ‘harm reduction’ approach if you can’t change or repeal HIV criminalisation laws, and adopting such guidance can result in fewer miscarriages of justice, as well as improve the criminal legal system’s understand of, and approach to, people living with HIV.  Once implemented it’s also a good way of holding prosecutors to account.

The Guidance was developed for UNDP by our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE colleagues, Richard Elliott and Cécile Kazatchkine of the HIV Legal Network. The process, which took two years, involved multiple consultations. Several other colleagues, including HJN’s Executive Director Edwin J Bernard, HJN Supervisory Board member Lisa Power, and HJN Global Advisory Panel member Edwin Cameron were part of the Project Advisory Committee.

The episode, hosted by Edwin J Bernard and featuring UNDP’s Kene Esom alongside Lisa Power and Richard Elliott, also included a special edit of HJN’s documentary, Doing HIV Justice, which demystifies the process of how civil society worked with the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales to create the world’s first policy and guidance for prosecuting the reckless or intentional transmission of sexual infection.

The full-length, 30-minute version of this documentary is now available as part of a YouTube playlist that also features two other educational and informative videos: an introduction by the CPS’s Arwel Jones with some useful tips about how to engage with prosecutors, and a workshop that took place after the world premiere screening in Berlin, featuring Lisa Power and Catherine Murphy (who helped advocate for the implementation of guidance in England & Wales, and Scotland, respectively) as well as former UNAIDS Senior Human Rights and Law Adviser, Susan Timberlake.

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.   

Canada: Justice Committee report recommends wide-ranging reforms to HIV criminalisation, including removing HIV non-disclosure from sexual assault law

Yesterday, the House of Commons Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights released a ground-breaking report “The Criminalization of HIV Non-Disclosure in Canada” recommending that the Government of Canada works with each of the Canadian provinces and territories to end the use of sexual assault law to prosecute allegations of HIV non-disclosure.

According to a press release issued by our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network:

People living with HIV currently face imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault and a lifetime designation as a sex offender for not disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners, even in cases where there is little or even zero risk of transmission. This means a person engaging in consensual sex that causes no harm, and poses little or no risk of harm, can be prosecuted and convicted like a violent rapist. We welcome the Committee’s recognition of this unjust reality and their call to end the use of sexual assault laws. We and our allies have spent many years advocating for this critical change.

The report also recommends that Canada limits HIV criminalisation to actual transmission only. The Legal Network notes:

But we must go further: criminal prosecution should be limited to cases of intentional transmission as recommended by the UN’s expert health and human rights bodies. Parliament should heed such guidance. Criminal charges and punishments are the most serious of society’s tools; their use should be limited and a measure of last resort.

However, one of the recommendations that the Legal Network takes issue with is the recommendation to broaden any new law to include other infectious diseases.

Infectious diseases are a public health issue and should be treated as such. We strongly disagree with the recommendation to extend the criminal law to other infectious diseases. We will not solve the inappropriate use of the criminal law against people living with HIV by punishing more people and more health conditions.

Currently, there is a patchwork of inconsistent approaches across each province and territory. Only three provinces — OntarioBritish Columbia and Alberta — have a formal policy in place or have directed Crown prosecutors to limit prosecutions of HIV non-disclosure, and they all fall short of putting an end to unjust prosecutions.

A December 2018 federal directive to limit HIV criminalisation, which solely applies to Canada’s territories, is already having some impact — in January 2019 it led to Crown prosecutors in the Northwest Territories dropping a wrongful sexual assault charge against a man living with HIV in Yellowstone. “We followed the directive and chose not to prosecute,” said Crown attorney Alex Godfrey.

Other positive recommendations in the report include:

  • An immediate review of the cases of all individuals who have been convicted for not disclosing their HIV status and who would not have been prosecuted under the new standards set out in the recommendations of the Committee.
  • These standards must reflect “the most recent medical science regarding HIV and its modes of transmission and the criminal law should only apply when there is actual transmission having regard to the realistic possibility of transmission. At this point of time, HIV non-disclosure should never be prosecuted if (1) the infected individual has an undetectable viral load (less than 200 copies per millilitre of blood); (2) condoms are used; (3) the infected individual’s partner is on PrEP or (4) the type of sexual act (such as oral sex) is one where there is a negligible risk of transmission.”
  • And, until a new law is drafted and enacted (which is only likely to happen if the current Liberal Government is re-elected in October), there should be implementation of a common prosecutorial directive across Canada to end criminal prosecutions of HIV non-disclosure, except in cases where there is actual transmission.

The report also recommends that any new legislation should be drafted in consultation with “all relevant stakeholders including the HIV/AIDS community”, which the Legal Network also welcomed.

The report is the result of a study of the ‘Criminalization of Non-Disclosure of HIV Status that ran between April and June 2019. Many Canadian experts testified as key witnesses to help MPs gain insight into why Canada’s current approach is wrong. HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE also submitted a brief to the committee, providing international context to Canada’s extremely severe approach to HIV non-disclosure.

The Legal Network concludes:

The next step is actual law reform. The report makes clear that change to the criminal law is needed. Any new legal regime must avoid the harms and stigma that have tainted the law these past 25 years.

Canada: New directive to limit unjust prosecutions against people living with HIV to be issued by Attorney General of Canada

OTTAWADec. 1, 2018 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is committed to a fair, responsive and effective criminal justice system that protects Canadians, holds offenders to account, supports vulnerable people, and respects the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today, on the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, announced that she will issue a directive related to the prosecution of HIV non-disclosure cases under the federal jurisdiction of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

In issuing the Directive, the Government of Canada recognizes the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure discourages many individuals from being tested and seeking treatment, and further stigmatizes those living with HIV or AIDS.

This Directive is a real step toward ensuring an appropriate and evidence-based criminal justice system response to cases of HIV non-disclosure. In so doing, it will harmonize federal prosecutorial practices with the scientific evidence on risks of sexual transmission of HIV while recognizing that non-disclosure of HIV is first and foremost a public health matter.

On December 1, 2016, Minister Wilson-Raybould committed to working with her provincial and territorial counterparts, affected communities, and medical professionals to examine the criminal justice system’s response to non-disclosure of HIV status. A year later, on December 1, 2017, the Department of Justice issued its report, The Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV. The Directive will draw upon the recommendations made concerning prosecutorial discretion. It will provide guidance to federal prosecutors in the three territories, ensuring coherent and consistent prosecution practices.

In its 2012 Mabior decision, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that persons living with HIV must disclose their HIV status prior to engaging in sexual activity that poses a “realistic possibility of transmission”; and the most recent scientific evidence on the risks of sexual transmission of HIV should inform this test.

The Directive to be issued by the Attorney General of Canada will reflect the most recent scientific evidence related to the risks of sexual transmission of HIV, as reviewed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as the applicable criminal law as clarified by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Directive will state that, in HIV non-disclosure cases, the Director:

  • shall not prosecute where the person living with HIV has maintained a suppressed viral load (i.e. under 200 copies of the virus per millilitre of blood) because there is no realistic possibility of transmission;
  • shall generally not prosecute where the person has not maintained a suppressed viral load but used condoms or engaged only in oral sex or was taking treatment as prescribed unless other risk factors are present, because there is likely no realistic possibility of transmission in such cases;
  • shall prosecute using non-sexual criminal offences instead of sexual offences where this would better align with the individual’s situation, such as cases where the individual’s conduct was less blameworthy; and
  • must take into account whether a person living with HIV has sought or received services from public health authorities, in order to determine whether it is in the public interest to pursue criminal charges.

The criminal law will continue to apply to persons living with HIV if they do not disclose, or misrepresent, their HIV status before sexual activity that poses a realistic possibility of HIV transmission.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Act requires that directives from the Attorney General of Canada be published in the Canada Gazette. The Directive will take effect upon publication in Part I of the Canada Gazette on Saturday, December 8, 2018.

Quote

“Our criminal justice system must be responsive to current knowledge, including the most recent medical science on HIV transmission. I am proud of this important step forward in reducing the stigmatization of Canadians living with HIV while demonstrating how a scientific, evidence-based approach can help our criminal justice system remain fair, responsive and effective.”

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., Q.C., M.P.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Quick Facts

  • World AIDS Day originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention. It is marked on December 1 of every year. This year’s theme is “Know your status”.
  • Canada’s efforts to detect and treat HIV have resulted in the majority of persons living with HIV in Canada knowing their status and receiving appropriate treatment.
  • There is no HIV-specific offence in the Criminal Code. However, persons living with HIV who do not disclose their status may be charged with aggravated sexual assault because the non-disclosure is found to invalidate their partner’s consent to engage in sexual activity in certain circumstances. This is the most serious sexual offence in the Criminal Code.
  • The Directive will take into consideration current scientific evidence and research on HIV transmission. It will provide clear direction to federal prosecutors in the territories when exercising their discretion to decide whether to prosecute HIV non-disclosure cases. The research supporting the development of the Directive was compiled by the Public Health Agency of Canada, informed the Department of Justice Canada’s Report on the Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV, and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
  • The Directive is the result of significant engagement and consultation with LGBTQ2+ advocates, including the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, leading academics in the field, health professionals, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Associated Links

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SOURCE Department of Justice Canada

For further information: media may contact: Célia Canon, Communications Advisor, Office of the Minister of Justice, 613-862-3270; Media Relations, Department of Justice Canada, 613-957-4207, media@justice.gc.ca

Related Links

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International meeting of legal experts starts work on principles to address the misuse and abuse of criminal laws

Addressing the detrimental health and human rights impacts of criminal laws

People have a fundamental human right to make decisions about their lives and bodies. These rights relate to personal choices on, among other things, health care and treatment. For sexual and reproductive rights, key issues include the right of people to decide when, whether and with whom to have sex, to have children and to get married and their ability to express their gender and sexuality.

Leading legal experts from around the world recently met to lay the foundations for a set of principles to address the misuse and abuse of criminal laws that affect basic human rights and impact on health and equality. The principles will be developed in the coming months and will guide civil society and policy-makers in the development and use of laws that guarantee human rights and protect public health.

Tim Martineau, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, a.i., noted at the outset of the meeting that, “While there is significant progress in HIV prevention, treatment and care, there is a big discrepancy in HIV prevention in relation to key populations, who are more vulnerable to HIV infection in many respects because of a lack of legal protection and the unjust criminalization of their behaviour.”

The legal experts focused on criminalization related to sexuality, reproduction, personal drug use and the overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. Around the world, same-sex sexual practices are criminalized in 73 countries, with 13 states imposing the death penalty. Sex work is criminalized in approximatively 116 countries globally and some 72 countries criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. Criminal laws often increase stigma against already marginalized and excluded groups and have been linked to discrimination and the denial of critical health services. Criminalization also creates an environment in which people are less likely to seek police assistance when their rights have been violated.

Kate Gilmore, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized that the criminal law plays an essential role in the recognition, protection and enforcement of rights, including by tackling impunity for violations of those rights. “Our purpose here is to raise the shield of criminal law by lowering its sword, ensuring better protection through criminal law by reducing the abuse of it.”

Sam Zarifi, the Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists, said, “The misuse of the criminal law affects the most marginalized people and, in particular, the dispossessed and disenfranchised.”

The meeting was held on 3 and 4 May and was led by the International Commission of Jurists, in partnership with UNAIDS and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Published on UNAIDS site on May 8, 2018

Lawyers for HIV and TB Justice 2018 Training (Johannesburg, 2018)

This playlist contains recordings of a training for lawyers on strategic litigation, legal defense and advocacy on HIV and TB justice from 20-23 February 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), HIV Justice Worldwide, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Stop TB Partnership, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), and the Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN). The training was funded under the Africa Regional Grant on HIV: Removing Legal Barriers. Resources and more information on the training are available here: http://www.southernafricalitigationce… With thanks to Nicholas Feustel of Georgetown Media.

Mexico: The Mexican Secretary of Health should avoid discriminatory terminology and focus on stopping the criminalisation of people with HIV, state activists

By using the word “contaminated” the Mexican Secretary of health has committed a crime, state activists

When using the word “contaminated” against patients with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the Secretary of Health Arturo Iran Suárez Villa committed a crime by using a term not compliant with the official Mexican regulation 010, revealed in a position statement the Mexican Network of Organizations against the Criminalization of HIV, composed of 32 civil society organizations and member of the HIV Justice Worldwide initiative.

In support, they said that it is unacceptable for a Secretary of Health to refer to people with HIV as contaminated.

“In accordance with the methods, principles and criteria of operation of the components of the National Health System enunciated in the MEXICAN OFFICIAL REGULATION NOM-010-SSA2-2010, FOR THE PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF INFECTION BY HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUSES, instruments, tissues, blood are contaminated but not people. The word is discriminatory and, in Mexico, it is a crime, “they said.

For this reason, they urged him to consult the Reference Document. UNAIDS Terminology Guidelines (UNAIDS 2015), to familiarise himself with the correct terms to be used when talking about HIV and AIDS.

“The concern of Dr. Suárez Villa – as head of the sector – should focus on avoiding any form of criminalization of people with HIV in Veracruz, since these contravene the International Guidelines on HIV / AIDS and Human Rights (UNAIDS, 2016), as it is embodied in article 159 of the Code, “they indicated.

It should be noted that HIV Justice Worldwide is an initiative composed of national, regional and global civil society organizations, working together to end the criminalization of HIV.

The founding partners are: AIDS Rights Alliance for South Africa (ARASA); Canadian Legal HIV / AIDS Network; Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP +), HIV Justice Network; International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW); Positive Women Network-USA. (PWN-USA); and Sero Project (SERO). The initiative is also supported by Amnesty International, the International HIV / AIDS Alliance, UNAIDS and UNDP.

Published in Palabras Claras, on January 30, 2018

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Con vocablo “contaminado”, incurrió Suárez Villa en un delito: activistas

Al usar la palabra “contaminado” contra los pacientes con el Virus de Inmunodeficiencia Humana (VIH), el Secretario de Salud Arturo Irán Suárez Villa incurrió en un delito al usar un término no aceptado por la Norma Oficial Mexicana 010, revelaron en un posicionamiento la Red Mexicana de Organizaciones contra la Criminalización del VIH, conformada a su vez por 32 organizaciones de la sociedad civil y suscrita a la iniciativa HIV Justice Worldwide1.

En su sustento, dijeron que es inaceptable que un Secretario de Salud se refiera a las personas con VIH como contaminados.

“De acuerdo con los métodos, principios y criterios de operación de los componentes del Sistema Nacional de Salud enunciados en la NORMA OFICIAL MEXICANA NOM-010-SSA2-2010, PARA LA PREVENCION Y EL CONTROL DE LA INFECCION POR VIRUS DE LA INMUNODEFICIENCIA HUMANA, se contaminan los instrumentos, los tejidos, la sangre pero no las personas. La palabra es discriminatoria y, en México, es un delito” indicaron.

Por lo que le exhortaron a consultar el Documento de Referencia. Orientaciones Terminológicas de ONUSIDA (ONUSIDA 2015), para que se familiarice con los términos correctos a usarse que cuando se habla del VIH y del sida.

“La preocupación del doctor Suárez Villa –como cabeza de sector– debería enfocarse en evitar cualquier forma de criminalización a las personas con VIH en Veracruz, ya que estas contravienen las Directrices Internacionales sobre VIH/sida y los Derechos Humanos (ONUSIDA, 2016), tal y como se encuentra plasmado en el artículo 159 del Código” indicaron.

Cabe destacar que HIV Justice Worldwide (Justicia por VIH en todo el mundo) es una iniciativa compuesta por organizaciones de la sociedad civil nacionales, regionales y mundiales, trabajando en conjunto para terminar con la criminalización del VIH.

Los socios fundadores son: SIDA y Alianza por los Derechos para Sudáfrica (ARASA); Red Legal Canadiense de VIH/SIDA; Red Mundial de Personas Viviendo con VIH (GNP+), Red de Justicia para el VIH; Comunidad Internacional de Mujeres Viviendo con VIH (ICW); Red de Mujeres Seropositivas-E.E.U.U. (PWN-USA); y Proyecto Sero (SERO). La iniciativa también es apoyada por Amnistía Internacional, la Alianza Internacional de VIH/SIDA, ONUSIDA y PNUD.

Canada: Ontario will no longer prosecute people who don't disclose their HIV status if they have a suppressed viral load

Ontario to curb prosecution of HIV non-disclosure cases

Crown attorneys will not prosecute cases of HIV-positive people who do not disclose they have HIV if they have had a “suppressed” viral load, or amount of HIV, in their blood for six months.

The Ontario government announced Friday, World AIDS Day, that Crown attorneys will no longer prosecute cases of HIV-positive people who don’t disclose their status to their sexual partner when the person who is HIV-positive has had a suppressed viral load for six months.

Viral load is the amount of the HIV virus in a person’s blood.

The announcement was a response to the federal justice department’s report titled “Criminal Justice System’s Response to Non-Disclosure of HIV,” released Friday.

The report, backed by analysis from the Public Health Agency of Canada, concludes that the criminal law should generally not apply to people who are on HIV treatment (which suppresses their viral load and makes transmission unlikely), are not on treatment, but use condoms, or engage only in oral sex.

“The realistic possibility of a transmission test is likely not met in these circumstances,” the report concludes.

The federal report recognized that HIV “is first and foremost a public health issue,” and concluded that non-disclosure prosecutions disproportionately affect people who are Indigenous, gay and Black.

While the province’s announcement to limit prosecutions was seen as modest progress, a number of organizations quickly pointed out that the government should only be prosecuting cases where there was actual, intentional transmission of HIV.

Ontario has been criticized by advocates as being a world leader in unjustly prosecuting HIV-positive people, typically charging them with aggravated sexual assault for failing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partner.

Published in the Star on Dec 1, 2017