Conclusion

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We have asked whether criminal laws and prosecutions represent sound policy responses to conduct that carries the risk of HIV transmission. On the one hand, it is obviously reprehensible for a person knowingly to infect another with HIV or any other life-endangering health condition. On the other hand, using criminal sanctions for conduct other than clearly intentional transmission may well infringe upon human rights and undermine important public policy objectives. We accept that the use of criminal law may be warranted in some circumstances, such as in cases of intentional transmission of HIV or as an aggravating factor in cases of rape and defilement. Individual parliaments will determine the specific circumstances, depending on their local context. Before rushing to legislate, however, we should give careful consideration to the fact that passing HIV-specific criminal legislation can: further stigmatize persons living with HIV; provide a disincentive to HIV testing; create a false sense of security among people who are HIV-negative; and, rather than assisting women by protecting them against HIV infection, impose on them an additional burden and risk of violence or discrimination. In addition, there is no evidence that criminal laws specific to HIV transmission will make any significant impact on the spread of HIV or on halting the epidemic. Therefore, priority must be given to increasing access to comprehensive and evidence-informed prevention methods in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Paragraphs 15-18, First Global Parliamentary Meeting on HIV/AIDS. Final Conclusions: criminalization of transmission, 2007.1

The pursuit of justice can sometimes conflict with other important policy goals. Debates about whether or not potential or actual HIV exposure or transmission should be within the purview of the criminal justice system often hinge on the question of what impact laws and prosecutions may have on a wide range of people and on the course of the epidemic itself. A close examination of the intended and unintended consequences of such criminalisation, from both a public health and human rights perspective, raises vital questions that should be considered by everyone with a stake in the matter.

It is hoped that the information provided in this book will allow for the criminal justice system to be fair and rational in dealing with individuals living with HIV, and that policy influencers and policymakers, including parliamentarians, use this information to pass (or repeal) laws that work towards mitigating the impacts of the HIV pandemic, and advance universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

References

  1. First Global Parliamentary Meeting on HIV/AIDS Parliaments and Leadership in combating HIV/AIDS. Manila, Philippines, November 2007
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