The United States tops the world table of criminal prosecutions for HIV exposure or transmission according to data published this week by the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+). The past few weeks have also seen the publication of three important new documents highlighting why so many of these prosecutions make for poor public policy.
Global Criminalisation Scan
The GNP+ Global Criminalisation Scan website, launched on December 1st, is a living, growing document of laws, judicial practices and case studies of criminalisation worldwide.
Data from over 150 jurisdictions in North America, Latin America, Europe and Central Asia, and the Asia Pacific region are currently available, with more to come from Africa and the Caribbean early next year.
The Global Criminalisation Scan website is an expansion of earlier work by GNP+ Europe and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), which published a report in 2005 that found that there was substantial evidence that prosecutions for HIV exposure and transmission were on the increase across Europe.
Further ‘criminalisation creep’ in Europe and Central Asia, which was reported at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico, has also been evident in other regions. This led GNP+ and its partner organisations to take on the task of monitoring the situation globally.
The website’s aims are to:
- collect and keep up-to-date information on national or state level laws criminalising HIV exposure or transmission
- provide a ‘clearing house’ for resources, research, and initiatives on the subject
- to provide a platform for advocacy initiatives
Both HIV-specific and general criminal laws under which HIV exposure or transmission can be prosecuted are presented on a local, national and region level. Individual case reports are highlighted and, where possible, the Global Criminalisation Scan links to media and other reports and research, including court proceedings.
The site also includes an in-depth section featuring articles examining difficulties in establishing the burden of proof; changing concepts of HIV transmission risks; how criminalisation affects HIV-positive individuals’ right to privacy; the potential for discriminatory application of the law; and the potential impact of the law on HIV-positive women and their reproductive rights.
According to data presented on the site the ten countries which have seen the greatest number of prosecutions so far are:
- United States (345)
- Canada (84)
- Sweden (50-55)
- Switzerland (approx. 40)
- Austria (30-40)
- Denmark (18)
- Australia (18)
- United Kingdom (17)
- Germany (15)
- France (15)
The site can be accessed here.
In November 2007, the UNAIDS Secretariat and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted an international consultation on the criminalisation of HIV transmission in Geneva in order to consider recent developments in the area. The consultation resulted in a policy brief published in July 2008 and launched at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico.
Now, UNAIDS/UNDP have released an in-depth report from the three-day meeting. The document provides an overview of the discussions as well as a summary of the main issues and conclusions by the participants, who included parliamentarians, members of the judiciary, criminal law experts, civil society representatives and people living with HIV, alongside representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report also includes a summary provided by Justice Edwin Cameron, judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa, in which he concluded: “We ourselves and the UN system must speak skilfully and deftly and respectfully, but must not compromise principle in setting out the case against laws and prosecutions that detrimentally affect a just and rational response to AIDS. Too many lives are at stake for that message to be blunted.”
Justice Cameron has been true to his word, speaking out passionately against the criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission, notably during a plenary session at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico.
The report can be downloaded here. (pdf file)
Civil society publications
Two new publications from civil society organisations outlining global concerns over the criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission have also recently been published.
The 48 page booklet, Verdict on a Virus: Public Health, Human Rights and Criminal Law was launched by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), GNP+ and the International Community of Positive Women (ICW) in November.
The booklet is written in clear, layperson’s language and is aimed at anyone who wants to know more about criminalisation and its related health, human rights and legal implications. It asks and answers ten key questions about the criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission and provides further resources and information.
A complementary 36 page advocacy document entitled, 10 Reasons to Oppose Criminalization of HIV Exposure or Transmission was also published earlier this week by the Open Society Institute.
Written by a global collective of legal experts and advocates including Ralf Jürgens, Jonathan Cohen, Edwin Cameron, Scott Burris, Michaela Clayton, Richard Elliott, Richard Pearshouse, Anne Gathumbi, and Delme Cupido, it has been endorsed by more than 40 civil society organisations from around the world.
Verdict on a Virus can be downloaded from the IPPF website.
10 Reasons… is available to download from the Open Society Institute website.