World AIDS Day: HIV Laws And Policies, New Online Tool

Published: December 1, 2011

On World AIDS Day, an online tool is being launched by the Criminalize Hate Not HIV campaign in order to help individuals living with the disease, campaigners and activists around the world learn more about policies and laws which may directly affect them. The campaign was launched to terminate the use of criminal laws to criminalize HIV transmission, and exposure to HIV. The online tool is also designed to help policy makers find out more about the impact of such legislation.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) launched the campaign in order to counter the shocking international trend towards the criminalization of HIV transmission in recent years. The campaign also calls for an evidence-based technique to prevent HIV that protects the human rights of individuals living with the diseases and does not increase the stigma surrounding HIV.

Kevin Osborne, Senior Adviser on HIV at IPPF, explained:

    "The last decade has seen the criminal law become part of national responses to HIV and to promoting public health; yet the criminal law is a blunt instrument for HIV prevention. All current evidence points towards criminalization hampering an effective response to HIV prevention, and towards criminal laws being ineffective in protecting the most vulnerable from infection. Criminalize HATE Not HIV is concerned that these laws increase stigma and discourage health seeking behavior."


An article by Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on people’s right to receive the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, released to the General Assembly in August 2011, stated:

    "Realization of the right to health requires the removal of barriers that interfere with individual decision-making on health-related issues and with access to health services, education and information … In cases where a barrier is created by a criminal law or other legal restriction, it is the obligation of the State to remove it."


Even though it’s difficult to know precisely, 20% of the countries in the world (41 nations) have laws under which HIV exposure or transmission has been prosecuted under either public health laws or general criminal laws for HIV specific legislation. In terms of HIV specific laws, 63 countries have in at least one jurisdiction, criminal provisions relating to HIV exposure or transmission – 13 in Asia, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 27 in Africa, 9 in Europe, 2 in Oceania and 1 in North America. Out of these countries, 17 have prosecuted people for HIV exposure or transmission under HIV specific laws.

The much awaited study from the Global Commission on HIV and the LAW is due to be published this month. The Commission has recorded evidence of the nature and impact of using the law in HIV response and will reveal some of the human rights abuses individuals living with the disease have faced.

Tewodros Melesse, Director General of IPPF, explained:

    "HIV does not discriminate; so neither should the law. All people – regardless of race, gender, HIV status, age, sexual orientation or religion – share the same human rights and the same responsibilities.

    It is our view that the punitive nature of laws used to criminalize HIV transmission breaches the human rights of people living with HIV. We greatly look forward to the Global Commission’s report, in anticipation that it will categorically support the view that human rights must be respected and that the criminalization of HIV transmission is a violation of human rights that must end."

Legal changes, such as anti-discrimination laws and confidentiality laws, have strengthened the response to HIV prevention, but there is no evidence that the criminalization of HIV transmission can be used as a prevention tool. In fact these are bad laws that do the opposite. Governments should recognize this and remove these laws from the statute book.

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