- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, a group commissioned by the U.N. Development Program and chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has released a study today on the role laws and institutions play in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Among other topics, the paper discusses the countries where transmitting HIV is considered a crime. It seems the United States is something of a trendsetter and global leader on that front:
Some jurisdictions apply existing general offences to criminalise HIV exposure or transmission—from “administration of a noxious substance” (France) to attempted homicide (United States). Others have chosen to target HIV: the frst HIV-specific laws were passed in the United States in 1987, with many other nations quickly following suit. The past decade has seen a new wave HIV-specific statutes, notably in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America.
Today, countries and jurisdictions in every region of the world have promulgated HIV-specific criminal statutes. They’re on the books in 37 of the 50 United States; in Africa, 27 countries have them; in Asia and the Paci?c, 13; Latin America, 11; and Europe, 9. According to a 2010 report by the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), at least 600 people living with HIV in 24 countries have been convicted under HIV-specific or general criminal laws, with the greatest numbers reported in North America.
The report condemns these laws, arguing that they discourage people who are HIV-positive from participating in treatment programs or disclosing their status to their sexual partners.
The the United States convicts more people for transmission of HIV than any other country — under various state laws — followed by Canada. Surprisingly, Sweden and Norway have the highest conviction rate compared to HIV-positive population. The global comission’s report notes that "In Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, migrants and asylum seekers have been disproportionately represented among those prosecuted for HIV transmission and exposure.
Denmark suspended its law criminalizing HIV transmission in 2011. The law had been one of the world’s harshest, making it a crime to expose another person to risk of HIV infection, even if there was no actual transmission.
The reports also cites laws that stigmatize gays, transgendered people, migrants, prisoners, and drug users as contributing to the spread of HIV.