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‘Not a criminal’ campaign launched to combat laws that push HIV-affected communities underground

Oliver Meth

05 October 2022

The activist network GNP+ has launched the ‘Not a criminal’ campaign which sets out to mobilise community action and hold governments, law and decision makers to account

PIC: iStock/agrobacter

What is this campaign about?

The 'Not a criminal' campaign, is demanding that unjust laws are replaced with evidence-based legislation to protect communities from criminalisation, discrimination and gender-based violence, in efforts to reduce new HIV infections among these key populations. 

In 2015, nations committed to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. A promise complemented by the adoption of the Global AIDS Strategy and the 2021 UN Political Declaration on HIV. But bad laws and failure to combat stigma and violence mean that globally we are lagging behind on achieving this goal.

The campaign calls on United Nations agencies and donors to create effective mechanisms to monitor progress on these vital commitments. The campaign also calls for the creation of independent human rights institutions.

What is the campaign trying to achieve?

The campaign aims to decriminalise HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission; same-sex relationships; sex work and drug use. 

Activists are pushing back against many punitive laws, policies and practices that feed discrimination and  violence against those most affected by HIV. Bad laws, stigma and discrimination block  access to healthcare. This means fewer people accessing  HIV prevention, care and treatment services further fuelling the epidemic.

The campaign demands that countries abolish these punitive laws and uphold a rights-based approach to protect marginalised communities from criminalisation and discrimination.

Why is this campaign important?

The recently launched UNAIDS ‘In Danger’ reports shows that 134 countries criminalise HIV transmission, non-disclosure of, or exposure to, HIV — at least 40% of countries allow for prosecutions of marginalised groups under other laws based on their sexual identity, lifestyles and health status.

About 70% of new infections last year were in groups designated by the UNAIDS as “key populations” as they were most at risk of infections. These include men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender persons, people who inject drugs and prisoners.

In nearly 40% of countries, being in a same-sex relationship is either partially (24) or completely (39) illegal. Meanwhile, a 2021 international review found that almost 90% of nations globally criminalise drug use in full, while about three-quarters similarly police sex work. 

The criminalisation of these groups creates fear and holds people back from health services. Criminalisation discourages HIV testing, reducing the number of people who know their status and are accessing the treatment, care and support they need. It creates distrust in relationships with health service professionals and holds back the provision of quality care, as people fear that their HIV status will be used against them in a criminal case.

Yet, the world continues to witness the slow adoption of, and refusal to implement global commitments to reduce stigma, discrimination, criminalisation, and violence against people living with and most affected by HIV worldwide.

The 'Not a Criminal' campaign is a rallying cry for strong collaborative action on decriminalisation as an essential step to achieving an end to the HIV epidemic.

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