Laws against HIV transmission counter- productive UN Human Rights chief tells MPs

20th July 2010

APPG in Vienna...

The UN’s top human rights adviser on torture, urged MPs from around the world to think carefully before creating laws that criminalise the transmission of HIV, at a packed event today in the Austrian parliament.

Professor Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, told MPs that there was no evidence that such laws were effective in reducing transmission and on the contrary, they made fighting AIDS more difficult.

He warned that such laws “created a false sense of security amongst HIV negatives.”

However, a Ugandan MP insisted that the new HIV laws currently going through her parliament were necessary to protect people who are HIV negative.

The Ugandan ‘HIV Prevention and Control Bill’ would prosecute individuals who are aware of their HIV status and pass on their infection. It would also allow medical practitioners to disclose a patient's HIV status to others.

In a high controversial move, the country has also been considering whether to ramp up its penalties against gay men in an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposes hanging for certain gay ‘offences’.

MPs from Angola to the Ukraine to Ecaudor heard about the unintended impacts of such laws which criminalise gay men, and other groups particularly vulnerable to AIDS.

Susan Timerlake, a lwayer for the UN’s specialist AIDS programme, explained,

“Criminalisation drives people underground, reducing voluntary testing and increasing unsafe practices.”

Human rights NGOs say that gay men in countries like Uganda find it difficult to speak openly to their doctors or seek advice because they fear prosecution.

At a later session chaired by The All Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS, MP delegates also heard that pregnant women and mothers face punitive AIDS laws in some countries.

There has been a recent surge in Africa countries passing laws to criminalise mother to child transmission of HIV.

Transmission can be avoided if the mother takes the right medicines. However using the law to require mums to test and take the medication could have negative consequences.

The prospect of jail would deter women from using health services said a South African MP “I’d have may baby at home or think twice before having a test.” she commented.

Thus far the majority of criminal prosecutions for HIV transmission of any kind have occurred in North America and Western Europe.

Now there are concerns that African criminal cases may mushroom following the introduction of new laws.

UNAIDS is calling on MPs from all countries to put aside their moral views, consider the evidence and repeal laws which are a barrier to tackling the HIV epidemic.