BACKGROUND: In 2018, 20 leading HIV scientists developed an expert consensus statement to address the misuse of HIV science in laws and prosecutions for acts related to sexual activity, biting or spitting. A detailed analysis of the best available scientific and medical research data on HIV transmission, treatment effectiveness and forensics was performed and described so that HIV science may be better understood in criminal law contexts. The statement was the end result of a multi-year process developed by a partnership comprising the IAS, IAPAC, UNAIDS and HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE. More than 70 additional expert scientists endorsed the statement prior to its publication in the Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS).
DESCRIPTION: Following an initial scoping report published in 2020, the HIV Justice Network undertook a desk-based review examining the impact of the statement on the unjust application of criminal law against people living with HIV on the basis of their HIV-positive status (HIV criminalisation) in the five years since its publication.
LESSONS LEARNED: The statement continues to meet its primary aim to support defence arguments in HIV criminalisation cases. For example, it has been entered as evidence in court cases in Canada, Colombia, Kenya, Lesotho and Taiwan. It also meets its secondary aim, supporting lobbying for law and policy reform, including in Burkina Faso, Moldova, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. In addition, the ongoing process of promoting the statement has further supported advocacy efforts to raise the profile of the harms of HIV criminalisation.
CONCLUSIONS: By providing accurate messaging about HIV science in the context of criminal law, the statement has elevated the global conversation about HIV criminalisation and the importance of science- and evidence-informed laws and policies. Nevertheless, too many laws and prosecutions for HIV-related offences continue to rely on incorrect and outdated interpretations of scientific evidence. Although some lawmakers and courts have acknowledged scientific advances, others remain hesitant to revisit decades-old laws or depart from previous judicial decisions. Ending HIV criminalisation cannot rely on science alone. Nevertheless, the statement – and its influential authors – can help limit unjust prosecutions while we work to end the HIV-related stigma, discrimination and structural inequalities that drive criminalisation.

Download the e-Poster (PDF)