What are the human rights implications of applying the criminal law to HIV?

Under international law, states have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all. This includes ensuring that domestic laws, including criminal laws, are consistent with international human rights obligations.

Current practices relating to the criminalization of transmission or exposure of HIV jeopardize human rights in a number of ways including compromizing the right to health, privacy, equality before the law and a fair trial. It also fuels inequality that can worsen vulnerability to HIV.


Many people living with HIV or those most vulnerable may have already been subject to human rights abuses on the basis of their gender, economic status, sexual orientation, age or ethnicity. The impact of criminalization of HIV transmission or exposure can be as, or even more, damaging.

For example, pressure from the law to disclose HIV status may increase women's vulnerability to gender violence, social exclusion, poverty and ill-health. Women, who are often the first to find out their HIV status, may be placed at greater risk of violence, abandonment or blame for bringing HIV into the home. In some jurisdictions, women can also be prosecuted for transmitting HIV to a child during pregnancy or breastfeeding. These social and biological factors could result in disproportionate prosecution of women for HIV transmission or exposure and perpetuate the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV and relating issues of social exclusion, disempowerment and gender violence.

Find out more

Read more on the 'Swiss Statement'.

Read the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health on Criminalization here.

Read: 10 Reasons Why Human Rights Should Occupy the Center of the Global AIDS Struggle

Watch experts from around the world explain why Human Rights are so important to the HIV response, below.

Fast facts about HIV criminalization
Successful campaigns from across the globe

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