In February 2011, Denmark suspended a law criminalizing wilful infection or exposure to the risk of HIV while it considers a complete review.
A high profile case in 1994 involving a man living with HIV who was accused of unprotected sex with 23 women, and transmitting HIV to a number, provoked a strong reaction amongst the Danish public. The Parliament had only a few years previously passed a law decriminalizing the transmission of STIs due to public health concerns around people being discouraged from accessing services. The man accused of transmitting HIV was therefore found not guilty of any crime.
The Danish public reacted very strongly against this. In response, a law criminalizing and singling out HIV was quickly passed in the Danish Parliament. For many years advocacy groups and people living with HIV felt unable to challenge this law due to the enduring legacy of this case and the negative view that many people held towards it in Denmark.
However, the significant advances in HIV treatment in recent years and evidence that HIV medication can reduce the infectiousness of a person’s HIV gave the Danish HIV organisation AIDS-Fondet new hope for a change in the law on HIV. They developed a strategy to make this happen.
Their goal was to seek to convince the Government that progress in treatment was in fact making the Danish law obsolete. They successfully pursued this argument and the decision to suspend the law in February in 2010 was made due to the Government’s recognition that the law is most likely outdated.
The next step for AIDS-Fondet is to convince the Government that punitive laws on HIV and AIDS undercut basic HIV prevention and sexual health messages and that they should repeal the law completely. An inter-ministerial working group has been formed to undertake revision of the law and is due to report in 2012.
AIDS-Fondet’s advocacy campaign included a range of activities, such as:
- Working with the Danish patient organisation HIV-Denmark and their legal committee to build the evidence base on the impact of criminalization cases on the individuals involved and people living with HIV in Denmark.
- Organising a national conference with a panel debate on decriminalising HIV with attendance of Parliamentarians
- Building networks of ‘friendly’ medical HIV specialists and Parliamentarians
- Writing and placing chronicles in national newspapers in cooperation with Parliamentarians and clinicians
- Meetings with and letters to Ministers, Parliamentarians and the National Board of Health
- Participation in discussions in the media
- Connecting to international networks working on the same issues for instance the Norwegian HIV Law Commission, HIV-Norge, UNAIDS, the South African High Court judge Edwin Cameron and the HIV Criminalisation blog by Edwin Bernard.
- Collecting signatures from 122 organisations from all over the world endorsing a letter to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health congratulating them on their decision to suspend the Danish Penal Code and asking them to consider removing the section singling out HIV during their review.