20th International AIDS Conference - Melbourne, Australia

MOSY04 Criminalization of Key Populations: How to Respond to HIV?
  Symposia Session
Venue: Melbourne Room 2
Time: 21.07.2014, 11:00 - 12:30
Chair: Mandeep Dhaliwal, UNDP

Many countries continue to criminalize key populations, including men who have sex with men, people living with HIV, people who use drugs, sex workers and transgender. This has an adverse impact on HIV prevention, care and treatment interventions as it pushes these communities to the underground making access to HIV-related services more difficult. This session will explore criminalization as an increasing trend in some parts of the world and discuss the challenges that activists, service providers, communities and international organizations have faced when trying to end criminalization, discrimination and stigma towards the key populations. The session will ask who is responsible for ending discriminatory laws and practices and how governments that put those in place can be held accountable. Good practices will be shared to give an inspiration for the fight against these discriminatory laws and practices.
J. Berry, United States

Laws and practices that criminalize key populations: an overview
M. Dhaliwal, UNDP

Moderated discussion: the impact of law enforcement on human rights
R. Morgan Thomas, United Kingdom
N. Rhoades, United States
A. Row Kavi, India
M. Dhakal, Nepal
D. Nakato, Uganda

Moderated discussion: law-enforcement and policy-making perspectives on criminalization
R. del Prado, UNAIDS
M. Kirby, Australia
J. Pugel, United States

Questions and answers


Powerpoints presentations
Moderated discussion: law-enforcement and policy-making perspectives on criminalization -

Rapporteur reports

Track D report by Laura Ferguson

The session focused on the epidemic of bad laws that criminalize populations and behaviors and stand in the way of progress in addressing HIV. Getting the services to those that need them most is not possible in this context. Creation and application of the law is often based on prejudice, fear, myth and not science or evidence. And the problem is growing. The lack of enforcement of protective laws is problematic while there is an increase in intolerance and rights violations of male, female and transgender sex workers. Presentations showed different aspects of the issue.

·       Personal story from Iowa, USA: undetectable viral load, consensual sex, wore a condom, no transmission, convicted for criminal transmission- 25 years. The conviction was later overturned but the personal impact has been huge.

·       The impacts of the decriminalization and subsequent re-criminalization of sex between men in India have been far-reaching. Following decriminalization, there was an upsurge in pride, decrease in stigma and discrimination and increase in respect for transgender people. All of this has been reversed with re-criminalization and access to services has decreased.

·       In addition to the law against ‘unnatural sex’ in Nepal, a range of other laws exists that are often misapplied, especially against transgender people. The police and judiciary lack understanding of transgender issues and lean towards punishment rather than support. On the positive side, there is some movement towards a same-sex relationship law and issues around sexual orientation and gender identity are addressed in schools and universities.  

·       Criminalization laws in Uganda are a legacy of colonialism but are currently being made harsher. This is driving sex workers underground, impeding access to HIV-related services, impeding adherence to ART and putting lives at risk.

·       The Global Commission made recommendations but how many countries changed laws? How can we make change happen and ensure that the democratic process works in the interest of the citizens? We need brave, courageous politicians and lawmakers. It is insufficient to leave bad laws on the books and simply say they will not be enforced. Reports and talks are insufficient.

·       Realizing that the ‘war on drugs’ was detrimental, a range of actors got together to create a harm reduction response meaning that the police can serve as an entry point to social services e.g. housing, mental health etc.

The questions and discussion marked that 
 laws that criminalize key populations and behaviours specifically can be used to perpetuate violence, hinder access to services and violate human rights but a whole host of other laws that are also used to this effect. In some cases archaic laws need to be modernized but there is also a range of new laws being passed curtailing human rights and impeding the HIV response.There is a difference between laws and policies on paper and in practice; unfortunately it is often the protective laws that are not implemented. There is little political advantage to taking up the issues of key populations but civil society-led legal advocacy work continues. The Global Commission report has the right recommendations but nobody is implementing them. Nobody is funding this work – judicial dialogues, police training etc


  • There needs to be funding available for creating the “enabling environment” and for getting laws and policies right.
  • Avoid general terms that can be understood differently by different actors. Plain speak is something we need to ensure in all our communications.
  • Partnerships – communities, scientists, legislators, law enforcers, national human rights commissions etc. – are key. We need togetherness, and to not separate out key populations.
  • International AIDS Conferences etc need to be real about where we are: we have lots of reports, suggestions and evidence but not much action, which is a very serious predicament for us to be in.

Community report by Paul Nsubuga Semugoma

An 'Oprah' style panel, with Mandeep Dhaliwal of UNDP ably playing the lady herself. Panelists/activists included John Berry, Daisy Nakato from Uganda, Manisha Dhakal, Ashok Row Kavi, Nick Rhoades, and Ruth Morgan Thomas. On the technical side to enrich further the discussion were James Pugel, Ruben Frank del Prado of UNAIDS, Nepal and Judge Michael Kirby

The session opened with activists showing the breadth and personal impact of the laws on the lives of people. Nick Rhoades detailed his 25 years prison sentence saga for consensual sex when he was HIV positive because he didnt disclose. Bangladesh and Indian presentations charted the loss of lives in extra judicial killings and loss of livelihoods, discrimination and dependency on the whim of police 'mercy' for sex workers and and LGBT individuals. Daisy detailed the breadth of new laws in Uganda that would impact and criminalised her as LGBT and also as a sex worker who is HIV positive. The understanding was universal that though the laws themselves were narrow in definition, the effects on individuals and communities were broad, diverse, and generally detrimental to HIV programming.

How to respond was a great challenge. Justice Kikby challenged everyone saying that since the HIV & the Law report, everyone knew the problems. They were well detailed. But, nothing had been done about them. Indeed, more bad laws had been enacted. He challenged everyone that they needed to change Legislators minds. The activists noted that changing legislators minds depended on communities challenging and confronting the legislators. Dr. del Prado opined that marginalised, criminalised communities cant do it alone. In democracies, they had to have the majority of the population with them, to put pressure on leaders.

The discussion was very lively. The consensus was that much needed to be done, and now. That the laws need being changed. It was important for the laws to be changed and not to rely on half solutions like 'sympathetic' law-enforcement, or judges who were fair, or on things like 'the law is not enforced'. Base line, the laws needed to be changed. Other themes was that, good laws needed to be enacted. Because it was important to protect vulnerable commuties. Also it was pointed out that people in academia like scientists had to be made aware of the deleterious effects of the laws.


    The organizers reserve the right to amend the programme.