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MEXICO: Laws Criminalising HIV Transmission Are Discriminatory

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jun 29 2010 (IPS) - In 30 of Mexico’s 32 states there are laws penalising transmission of HIV, the AIDS virus, which are regarded by experts as discriminatory and ineffective in curbing the epidemic.

Under the Federal Criminal Code, passing on a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or incurable disease is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and this is mirrored in most of the states’ legislation, where fines and community service are sometimes included as penalties.

In two states, Guerrero in the southwest and Tamaulipas in the northeast, the laws refer specifically to HIV/AIDS.

The central states of Aguascalientes and San Luis de Potosí are the only ones that do not criminalise the transmission of STIs.

In Guerrero, article 195 of the state penal code establishes prison terms of three months to five years and fines of between 20 and 100 days of the defendant’s wages for anyone who is aware they have an STI or HIV and has sexual intercourse with someone who is unaware of their condition.

In Tamaulipas, article 203 provides for sentences of six months to six years, and fines of between 10 and 50 days of the defendant’s wages, for the same offence.


“This is an alarming situation. HIV transmission should not be criminalised. It is a discriminatory practice that lends itself to continued justification of attitudes like homophobia,” José Aguilar, the national coordinator of the non-governmental Red Democracia y Sexualidad, which focuses on sex education and advocating sexual rights, told IPS.

So far, these laws have not been enforced against HIV-positive people, which is why there have been no moves to repeal them.

“This legislation was intended to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic; but clearly, it criminalises people living with HIV. It also violates a number of human rights, for instance the rights to privacy and sexual freedom,” Mario Juárez, at the department of analysis and proposals of the state National Council to Prevent Discrimination, told IPS.

This country of 107 million people has more than 200,000 people living with HIV — the second largest infected population in Latin America after Brazil — and an HIV infection rate of 0.4 percent. In the region, over two million people are living with the virus.

Criminalisation of the transmission of HIV/AIDS is on the agenda for the 18th International AIDS Conference scheduled for Jul. 18-23 in Vienna, Austria. It was also discussed at the 11th National Congress on HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections, held last November in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

And at the 17th International AIDS Conference held in August 2008 in Mexico City, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) presented a global report on the growing criminalisation of HIV transmission.

Mexico’s national report for 2008-2009 on the fulfilment of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in 2001, does not mention the effects of these laws.

“It’s important to have prevention measures and awareness-raising campaigns, and to build a culture of respect. Civil society is always fighting discriminatory measures like these, and always struggling against the current,” said Aguilar.

In 2007, UNAIDS and the UNDP supported the publication of a document, “Ten Reasons for Opposing Criminalisation of HIV Exposure or Transmission”, drawn up by a coalition of organisations working on HIV/AIDS, human rights and gender issues.

“The push to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by the wish to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries, coupled by what is perceived to be a failure of existing HIV prevention efforts,” the document says.

The 10 reasons include the ineffectiveness of such laws and their discriminatory and stigmatising nature, as well as the view that they “endanger and further oppress women.”

In Mexico the sex ratio among people living with HIV was 6.6 men for each woman in 1995, a proportion that dropped to 5.1 in 1996 and 3.6 in 2008, before increasing to four men for every woman in 2009.

Between 1995 and 2009, there were 640 homophobia-related murders, 143 of which were committed in the Mexican capital, according to the Federal District Commission on Human Rights.

“It’s an issue that just hasn’t been raised forcefully enough, and so the state has not reacted. Civil society organisations should take up the question and air it in public,” said Juárez, in regard to the laws and their possible consequences.

But so far there have been no legislative initiatives to eliminate the laws criminalising HIV transmission in Mexico.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has approved a grant of 70 million dollars for a Mexican project aimed at high risk groups such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and intravenous drug users.

The Global Fund, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a public-private partnership of international donors, the governments of the Group of Eight most powerful countries, and non-governmental organisations, devoted to preventing and treating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in needy countries.

 
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