Understanding the Law

Knowing the law

These resources clarify existing laws in particular countries. They represent good examples of advocates’ work to discover and understand the law in their jurisdictions. Resources include charts (listing laws), maps and articles.

Criminal law and HIV non-disclosure: Understanding the criminal law in Canada

Explains the criminal law in Canada, including what the law is, basic principles of the law, and the hierarchy of the courts (in HIV Disclosure and the Law: A Resource Kit for Service Providers).

A human rights analysis of the N’Djamena model legislation on AIDS and HIV-specific legislation in Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Detailed information and analyses of HIV-specific legislation in seven Central and West African countries from a human rights perspective. Provides commentary on N’Djamena model legislation on HIV/AIDS (2004).

HIV-specific legislation in sub-Saharan Africa: A comprehensive human rights analysis

Analyses key provisions in HIV-specific laws, outlining both protective and punitive provisions including criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. Argues these provisions are generally overly broad, disregarding the best available recommendations for legislating on HIV; failing the human rights test of necessity, proportionality and reasonableness; consecrating myths and prejudice; and undermining HIV responses.

State-by-State Chart of HIV – Specific Statutes and Prosecutorial Tools

This chart from the Center for HIV Law and Policy, developed in 2013 and last updated in 2017, details each U.S. state’s HIV-specific laws in relation to various areas including spitting, biting, sharing needles, sex, and sex work, as well as HIV-specific sentence enhancement.

Comparative Sentencing Chart on HIV Criminalization in the United States

This chart, published by the Center for HIV Law and Policy in 2012, compares U.S. legislation on sentencing for HIV exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission with laws punishing drinking and driving, reckless endangerment of others, and vehicular homicide, showing HIV exposure frequently carries far higher sentences than more dangerous crimes.

When Sex is a Crime and Spit is a Dangerous Weapon: A Snapshot of HIV Criminalization in the United States

Map by the Center for HIV Law and Policy showing details of U.S. states with HIV specific laws, HIV-related prosecutions, sentence enhancement provisions, and sex offender registration.

Prevalence and public health implications of state laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure in the United States

Describes the prevalence and characteristics of laws criminalizing HIV exposure across the U.S., examining the implications of these laws for public health practice. Finds that nearly two-thirds of states have legislation criminalizing potential HIV exposure, including behaviours that pose low or negligible risk. States are encouraged to re-examine HIV-specific laws (referencing current science) and consider whether current laws are the best vehicle to achieve their intended purposes.

GNP+ and THT. Criminalisation of HIV transmission in Europe: A rapid scan (2005)

This paper, prepared by Moono Nyambe at GNP+, and managed by Julian Hows (GNP+) and Lisa Power (Terrence Higgins Trust) comprised a synthesis of input from several different sources, pubished in April 2005 as a draft document open to comments. The statements and information provided in this document are based on replies to a questionnaire and have not been independently confirmed. The views expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect the official position of UNAIDS which partly funded its production.

Respondents from 41 out of 45 countries provided information for the study. Of the respondents from the 41 countries that were able to provide information, it was reported that in at least 36 countries the actual or potential transmission of HIV can constitute a criminal offence. This supported anecdotal evidence that increasingly the law is seen as a tool for regulating conduct that can lead to HIV transmission. In 21 of these countries, it was reported that at least one person has been prosecuted.