WASHINGTON, DC – Michigan Congressman Hansen Clarke became the first sitting elected official in the U.S. to endorse a new consensus statement condemning the criminalization of HIV.
Clarke, who has said MichiganÕs HIV-specific statute criminalizes sex and does nothing to address HIV transmission, made his announcement through a statement at the Center for HIV Law and Policy Positive Justice Project national convening on HIV criminalization in the U.S. The convening was a pre-event at the 19th annual International AIDS Conference.
ÒThe Consensus Statement clearly identifies the serious failures of our current law to prevent injustices in the prosecution of HIV-positive people and charts a way forward based on reasonable criteria,Ó says Clarke in his statement to the convening. ÒThe criminalization of HIV adds a fear of legal bias to the daily struggles faced by the growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. As a member of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, these critical issues continue to be a priority for me. In Congress and in our communities, we must not only urgently work to ensure equal protection under the law for people living with HIV/AIDS. We must also take action to address stigma, fear, and other forms of overt and covert discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.Ó
The consensus statement reads, in part, ÒPublic health leaders and global policy makers agree that HIV criminalization is unjust, bad public health policy and is fueling the epidemic rather than reducing it.Ó
Early in July the Global Commission on HIV and the Law released a significant report calling on states and countries around the world to repeal their HIV-specific laws. The Commission said such laws violate the fundamental human rights of people with HIV. The report also called on governments to set aside and pardon those who have been convicted under such laws.
President Barack ObamaÕs National HIV/AIDS Strategy, released in July of 2010, also called on states to revisit their HIV laws. However, to date, no state has availed itself of Department of Justice resources to do so. In fact, three states — Maryland, Nebraska and Utah — have introduced new HIV-specific laws. Nebraska passed its Òassault with body fluids law last year, while Maryland has legislation pending to make HIV exposure a 25-year felony, raising the crime from a misdemeanor.
Since the HIV-specific criminal law went into effect in 1988, Michigan has had at least 60 cases brought under the HIV-specific law, according to statistics from the Michigan State Police and obtained by University of Michigan researcher Trevor Hoppe.
Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the New York City based Center for HIV Law and Policy, praised ClarkeÕs endorsement.
ÒPublic opposition to HIV criminalization and support for those who are mistreated in the criminal justice system reflects a level of intestinal fortitude that, frankly, is pretty rare in Congress from members of any political party,Ó she said.
Clarke is one of only 40 co-sponsors of the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act which was introduced in Congress last year by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee.