Nina Sun, Emily Christie, Luisa Cabal, Joseph J Amon
In the early years of the HIV epidemic, many countries passed laws criminalizing HIV detection, exposure and / or transmission. These reactions, which aim to limit transmission and punish those considered ‘irresponsible’, have since been shown to undermine effective HIV responses by driving people away from diagnosis and increasing stigma towards those living with HIV. With the advent of COVID-19, advocates for human rights and public health raised concerns that countries could once again respond with criminal and punitive approaches. To assess the extent to which countries adopted such strategies, 51 English-language emergency orders from 39 countries representing seven regions of the world were selected from the COVID-19 Law Lab, a database of COVID-19 related laws from over 190 countries. Emergency orders were reviewed to assess the type of identified restrictions, enforcement mechanisms and compliance with the principles of the Siracusa Principles on Restriction and Exceptions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including legality, legitimate purposes, proportionality, non-discrimination, limited duration. and subject to review. About half of all orders investigated included criminal sanctions related to violations of lockdowns. Few orders fully met the legal requirements for limiting or derogating from human rights obligations in public health emergencies. In future pandemics, policy makers should carefully assess the need for criminal and punitive action and ensure that emergency orders comply with countries’ human rights obligations.