The national flag of Uzbekistan on March 30, 2016 in Tashkent
© 2016 Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images
Uzbekistan’s Internal Ministry has proposed a regressive new law that would require police to conduct mandatory testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, as part of police raids on venues where “dangerous groups” gather or live as well as those suspected of having close contact with them. Mandatory HIV testing violates fundamental human rights and is potentially detrimental for public health. The rights under threat include the rights to bodily integrity, to be free from violence, to the highest attainable standard of health, and to nondiscrimination.
This is particularly true for people in marginalized populations, such as the “dangerous groups” referenced in the proposed law – sex workers, people who use drugs, and men who have sex with men (MSM). These populations already find their human rights threatened on a daily basis.
The World Health Organization and UNAIDS have made it clear that they “do not support mandatory or compulsory testing of individuals on public health grounds. HIV testing, no matter how it is delivered, must always respect personal choice and adhere to ethical and human rights principles.”
The marginalized groups targeted by this draft law already face discrimination under existing laws. Uzbekistan’s criminal code punishes consensual sexual conduct between men with up to three years in prison. Sex work is punishable by a fine. Possession of illegal drugs carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and people who are convicted of using drugs are placed on a government registry.
In its 2020 conclusions, the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Uzbek government to repeal its criminalization of same-sex conduct. In 2022, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recommended Uzbekistan amend its drug laws, removing criminal provisions, the same year the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called for better protections from violence for marginalized women, including those living with HIV/AIDs, and for measures to support women seeking to leave sex work.
Instead of using a new law to moralize about “dangerous groups,” Uzbekistan authorities should scrap this proposed update and turn their focus to protecting marginalized populations, by repealing or reforming existing laws that violate basic rights.