Greece: Forced HIV testing

July 18, 2013


The Greek government should repeal a regulation that has been used to justify forced HIV testing, Human Rights Watch says. Greece recently reinstated a controversial health regulation that had been used to forcefully test people for HIV. 

Sex workers

On June 26, 2013, the day after he was appointed, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis brought back into force a regulation on the transmission of infectious diseases. The regulation, which was made public on July 1, 2013, had been used before, from April 2012 to April 2013. During the year it was in force, the police used the regulation to detain people, especially those suspected of being sex workers, drug users, or undocumented migrants, for forced testing for HIV or other infectious diseases. The regulation was mainly used to test sex workers for HIV. Those found to be HIV positive were arrested and charged with causing intentional grievous bodily harm, a felony, or attempted bodily harm, for allegedly having unprotected sex with customers while HIV positive. Many of the women arrested were detained pending trial for months before they were finally acquitted by the courts, who found no strong evidence for the charges. The final five were released in March 2013 from pretrial detention after being acquitted.

Step backward

“It’s deeply worrying that it took the new health minister only one day to bring back a regulation that violated human rights and stigmatized vulnerable groups, and that proved counterproductive to protecting public health,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The decision by Minister Adonis Georgiadis to reimpose the regulation used for forced HIV testing is a big step backward for human rights and public health. Addressing infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis requires investing in health services, not calling the police.”

Police authority

Health Regulation No. GY/39A (Amendments That Concern the Restriction of the Transmission of Infectious Diseases), states that mandatory health examinations will be required, as well as isolation and compulsory treatment, for diseases of public health importance. The regulation includes a long list of such diseases, including influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, syphilis, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. However, the regulation specifies certain groups as a priority for testing, including people who use intravenous drugs and sex workers, undocumented migrants coming from countries where such diseases are endemic, and people living in conditions that do not meet ‘minimum standards’ of hygiene, including the homeless. Unfortunately, the regulation does not specify how the mandatory testing will be carried out.It thus gives police the authority to assist in enforcing isolation, restriction quarantine, hospitalization,and treatment.

Forcible testing is a violation of bodily integrity and autonomy, Human Rights Watch stresses. “Although detention on public health grounds is permitted in certain circumstances, people should not be detained solely to conduct forced medical procedures, including testing for HIV. Detention for treatment can also be a violation of the right to liberty. Any detention for public health reasons must have a lawful basis, be demonstrably necessary and proportionate, and be nondiscriminatory. Anyone detained, irrespective of the grounds, is entitled to guarantees of due process.”

Source: Greece: Repeal Abusive Health Regulation. Stop Forced HIV Testing, Human Rights Watch website, July 4, 2013