Belgium

Last updated on: 27 April 2012

Criminalisation of HIV transmission/exposure

Belgium
Whether Specific law enacted: 
No
Number of people prosecuted: 
4
Number of people convicted: 
1
Applicable law: 

Articles 402, 418 and 421, Belgian Penal Code could apply.

[Note: §402 been the only law used so far to prosecute an individual for HIV transmission.]

Art. 402. du Code Pénal:

Sera puni d'un emprisonnement de trois mois à cinq ans et d'une amende de cinquante francs à cinq cents francs, quiconque aura causé à autrui une maladie ou incapacité de travail personnel, en lui administrant volontairement, mais sans intention de tuer, des substances qui peuvent donner la mort, ou des substances qui, sans être de nature à donner la mort, peuvent cependant altérer gravement la santé. (Fr)

Met gevangenisstraf van drie maanden tot vijf jaar en met geldboete van vijftig frank tot vijfhonderd frank wordt gestraft hij die bij een ander een ziekte of ongeschiktheid tot het verrichten van persoonlijke arbeid veroorzaakt door hem, opzettelijk maar zonder het oogmerk om te doden, stoffen toe te dienen die de dood kunnen teweegbrengen, of stoffen die, al zijn zij niet van die aard dat zij de dood teweegbrengen, toch de gezondheid zwaar kunnen schaden. (Nl)

Unofficial translation: Anyone who causes sickness that makes another incapable of work by giving him or her voluntarily, but without intention to kill, substances that can cause death or greatly alter their health

Art. 418 du Code Pénal:

Est coupable d'homicide ou de lésion involontaires, celui qui a causé le mal par défaut de prévoyance ou de précaution, mais sans intention d'attenter à la personne d'autrui. (Fr)

Schuldig aan onopzettelijk doden of aan onopzettelijk toebrengen van letsel is hij die het kwaad veroorzaakt door gebrek aan voorzichtigheid of voorzorg, maar zonder het oogmerk om de persoon van een ander aan te randen. (Nl)

Unofficial translation: anyone who is guilty of unintended lesion (wound or injury) , or who causes damages by lacking foresight or caution, but did not intend to do so.

Article 421 du Code Pénal:

Sera puni d'un emprisonnement de huit jours à un an et d'une amende de vingt-six francs à deux cents francs, ou d'une de ces peines seulement, celui qui aura involontairement cause à autrui une maladie ou incapacité de travail personnel, en lui administrant des substances qui sont de nature à donner la mort ou à altérer gravement la santé. (Fr)

Met gevangenisstraf van acht dagen tot een jaar en met geldboete van zesentwintig frank tot tweehonderd frank of met een van die straffen alleen wordt gestraft hij die onopzettelijk bij een ander een ziekte of ongeschiktheid tot het verrichten van persoonlijke arbeid veroorzaakt door hem stoffen toe te dienen, die de dood kunnen teweegbrengen of de gezondheid zwaar kunnen schaden. (Nl)

Unofficial translation: anyone who involuntarily causes sickness that makes another incapable of work by administering him or her substances that can cause death or greatly alter their health.

Laurette Onkelinx, Ministre de la Justice, Question parlementaire N° 2673, Mai 2004: « L’interprétation large des termes « administrer » et « substances » permet d’inclure la transmission du virus HIV dans le champ d’application de cet article. »

“By the terms of “administering” and “substance” it may also be understood a case of HIV transmission, which then will fall under the scope of this article.”

Key wording in the law: 

§402.  Anyone who causes sickness that makes another incapable of work by giving him or her voluntarily, but without intention to kill, substances that can cause death or greatly alter their health. [Note: this has been the only law used so far to prosecute an individual for HIV transmission.]

§418. Anyone who is guilty of unintended lesion (wound or injury) , or who causes damages by lacking foresight or caution, but did not intend to do so.

§421. Anyone who involuntarily causes sickness that makes another incapable of work by administering him or her substances that can cause death or greatly alter their health.

Key Cases: 

Summarised from: Criminal HIV Transmission

July 2011 saw the first successful prosecution for criminal HIV transmission in Huy/Hoei, Belgium. The case surprised the main HIV support organisation, Sensoa, who were only informed of the case by the media because neither complainant nor defendant (both of whom were African migrants) had contacted them for support or legal advice.

Details of the case are relatively sketchy and only available in Dutch-language news reports, available here (English translation via Google) and here (English translation via Google).  A more detailed news story appeared following the man's conviction in De Standaard attached below. 

A 54 year-old man, originally from Angola, was found guilty of 'knowingly infecting' his former wife (originally from Congo, and thought to be significantly younger) with HIV via §402 (causing sickness that makes another incapable of work by giving him or her voluntarily, but without intention to kill, substances that can cause death or greatly alter their health) and sentenced to three years in prison, two of which were suspended.

The couple met and married in 2004 and the woman discovered she was HIV-positive during her 2005 pregnancy. Court evidence showed that her husband was diagnosed in 1994, whilst married to his first wife, but that he was in deep denial of the diagnosis because, according to his defence lawyer, Rafael Pascual

My client is very religious. He prayed for healing. His first wife and the children he had with her never became infected. Therefore he assumed that his prayers were answered. Without ever taking drugs.

Pascual also unsuccesfully argued that the complainant could have been infected by someone else, and that scientific evidence of his responsibility for infection was inconclusive. The prosecutor had asked for five years in prison, two suspended, but the court gave a more lenient sentence.

Sensoa's position – and difficulty in reaching marginalised populations – was highlighted in this article in De Standaard (English translation via Google) published last Thursday, the day of the verdict.

Sensoa, the Flemish service and expertise in sexual health, is concerned about the matter in Huy. "We are not asking for criminal prosecutions," said spokesman Boris Cruyssaert. "In neighboring countries, we see that it is counterproductive. It just makes the taboo, because nobody dares to know if they are infected."

"That does not mean that HIV patients should not share responsibility [for HIV prevention]," says Cruyssaert. "Only in the case of intentional transmission [should the criminal law be used]. The cultural aspect [of HIV] is often deeply rooted faith. Of course prayer does not eliminate HIV, but the Angolan man is very religious. He was really convinced that his prayers were answered. "

Sensoa tries to reach other cultures, with accessible information [about HIV] but that is not easy. Since 2009, in an opinion by the National Council of the Order of Physicians, a doctor can, in exceptional cases, inform the partner of an HIV patient [if there is a belief of exceptional risk of harm].

Discussion: 

The July 2011 case highlights three important issues.

First, the general law can always be applied even when it appears that a country has so far been spared prosecutions.

Second, people with HIV who have no connection with HIV support services may feel that the criminal law is their only recourse to justice, when appropriate counselling may have mitigated the sense of betrayal felt by the complainant.

Third, cultural issues (including faith-inspired denial) can have a major impact not only on disclosure, but also acccess to treatment, care and support.

Prior to July 2011, two previous attempts at using the criminal courts for HIV exposure or transmission in Belgium were unsuccessful. One involved an HIV-positive man prosecuted for not disclosing to his girlfriend who subsequently tested HIV-positive, and a 2007 case involved an HIV-positive man from Ostend who was prosecuted for attempted murder for not disclosing to his boyfriend, who remained HIV-negative.

A further case is currently ongoing. In September 2011, it was reported that a recently diagnosed gay man in his thirties from Hasselt complained that his former male partner withheld his own HIV diagnosis from him and was, therefore, criminally liable for his HIV acquisition.

Survey respondents/Organisations working on HIV and the Law: 

Previous survey respondents: Plate-Forme Prévention Sida (French) and Sensoa (Flemish)

Organisations working on HIV and the law: Centre for Equal Opportunities and opposition to racism (Fr, Nl, De, En)

Further reading: 

Other laws and policies with an impact on responses to HIV

Laws and regulations relating to entry, stay or residence in the country: 

There are no specific entry or residency regulations for people with HIV/AIDS. No HIV test result is required when entering the country. A known HIV infection will not lead to deportation or the termination of a person's stay. 

A health certificate stating absence of a transmittable disease that would present a danger for public health is required from non-EU residency permit applicants. 

If other departments have requested or performed HIV-tests, the results will not be taken into account by the Foreign Ministry. 

A residency permit can be granted regardless of HIV infection. The following conditions can be grounds for denying such a permit:

  • Illnesses that require the patient to be under quarantine (as defined by WHO guidelines from May 25, 1951).
  • Active tuberculosis
  • Syphilis
  • Transmittable infectious conditions or contagious parasitic diseases.  

For updated information, please go to: www.hivrestrictions.org

Laws relating to same sex, sexual relations: 

Male to Male relationships: Legal

Punishments for male to male relationships: No law

Female to Female Relationships: Legal

Age of consent: Equal for heterosexuals and homosexuals

Marriage and Substitutes for Marriage: Recognized on national level

For updated information, please go to: http://ilga.org