Bots MP against criminalisation of intentional HIV transmission in SADC

> Magreth Nunuhe

Walvis Bay – Botswana has rejected a motion on the criminalisation of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Lawmaker Duma Gideon Boko said such a move would encourage mistrust between health practitioners and their patients and would have disproportionate impact on women who mainly go for HIV testing when pregnant.

Boko, who is also a human rights lawyer, argued that to adopt a law that criminalises and prosecutes a suspect who had unprotected sexual intercourse with the intention to transmit HIV to another, would defeat the gains made in reversing the pandemic.

Boko made these assertions during the 38th Plenary Session of the SADC-Parliamentary Forum (PF) held from November 21-25, at Swakopmund, where participants from 12 SADC Member States pondered on the issue given the fact that Southern Africa bears the heaviest burden of HIV/Aids pandemic globally.

Some member countries have enacted specific laws criminalising intentional and negligent transmission of HIV, exposure to HIV and non-disclosure of HIV status.

“Those countries have to review and amend or repeal these laws,” Boko maintained, explaining that there was no evidence to prove that criminalisation of wilful or deliberate HIV transmission effectively curbs HIV or reduces the prevalence rate. He said that there were many acts of violence committed in society, such as homicide and assault, but they are not specific when it comes to prosecution. “Why should HIV be specific?” he questioned.

Boko said that it was important to curb the spread of HIV to protect people, but it would be wrong to tackle by way of criminalisation.

He said if criminalisation was introduced it would push people away from being tested voluntarily as health practitioners might have to testify in court on the results of the suspect’s HIV test.

Participants agreed that existing criminal sanctions against assault and murder are usually sufficient to prosecute instances of malicious, wilful and intentional HIV transmission and that a specific law on HIV transmission may be harmful to successful HIV prevention and treatment efforts.

They also concurred that criminal laws on HIV transmission have the potential to infringe on human rights in pursuing successful prosecutions and reaffirmed the obligation on SADC Member States to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights in all endeavours undertaken for the prevention and treatment on HIV. The Forum called on Member States to focus on efforts to fight HIV-related discrimination and stigma and to protect women and other vulnerable groups from HIV transmission, infection and exposure.

December 2015
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