15 JUNE 2017
Lilongwe – Civil Society is calling for Parliament not to pass the controversial 2017 HIV (Treatment and Prevention) Bill, tabled in Parliament on 14 June.
The Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), the Centre for Human Rights Education, advice and Assistance (CHREAA), the Mango Key Populations NGO Network, and Youth Watch Society (YOWSO) say that the Bill, in its current form, adopts a criminal law and coercive approach to HIV that violates human rights and will have a harmful impact on Malawi’s HIV treatment and prevention efforts.
The civil society organisations give four reasons why the Bill should not be passed in its current form.
First, they say the Bill is outdated.
“Malawi has made great strides in HIV treatment and prevention over the years. Research shows there are serious gaps but this Bill does not offer an approach that will fill these gaps. The Bill does not actually address the context of HIV in 2017,” says Muteyu Banda of YOWSO.
Second, they say that the coercive approach of the Bill is proven to be harmful to HIV treatment and prevention.
“We have learnt from over two decades in the HIV epidemic – and the empirical evidence is there – that coercive and criminalizing approaches do not work in HIV. They drive vulnerable and key populations away, they disincentivize HIV testing, and make adhering to treatment and prevention strategies harder,” says Rev MacDonald Sembereka of the Mango Key Populations NGO Network.
Third, they say that the Bill takes money away from things that work and into the ailing criminal justice system.
“To enforce the Bill’s criminal-law approach, government will have to invest in prosecution and prisons. The criminal justice system and prisons are so overburdened already – we should be thinking of ways to decongest prisons, to solve social problems without criminalizing people, and rather invest in interventions we know to work,” says Victor Mango of CHREAA.
Finally, they say the Bill is unconstitutional.
“This Bill violates peoples’ human rights in a way that is not justifiable under the Malawi Constitution. It is likely to result in a lot of unnecessary and expensive litigation. A criminal law approach inappropriately shifts our attention from government’s responsibilities to improve health systems and protect vulnerable populations, to placing the burden on people living with HIV and people who are most vulnerable to HIV,” says Gift Trapence of CEDEP.
The civil society organisations are calling for government to reconsider the criminal law approach of the Bill. Amongst others, they are concerned that provisions that criminalise negligent HIV transmission and exposure and that remove the right to informed consent to HIV treatment and testing for certain groups of people should be scrapped. They call for a human rights-based and evidence-based approach instead.
MANGO Key Populations NGO Network