In-depth: Crime and punishment: Criminalisation and HIV

MOZAMBIQUE: Proposed law a mixed bag for people with HIV

Anti-stigma message in Maputo
Maputo, 1 December 2008 (PlusNews) - Sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, people living with HIV in Mozambique are still experiencing frequent human rights abuses.

"There are signs that many people have been the victims of violence, or even lost their lives, for having gone public about their HIV-positive status," said Alice Mabote, president of the Mozambican League of Human Rights.

AIDS-related discrimination is particularly severe in rural areas. Marta Capito of the Kucuka Association for people living with HIV in Niassa Province, northern Mozambique, told IRIN/PlusNews she knew of cases in which local authorities had taken land away from women whose husbands had died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Children affected by HIV were also not spared. "When it is known that their parents died of AIDS, children are the targets of violence in school and in the community," Capito said.

The first legislation dealing with the rights of Mozambicans living with HIV was passed in 2002, but was viewed as incomplete because it only covered HIV in the work place.

A draft law covering discrimination against HIV-positive people more broadly, and also criminalising the transmission of HIV, has been in the parliamentary office for the prevention of and fight against HIV and AIDS since 2007. Isaú Meneses, president of the parliamentary office, said there was a large backlog of bills.

"We follow the order in which they are submitted, but the legislators will analyse the bill carefully, considering the fact that dealing with HIV-related issues is a very delicate matter."

The bill draws on the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by Mozambique's constitution, including equality, tolerance and respect.

"The approval of the bill will be an important step forward for the HIV positive," said an HIV-positive university student, Sérgio Zavala. "With it we will be able to hold those who abuse and disrespect us criminally responsible."

UNAIDS has provided technical assistance drafting the bill. Dennis Larsen, a communications official at the organisation, said if it became law it would serve as an important tool for defending the rights of people living with HIV.

Júlio Mujojo, national executive secretary of Rensida, a network of Mozambican associations for HIV-positive people, commented: "Before, it was impossible to talk about violation of rights because we had no legal mechanisms for defining those violations."

''It's important for people who transmit the virus on purpose to be punished''
It is article 49 of the bill - which makes HIV transmission a criminal offense - that is contentious. It stipulates a prison term of between eight and 12 years for intentional transmission, and two to eight years for transmission resulting from negligence. "Mass transmission", for example by a health professional who knowingly gives patients HIV-infected blood, would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Activists and civil society organisations successfully lobbied to have a provision that would have made HIV testing mandatory for pregnant women removed, arguing that campaigns to promote voluntary testing were more effective.

While some believe that a law criminalising HIV transmission could undermine the rights of people living with HIV, Sousa Domingos Chilaúle, vice-president of the Xirilo xa Kudumba (Cry of Hope) Association for people living with HIV, is in favour of the legislation.

"For me it's important for people who transmit the virus on purpose to be punished," he said. "I'm HIV positive and I know it's not right to transmit the virus to [HIV-negative] people."

Parliamentary discussions on the bill are scheduled to begin on 1 December. If it is approved, it will be sent to the president, who can either sign it into law, or veto it and send it back to parliament for further debate.

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