Challenging HIV Criminalization in Zimbabwe

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The human rights organization Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR) is set to challenge a law in Zimbabwe that criminalizes HIV transmission and, they argue, unfairly targets women. The law is set to be challenged in the country's Constitutional Court today:
The Court will hear arguments on behalf of two applicants – Pitty Mpofu and Samukelisiwe Mlilo – both of whom were unfairly convicted of “deliberate transmission of HIV” in 2012, and who are now represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR).

“The provision is too wide, arbitrary and therefore violative of the protection of the law guarantee. It is submitted that the legislature has created an offence which is as scary as the evil that it seeks to redress.”
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Although the ‘crime’ in Section 79 is called “deliberate transmission of HIV”, a wide range of variables are possible that involve neither being deliberate nor actually transmitting HIV.

It is a crime for anyone who realises “that there is a real risk or possibility” that he or she might have HIV to do “anything” that the person knows will involve “a real risk or possibility of infecting another person with HIV.”
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Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights are using the Constitutional Court hearing as a springboard for a campaign against overly broad HIV criminalisation, highlighting the case of Samukelisiwe Mlilo who features in a powerful 15 minute documentary produced by ZLHR, ‘Alone But Together – Women and Criminalisation of HIV Transmission: The story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo’.

Today, they will launch the documentary in Harare under the banner; ‘HIV on Trial – a threat to women’s health’.

Ms Mlilo was found guilty of ‘deliberately’ infecting her husband with HIV and faces up to 20 years in jail despite there being no proof that she had infected her husband. She claims she had disclosed her status to him following her diagnosis during pregnancy, and that her husband only made the complaint in revenge for her own complaint of gender-based violence following the breakdown of their marriage.

“At this point we do not know who infected who,” ZLHR’s Tinashe Mundawarara told Voice of America News in August 2012. “This is an example of the violation of women’s rights. Women are likely to know of their status first. Mlilo might have been infected by her husband, no one knows, and got charged and convicted.”

The other applicant, Pitty Mpofu, was also found guilty of ‘deliberate’ transmission of HIV a month after Ms Mlilo.

It was alleged that he infected his wife sometime between October 2009 and June 2011 , although he wasn’t diagnosed until “sometime in 2010.” No proof regarding timing nor direction of transmission was provided during the trial.

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