n African Human Rights Law Journal - Disentangling illness, crime and morality : towards a rights-based approach to HIV prevention in Africa

Volume 11, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



An increasing number of African states criminalise HIV transmission. In addition, several states criminalise private conduct traditionally associated with the risk for such transmission, such as homosexuality, sex work and drug use. However, there is increasing evidence that punitive responses to the HIV epidemic are inappropriate and counterproductive. They also fuel stigma and violate individual rights, especially those of members of marginalised groups. Relying on literature canvassing the content and effects of stigma pertaining to HIV, sex, perceived moral deviance and criminality and on studies questioning the effectiveness of criminal law in this context, this article disputes the appropriateness of employing the criminal law in relation to the transmission of HIV, as well as in relation to vulnerable or marginalised groups. Rather, the article argues for a human rights-infused, public health approach to HIV that upholds the rule of law, procedural justice and the principle of proportionality. Ultimately, the article asserts that, given the systemic causes of the African HIV and AIDS pandemic, solutions thereto should be similarly systemic in nature, rather than focused on individual instances of transmission.

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