Why criminalisation is poor public health: Southern African parliamentarians debate and learn

Posted by Michaela on July 8, 2016

Why criminalisation is poor public health: Southern African parliamentarians debate and learn

"Despite the remarkable progress that the various Southern African states have registered in public health, in some countries criminal laws continue to limit the exercise of people’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights and having a negative impact on public" said Dr Patrick Herminie, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Seychelles, delivering the key note speech at the Joint Session of the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) Regional Standing Committees for capacity strengthening on criminalisation and stigmatisation as disincentives to the realisation of fundamental human rights and public health ,held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 9 to 13 May 2016. 

 The focus of the three-day Joint Session was to strategise with 49 Members of Parliament (MPs) from across Southern Africa, as individual legislators and as part of the governance system at national level with responsibilities and obligations; to respect protect, promote and realise human rights principles and standards through their legislative, oversight and representational functions.


 The AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA) was the co-convener of the meeting and provided experts in the field to provide guidance and resources on parliamentary scrutiny of policy and legislation on criminalisation of HIV transmission and disclosure, strengthening the capacity of parliaments to intervene across the uneven constitutional landscape using evidence and scientific data; tuberculosis in the mining industry; criminalisation and People Who use Drugs (PWUDs); criminalisation of same-sex relationships and lesbian, gay bisexual and intersex (LGBTI) persons; criminalisation of Termination of Pregnancy and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents; and harnessing TRIPS flexibilities for access to medicines.

While it is always difficult to quantify changes in attitudes from such meetings, there was a general shift in the thinking of parliamentarians around criminalization, and many mentioned that they are not aware of how these issue impact the HIV response. This is a campaign that ARASA will keep pushing forward in the region and as a member of HIV Justice Worldwide.


"As the world sails towards ambitious goals that include ending AIDS and achieving universal access to health for all, some sections of our communities are being left behind", said Hon. Herminie. He also highlighted the desperate need for a regional approach to strengthening sexual and reproductive health rights’ interventions through a right-based lens and the political leadership desperately needed for the protection of human rights.


"The narrow scope of the exercise of the rights of key or marginalized populations, often times led to not only leaving these pockets of populations behind, but lengthy prison sentences; all because of the epidemic of bad laws," said Hon. Herminie




For media coverage from the meeting, kindly go to:


  1. SADC states advised to chart approach on sexual reproductive health rights http://www.dailynews.co.tz/index.php/home-news/49802-sadc-states-advised-to-chart-approach-on-sexual-reproductive-health-rights
  2. SADC PF decries criminalisation in public health response http://allafrica.com/stories/201605181160.html
  3. 3.     HIV criminalization setback regional AIDS effortshttps://www.newera.com.na/2016/05/16/hiv-criminalisation-setback-regional-aids-efforts/
  4. TB mines remain health disaster https://www.newera.com.na/2016/05/16/tb-mines-remains-health-disaster-arasa/
  5. SADC MPs urged to decriminalize drugs https://www.newera.com.na/2016/05/12/sadc-mps-urged-decriminalise-drugs/
  6. Decriminalise abortion http://www.herald.co.zw/decriminalise-abortion/ https://www.newera.com.na/2016/05/16/hospitals-perform-abortions-rights-lawyer/