HRW condemns Rwanda’s draft law on HIV tests and sterilisation

Rwanda’s draft law that would make compulsory HIV testing and require the sterilisation of all people with intellectual disabilities, has been contested by the Human Rights Watch.

The organisation, one of the world’s leading independent ones in defending and protecting human rights, says provisions of the draft are deeply flawed and should be expunged.

The draft’s provisions passed through the House of Deputies and were sent to the Senate.

“The Rwandan parliament should remove the provisions in the Reproductive Health Bill, since they violate the government’s obligations to uphold and protect human rights,” the group says.

“Compulsory HIV testing and forced sterilisation are counterproductive to the Rwandan government’s goal of improved reproductive health,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement last week.

Human Rights Watch says the Reproductive Health Bill — drafted by the parliamentary committee whose duties include promoting social welfare — contains three particularly troublesome provisions related to HIV/Aids testing.

First, the Bill provides that all people who plan to marry must undergo HIV testing and provide a certificate beforehand.

Second, married people should be tested for HIV/Aids upon the request of their spouses.

Third, if a physician finds it “necessary” for a child or an incapacitated person to be tested for HIV/Aids, he or she may conduct the test without seeking the minor’s consent and may show the results to the parent, guardian, or care provider.

Mandatory HIV testing and disclosure have been condemned by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids, the World Health Organisation and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as violations of the right to privacy and counterproductive to effective HIV/Aids control.

These organisations have also stated that mandatory testing and compulsory disclosure can put women at increased risk of abuse and undermine public trust in the health care system.

Research by Human Rights Watch on HIV testing has documented significant abuses associated with coercive testing programmes.

The proposed Bill also obligates the Rwandan Government “to suspend fertility for mentally handicapped people.”

Systematic, forced sterilisation has been recognised as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In May 2008, Rwanda ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention upholds the rights of persons with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, to equal rights.

“While Rwanda has made notable progress in fighting stigma and responding to the Aids epidemic, and has pledged to advance the rights of persons with disability, forced sterilisation and mandatory HIV testing do not contribute to those goals,” Mr Amon said.

The Bill has been in the offing for a while. It passed through the House of Deputies and was sent to the Senate.

The Senate, however, declined to pass it and referred it back to the House of Deputies. That’s where it lies at the moment.

Human Rights Watch also quotes studies in Zambia and Kenya which show that people with HIV are mistreated when their status is disclosed.

See also: African women with HIV ‘coerced into sterilisation’


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