Expanding The Responsibility To Protect: Saving Populations From HIV/AIDS
Volume 85, No. 4, Summer 2013
By Megan Cribbs

South African President Thabo Mbeki’s denial of AIDS and rejection of lifesaving treatment for his people were directly responsible for the avoidable deaths of more than 330,000 people from 2000–2005. South Africa is one of the countries most severely affected by HIV/AIDS. During Mbeki’s rule, prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the adult population was 18.8%. An estimated nine hundred South Africans died every day. Yet Mbeki and his government turned their backs on scientific consensus, argued that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs were not useful for patients, and rejected international aid for the epidemic. As a result, the Anglican Church and others condemned the government’s inaction as a crime against humanity.

Although it is not certain that Mbeki’s actions rose to the level of crimes against humanity, it is certain that as a result of his AIDS policies hundreds of thousands of people were denied the right to treatment, which implicates the right to life—a universally recognized and nonderogable human right under international law. Whether Mbeki’s actions amounted to crimes against humanity, however, is a critical question. Under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), a relatively new international norm, if Mbeki’s government denied the South African people access to lifesaving treatment as part of a widespread or systematic policy (constituting a crime against humanity) rather than a bald unwillingness to do so, the international community would have had a responsibility to intervene. There is no doubt that from the perspective of the thousands of people who died from AIDS during Mbeki’s rule, this distinction is arbitrary and meaningless.

Although it is widely recognized that HIV/AIDS and the armed conflicts of 1990s have been the greatest assaults to humanity in the last thirty years, RtoP applies only to mass atrocity crimes. Under current RtoP doctrine, the international community has a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity—when their own states are unwilling or unable—but not from thoughtless and unjustified denial of lifesaving HIV/AIDS medications.

This Comment will argue that RtoP should be expanded beyond the limited cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity to include the protection of populations in peril from HIV/AIDS.

READ ARTICLE….Cribbs – 85 – L – Rev – 879