Members of the South African AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign filed manslaughter charges Thursday against health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and trade minister Alec Erwin for not providing adequate treatment for the nation's 4 million HIV-positive residents. The criminal charges were filed with police in the town of Sharpeville. In South Africa, people can file criminal charges with police, who then pass the accusations on to prosecutors, who decide whether to press formal charges.
The charge sheet filed by TAC states, "Both accused are charged with a crime of culpable homicide, in that during the period March 21, 2000, to March 21, 2003, in all health care districts of the Republic of South Africa, both accused unlawfully and negligently caused the deaths of men, women, and children." About 600 people die of AIDS-related complications daily in the country. The charges also say the two government officials breached their constitutional duty to protect the right to life and dignity of the nation's HIV-positive people. The activists accuse Tshabalala-Msimang of preventing the distribution of HIV antiretroviral drugs to hospitals and clinics in the country and Erwin of preventing the manufacture of cheap generic anti-HIV medications in the country. A health ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on the charges.