Interview with the author – Beyond Virtue and Vice: Rethinking Human Rights and Criminal Law

27 October, 2019


Eszter Kismődi, Chief Executive of Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters (SRHM) interviews Mindy Roseman, Director of International Law Programs and Director of the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law, and SRHM associate editor, about her new book, Beyond Virtue and Vice: Rethinking Human Rights and Criminal Law.

The book engages with both criminalisation and decriminalisation and the use of law to regulate gender, sexuality and reproduction.

This interview took place at reconference- rethink, reimagine, reboot– a global conference organised by CREA.

The book will be out in October 2019 with Harvard University Press.

“What we noticed is that many laws that were previously criminalised, e.g. same-sex sexual practices or homosexuality as a status, were being decriminalised or at least reformed, and at the same time there was push-back to increase the penalities for homosexuality. So we had the example of India, and the cases against Article 377, and then there was Uganda with the anti-homosexuality bill.

We were looking at abortion where, in some countries, abortion laws were being reformed and removed from the criminal code and in other contexts there was a lot of advocacy to criminalise and make access to medical abortion more difficult.

We were looking at the way HIV status was being criminalised and certainly the way that sex work was both being decriminalised and, at the same time, the individuals who were using the services of sex workers were being criminalised. We also looked at regimes, such as in Canada, that were reforming criminal law around sex work but in fact had the consequence of making it more difficult to be in sex work.

We also noticed that within our own movement, particularly within feminism, we were speaking with two minds about the use of criminal law and criminal regulations. So we thought that abortion should never be criminalised but we thought it was fine to criminalise violence against women or FGM. When people were calling for criminal law and saying it was protecting women, we found that there was some tension or incoherence. We take a deep-dive into these issues.

Each chapter is what we call a cautionary tale and tells a different story, engages differently with criminal law and with human rights to be a reminder for people, advocates, policy makers, academics, the general reading public, that the criminal law has effects, as does human rights, and you need to understand the context and the time in which all of this is operating and understand that there are always unintended consequences.

One of the big takeaways of the book is a call to the advocacy community when dealing with criminal law reform. We call on the advocacy community to be empathetic, in solidarity, and accountable to each other. An antidote to looking solely at the legal and policy sphere of law reform, is to create an ethics of practice within and across human rights movements”.


Book contributors: Aziza Ahmed, Widney Brown, Sealing Cheng, Sonia Corrêa, Joanna N. Erdman, Janet Halley, Alli Jernow, Maria Lucia Karam, Ae-Ryung Kim, Scott Long, Vrinda Marwah, Alice M. Miller, Geetanijali Misra, Rasha Moumneh, Wanja Muguongo, Oliver Phillips, Zain Rizvi, Mindy Jane Roseman, Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga, Tara Zivkovic.


Many thanks to the film team at reconference 2019 and to Vaishali Sinha and Fuzz Factory Productions for their support.

Please note that blog posts are not peer-reviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of SRHM as an organisation.