Saturday, December 3, 2022

BONELA races against time to save HIV positive foreign inmates

The Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HI/AIDS (BONELA) said it will file court papers against the government for refusing to provide foreign prison inmates with free antiretroviral drugs. The human rights organisation is only left with 11 months to have instituted the legal proceedings because the inmates in question are due to be released from custody after 11 months.

Briefing the media on Monday, outgoing BONELA Executive Director, Uyapo Ndadi, revealed that plans are at an advanced stage to notify the government of their intention to institute legal proceedings.

He said BONELA received instructions from their two male clients from Zimbabwe who are currently incarcerated at some of the prison facilities in the country.

“Paradoxically, the instructions were supported by the Commissioner of Prisons who lamented that the Botswana policy excludes foreign inmates from accessing antiretroviral drugs,” said Ndadi.

He said BONELA intends to be party to the proceedings because its Constitution mandates it to champion the human rights cause of persons living with HIV/AIDS, the marginalised and the weak in society.

“We have been moved from pillar to post by the authorities. We sought the interventions of the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security Permanent Secretary, Ms Segakweng Tsiane, and Augustine Makgonatsotlhe who too, is a Permanent Secretary responsible mainly for Justice matters, and the Commissioner of Prisons Colonel Silas Motlalekgosi,” said Ndadi.

He added that they met with them in April this year to share their frustrations as BONELA and they were assured that access will be made. “Today, we still grapple with the same issue,” he said.

BONELA intends to raise legal issues relating to whether the state, in denying foreign inmates antiretroviral drugs, is not violating their constitutional right to equality and non-discrimination and, above all, their common law right to equality.

BONELA will also argue whether the state has no legal duty to provide for care, support and treatment to all inmates under their control.

“BONELA is also going to advance arguments that prisoners enjoy constitutional rights too and their rights can only be limited where there is a sound justification to do so.

“For instance, the freedom of liberty is withheld so that inmates can serve their punishments and rehabilitated. On the other hand, the right to dignity has to remain impregnable through as it is at the heart of human life,” said Ndadi.

According to Ndadi, they anticipate that government will argue that ARVS are expensive.

“We intend to counter that argument by indicating that no cost analysis was ever done leading to that position. In fact, we argue that ARVs cost from as little as P180 per month as it is cheaper to provide ARVS than to continuously treat inmates for opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, TB and even cancer,” said Ndadi.

If the government is not willing to spend on foreign inmates, Ndadi opined, it should release them or make arrangements with their countries of origin.

“Research indicates that treatment is prevention these days. What this means is given that sex does take place in prisons, all inmates with HIV would not easily or at all infect their sexual partners and thereby reduce costs of ARVs,” said Ndadi.

Ndandi also revealed that ”we will also argue that the National AIDS Council, which is the upper body in advising government on matters of policy and the law around AIDS issues, resolved that inmates be given ARVs irrespective of their country of origin”.

BONELA has assembled a solid legal team to handle the legal battle against government among them one of the best legal brains in South Africa, Advocate Gilbert Marcus and BONELA Chairperson, Tshiamo Rantao, of Rantao and Kewagamang Attorneys.

Meanwhile Rantao announced that Ndadi will step down as BONELA Executive Director at the end of this year.

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