The Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV/Aids has slammed Botswana’s deplorable human rights record, especially on the issue of human rights and HIV/Aids. This comes in the wake of the commemoration of the World Aids Day and the Human Rights Day this month.
A statement signed by BONELA’s Media and Advocacy Officer, Doris Kumbawa, on Friday lamented the fact that even after Botswana has ratified international and regional instruments that guarantee human rights protection, she is still to implement these instruments and translate them into the local context.
She added that there is a need for a law in Botswana to cater for HIV and the workplace to eliminate human rights violations in the short term and a sustainable response to HIV that ensures prevention of new infections and effective mitigation of the pandemic in the long term.
Vice President Lt Gen. Mompati Merafhe said on Human Rights Day that government has established safety nets to improve the social and economic rights of its most vulnerable citizens. He added that Botswana remains committed to the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as evidenced in its vibrant democratic culture.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on December 10, 1948 after the end of the Second World War and the formation of the United Nations.
The Vice President said Botswana has been working to ensure that relevant domestic legislation and institutions reflect the spirit of the declaration, adding that the government is determined to contribute to the promotion of human rights at home and abroad.
But over the years, government and BONELA have been at loggerheads, slugging it out in the courts of law, especially over the need for government to enact a law, not a policy, on HIV/Aids and employment. BONELA insists that a policy is not legally binding and its use is most of the time dependent upon the discretion of the employer.
“The only practical remedy, for such workplace practices is and remains the enactment of a law that will promote and protect the rights of those infected and affected by HIV in the workplace,” reads the statement.
BONELA has, through its ongoing HIV Employment Law Campaign, called on Parliament to emulate countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and enact a law that is concrete and realistic, as opposed to a policy which is just a guideline and idealistic in its nature.
“In 2008 alone, the BONELA’s legal clinic has handled 50 court cases of which 30 have been settled out of court and some are still in progress. The cases highlight human rights abuses such as unfair dismissal, stigma, discrimination, wrong diagnosis, denied access to tests and deportation in a specific case. Whilst the number of cases the organization has handled is significant in its own right, it would not be presumptions to assume that there are many more cases that occur that go unreported for lack of knowledge of the ability to seek redress,” said Kumbawa.
While the status quo poses a challenge for BONELA to upscale its marketing to increase uptake of the free legal clinic as well as for research into violations that go unreported and unresolved, it is obvious that this alone will not be sustainable.
“It is BONELA’s view that this situation can be remedied and such remedial action can only be provided through enactment of the much needed HIV Employment Law. A sustainable response to HIV/Aids cannot hinge on provision of treatment alone, but has to be accompanied by the respect of human dignity and assurance for those living with HIV/AIDS, that they will not be victims of violations of their rights,” read the statement.
Some of the key issues that BONELA has been campaigning for include the issue of provision of condoms to prison inmates and the constitutional right of HIV positive mothers to conceiving babies so long as they do not put others at risk of HIV infection. BONELA contends that women should not be denied her right to have children just because they are HIV positive. BONELA calls on government to, instead, ensure that women are given working solutions and provided with information and education so that they make informed choices that will benefit both their children and the nation at large.
BONELA has also consistently advocated for the provision of condoms to prison inmates. Their stand is that it is a fact that inmates engage in sexual acts and they have to be provided with condoms as a way of preventing infection. They also argue that sexual activity in prisons is not always voluntary but is sometimes forced on others.
“As long as sexual activity continues to take place in prisons without the provision of condoms, prisons will remain a harvesting ground for HIV/Aids,” said BONELA Legal Officer, Uyapo Ndadi, recently.
Government has also been challenged to stop hiding behind the morality issue of not condoning homosexuality but rather concentrate on the more pertinent fact, which is that sexual activity does take place in prisons, and then provide condoms to ensure that HIV/Aids is controlled.