Thursday, April 25, 2024

NAHPA, BPS collaborate for training on HIV, human rights, KVPs, and law enforcement

Botswana needs to strengthen its criminal and public health laws as they are susceptible to dehumanizing vulnerable populations already at the highest risk of contracting HIV. This was revealed during a recent breakfast meeting organized for Botswana Police Services (BPS) top brass by the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA). The purpose of the meeting was to engage the BPS senior management on HIV, law enforcement, and human rights issues. It intended to help law enforcement authorities comprehend the connections between human rights, gender, and vulnerable populations. 

It also sought to develop high-level commitment and consensus on the crucial actions that must be taken to strengthen BPS’s ability to address HIV, human rights, key and vulnerable populations (KVPs), and law enforcement. During the briefing, the law enforcement officers were informed that ‘stigmatizing and discriminating’ against crucial demographics fosters an atmosphere in which civilian and police brutality is rampant and legal remedy for victims is unattainable. 

While Botswana’s constitution protects the rights of all people to equality, freedom from discrimination and violence, research shows that ‘laws and policies are non-specific, offer insufficient protection particularly to vulnerable and key populations and/or are inadequately known, implemented and enforced.’ Some of the vulnerable populations affected include sex workers, transgender persons, men having sex with men (MSM), drug users, criminals, and migrants. It is said numerous instances of discrimination and stigma against sex workers have been reported. 

These include being shunned by their communities and the medical community, being harassed, being arrested and violently attacked by clients, law enforcement, and the military, and not having enough access to quality medical care. The meeting was further informed that aside from police abuse, harassment, and violence against homosexual men and other men who have sex with men, there are also social stigmas, discriminatory practices, verbal and physical assaults, and harassment within and between communities. Stigma and discrimination against transgender people occur in a variety of settings, such as homes, communities, workplaces, and educational institutions. 

They can even occur in the legal system, where transgender people’s needs, identities, and rights are not acknowledged. The police management was further informed that stigma and prejudice push people underground and away from harm reduction programs out of fear of being jailed. This has an adverse effect on their disclosure or coming out, how they use and stay on HIV, and other related health services. Another concern was that during incarceration and obligatory detention, detainees may face sexual assault risking exposure. 

This is exacerbated by lack of access to condoms and harm reduction treatments such as antiretroviral drugs. At the briefing, the BPS leadership was informed that some of the vulnerable populations did not report to the police as they ‘don’t feel safe about reporting.’ This, therefore, calls for an effort to create an environment where clients feel welcome at police stations. It was also reported that police officers take away condoms from street sex workers. 

As such, only 47.9% use protection while over 50% remain vulnerable. Other issues affecting the vulnerable populations include intimate partner violence between same-sex relationships, in which it is alleged, victims do not feel safe to report their cases to the police.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper