The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) officially launches its campaign geared towards raising awareness on the World AIDS Day commemorations this week, which for the first time ever, has a human rights theme. The organization has embraced and fully welcomed the decision by the World AIDS Campaign to make this year’s World AIDS Day commemorations revolve around human rights and how they improve universal access.

The theme: Universal Access and Human Rights points to the need to infuse a human rights approach to the national HIV/AIDS response in order to meet the goals of public health of responding to the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The theme comes about with the recognition that failure to address human rights aspects that hamper access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support will continue to fuel HIV and AIDS.

Criminalization, discrimination, stigma and violence of sexual minorities and other key populations [children; women living with HIV and AIDS; prisoners; sex workers; lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans-gendered and inter-sexed individuals; men who have sex with men; women who have sex with women and injecting drug users] has severely limited their inclusion in national strategic frameworks; research and access to health services.

BONELA, like many human rights organizations, believes that the protection of a full range of human rights is key to protecting public health. Through respect and upholding human rights, the right to non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status; the right to treatment as part of essential health care; and the right of people living with HIV and AIDS to participate in the development of AIDS policies and programmes, huge gains have been made in assuring leading a positive lifestyle and attaining quality of life for people living with HIV. In addition, respecting the 3C’s: consent, counseling and confidentiality, makes it possible to engage people in sustained HIV prevention and treatment efforts and greatly increases access of HIV testing.

Human rights approaches to HIV are real, practical and cost-effective, as evidenced by countries which have placed them at the centre of their AIDS responses. Placing human rights as a priority include: ensuring that national HIV programmes include measures to combat discrimination and violence against people living with HIV and AIDS and those at risk of infection; ensuring that young people have full access to HIV information, sexual and life skills education, as well as to condoms and services for sexually transmitted infections and family planning; investing in legal environment of people living with HIV and AIDS so that they know their rights and can mobilize around them; establishing clear legal remedies for violence and discrimination against sex workers, men who have sex with men and other marginalized groups; and providing women with effective remedies against all forms of gender-based violence, inside and outside marriage, as well as redress against legally sanctioned discrimination in access to economic opportunities, property and inheritance.

This year's theme thus provides BONELA and other human rights activists around the world an opportunity to remind governments to adhere to and/or renew their commitment which they made in 2006 at a high level United Nations meeting, to ensure universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010 because universal access without human rights will never be achieved.

BONELA is working in close collaboration with partners in a campaign building up to World AIDS Day commemorations which will be held in Kasane in December. This will be done through training of different stakeholders on human rights issues to enable partners to identify activities around the theme; marches; debates and essay competitions for children, gearing up to World AIDS Day in December and continuing until Human Rights Day on the 10th of December and through to 2011. These activities will be accompanied by a multi-media sensitization and awareness raising campaign that involves advertorials, radio, television interviews, production of t-shirts and other information, education and communication give always.

The Acting Director of BONELA, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi is scheduled to leave Botswana today as part of a group of individuals invited to visit the United States from the 19th of September to the 10th of October under the auspices of the International Visitor Leadership Program in honour of their outstanding achievements to date and their prospects of achieving more in the future of their countries.

The International Visitor Leadership Program which is administered by the United States Department of State is intended to give distinguished visitors throughout the world an opportunity to experience aspects of American social, economic, political, cultural and educational life. During the visit, Mr. Ndadi and others will be introduced to a broad cross-section of professional, cultural and personal contacts in Washington DC; San Diego (California); Louisiana; Iowa; Ohio; North Carolina; Montana; Boston; Massachusetts; Brattleboro; Vermont and Lawrence.

Through the programme, participants will benefit from best practices in the United States on innovative management strategies of non-governmental organizations, in particular, advocacy organizations that champion a social or political agenda; explore the diversity of the independent sector in the U.S. and the dynamic relationships between business, government and NGOs; and examine methodologies used by NGOs for strengthening leadership, developing volunteerism, fundraising and advancing missions.

Other participants in this programme were drawn from:

  • Burma
  • Nigeria
  • Croatia
  • Oman
  • Czech Republic
  • Pakistan
  • Denmark
  • Philippines
  • Haiti
  • Saudi Arabia
  • India
  • Serbia
  • Israel
  • Slovenia
  • Jamaica
  • Sudan
  • Kosovo
  • Tonga
  • Malaysia
  • Turkey
  • Nepal
  • West Bank

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV and AIDS (BONELA) would like to announce the resignation of its Executive Director, Ms. Christine Stegling.

Ms. Stegling, the founder of BONELA started the organization in 2001, housed in a small office at Ditshwanelo. Through hard work and persistence, she has seen the organization grow in leaps and bounds and it now boasts about 20 employees working on 5 programme areas, namely Training and Education; Policy Advocacy; Legal Awareness; Research and Media. Under these programmes are various projects such as Treatment Literacy; Legal Aid; Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities; Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and the Domestic Violence Project.

Under Ms. Stegling’s leadership, BONELA has become a household name in Botswana as a major player in the human rights arena in relation to the HIV and AIDS response and is widely recognized internationally. In recognition of excellence in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis and the promotion of a human rights based response to the twin epidemics in southern Africa in 2008, BONELA was awarded the AIDS Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA) HIV and Human Rights Award in South Africa. Whilst Ms. Stegling could not have achieved this feat on her own, she facilitated the recruitment of a committed staff which she has personally mentored and motivated to advocate on behalf of vulnerable communities.

Ms. Stegling will join the International HIV/AIDS Alliance as the Senior Advisor: Human Rights and People Living with HIV/AIDS Involvement in Brighton in the United Kingdom. In explaining her decision, Ms. Stegling said; “I have thought long and hard about this. I have been in Botswana for ten years and feel it is time for me to move on to a place where I can do more advocacy work. I am confident that BONELA will continue to do well and may even do better with another person at the helm who may inject new ideas and energy into the advocacy work of the organization.”

Whilst BONELA wishes Ms. Stegling the best in her future endeavours, her departure is not only a great loss to the organization, but to the human rights movement in Botswana.

On Friday 26th June 2009, the Lobatse High Court ordered one Sadi Nokane, to pay Obakeng Madubela , who was represented by BONELA Legal Officer Mr. Uyapo Ndadi (now Acting Director) to pay P7 000.00 as damages for publication of otherwise confidential information about Madubela HIV status. The causes of action arose on two separate occasions, the first which took place on the 25 December 2006, and the other in June 2007.

On both occasions, the insults which were uttered basically revealed Madubela’s HIV status and were done within earshot of several people whom the Madubela had grown up with. Some of the words were, “Dumela Meleko, ke botsa gore o tlhala leng ngwana wa batho pele o mo tsenya mogare” and “o mosadi yo o paletsweng ke lenyalo ka lebaka la mogare. Ke sa le ke go boditse gore bokete ja mogare wa gago bo tsamaya fo kae”. Madubela (Plaintiff) told the court that the words had hurt her deeply and lowered her self-esteem and claimed P50 000.000 in damages.

In the first case of its kind before the Botswana High Court, Justice David Newman held that that the publication of the otherwise confidential information about the Plaintiff was done with the intention to cause distress and actually did so.  This was in the light of the Plaintiff’s testimony that the utterances affected her personal relations, her catering business as well as her political career. Justice Newman pointed out that the Botswana courts ‘have long recognized that an action is available against any person who has committed an intentional wrong causing injury to someone’s dignity.’

Uyapo Ndadi opines that “the case will not only act as a deterrence to people who maliciously disclose other people’s HIV & AIDS status but will also go a long way in showing those that have been wronged of the availability of redress before the Botswana Courts. Batswana hitherto will know that all human beings, irrespective of their health status, have the intrinsic value of dignity and privacy which ought to be protected and respected.”

The court however pointed out that the Botswana’s Constitution, as contrasted to the South African Constitution, does not extend to the unlawful disclosure of a person’s private information. Whilst we celebrate the advent of this groundbreaking decision, it is BONELA’s opinion that the decision of the learned judge, as regards the right to privacy and disclosure of someone’s private information, is but an indication of the inadequacy our Constitution.  We therefore call on the government to consider undertaking serious legislative and constitutional reforms that will see, among other things, full protection of the right of persons living with HIV & AIDS.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV and AIDS (BONELA) strongly condemns recent statements made by the Tati Town Customary Court President Margaret Ludo Mosojane as reported in The Monitor of 23 March 2009 in which she alleged that young women were hoodwinking men into paying maintenance money by allowing themselves to get pregnant.

In the words of Mosojane, ‘young women should stop stealing children from the waist (s) of men’. She further averred that married women are bound to have sex with men whether they want to or not. The question BONELA would like to pose to the esteemed legislator is: which century is she living in? Women have since transcended their traditional roles of simply serving men, to become equal partners who contribute meaningfully to the family’s finances and well being. BONELA finds the statements extremely distasteful especially in light of HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections where it has become imperative to negotiate safe sex, both in and out of marriage.

According to her, marriage is a contractual agreement and women should avail themselves to their husbands’ desire, alluding that men’s sexual interests within marriage surpasses that of women. This statement degrades the position of women and also breaks communication within marriage by denying women the space and liberty to discuss their sexual reproductive health rights. Further, BONELA finds Masojane’s utterances to be a betrayal of the struggle for gender equality by placing the burden and responsibility of childbearing and birth control solely on women, which strategically absolves men from such responsibilities. In addition, her nullification of marital rape goes against the core concepts and strategies of eliminating gender based violence.ial of marital rape, has contributed to denial of justice for women. The wider implications are that women who have reason to fear exposure to HIV infection from their husbands are denied  post exposure prophylaxis which may give them a chance of not being infected by HIV. As a human rights organization, we fear that the statements made by the Court President serve to mislead not only the participants of the workshop, but the nation at large especially with regard to women’s sexual reproductive health rights. We would like to point out that factors such as gender-based violence undermine women’s ability to negotiate safer sex resulting in pregnancy.

BONELA believes that when opinion leaders make public statements on issues, they should be mindful not to apportion blame but rather empower the nation to change the status quo in a positive manner. Various stakeholders are counting on women in high level positions such as that of the Court President, to be at the forefront in the fight to eliminate Gender based violence and promote gender equality.

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