2003-2010

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) would like to commend the release of a gay couple earlier sentenced to 14 years imprisonment through presidential pardon by the President of Malawi, Mr. Bingu wa Mutarika.

BONELA applauds the courage and responsiveness exhibited by Mr. wa Mutarika in pardoning the couple. As a human rights organization, BONELA is however concerned by the lack of acknowledgement of sexual minorities in African countries. The organization therefore calls for progressive leadership in this regard, as the perpetual stigma and discrimination of sexual minorities in Africa only serves to drive the pandemic underground, where most at risk populations cannot access prevention strategies.

Ms. Felistus Motimedi, the BONELA Coordinator of the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities said: “We would like to urge African countries, including Botswana to uphold the basic human rights to privacy, association, assembly, gender identity and non-discrimination, because failure to do so reverses the milestones achieved in the response to HIV and AIDS in Africa. BONELA hopes that Africa as a continent will heed the call by the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon to repeal all criminal laws often used as a basis for discrimination and criminalization of sexual minorities.”

She added that in Botswana, the continued criminalization and discrimination of sexual minorities will not enable the country to reach the Vision 2016 goal of zero new infections if sexual minorities are not included in current strategies. “We therefore call for all sectors in the national HIV and AIDS response, to introspect on the current strategies deployed, and address gaps emanating there-from relating to most at risk populations. The inclusion of sexual minorities in policy and legal interventions will ultimately result in the recognition of their peculiar needs by health care providers who will in turn develop appropriate strategies. ” said Ms Motimedi.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) highly commends the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) on its inclusion of organizations working on sexual minority issues at the ongoing second National HIV/AIDS/STI and other Related Infectious Diseases Research Conference (NHASORC).

Speaking on behalf of BONELA, Felistus Motimedi the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities (PRISM) Coordinator said: “It is the hope of BONELA that the inclusion of sexual minorities will extend to meaningful engagement with this community in a pragmatic manner that will ultimately result in the recognition of their needs by health care providers.” She added that this development is a reflection that NACA has realized that BONELA’s concerns regarding sexual minorities is one of the issues that need to be dealt with to reach the 2016 goal of zero new infections.

The Director of BONELA, Mr.Uyapo Ndadi added: “We hope that this admission by NACA will result in them spearheading change of the law to be enabling and accommodative to all possible interventions that would be inclusive of everyone irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Ndadi added that BONELA is delighted at the progressiveness of the Mmegi has also joined in the campaign calling for laws that are non-discriminatory to all, consistent with the principles of democracy.

BONELA takes this opportunity to wish the new Coordinator of NACA Mr. Matlhare, well in his new position and that he will remain steadfast in facing these contentious issues head-on.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) joins the world today in commemorating World Health Day 2010 which will this year focus on urbanization and health. BONELA takes this opportunity to urge the Government of Botswana to honour commitments to achieving universal access by ensuring that the issue of foreign inmates who are languishing in prison and face the prospect of death without access to antiretroviral drugs (ARV) is addressed, and that refugees have access to treatment through the national ARV programme.

The Director of BONELA, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi said that “Our view is that the Government of Botswana is subjecting inmates and refugees to inhumane and degrading treatment, which is contrary to the Constitution of Botswana. In fact, we are at an advanced stage of instituting a case before the courts for redress in a matter involving a foreign prisoner’s access to ARVs”. This echoes sentiments expressed by Lot Moroka, the Southern Regional Magistrate in a keynote address at the recently held BONELA annual general meeting who noted that universal access is applicable to all, and that HIV and AIDS is an extraordinary disease, demanding an extraordinary response.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) joins the public in commemorating Labour Day in celebration of the contribution that workers make as the backbone of many economies worldwide.

It is the hope of BONELA that the Government of Botswana will honour the contribution of these hardworking individuals with the commencement of the Public Service Act of 2008 and enactment of an HIV Employment Act. The Public Service Act in particular is remarkable in the sense that job seekers are also protected from discrimination as their HIV status will not be used as a basis for discrimination.

The Director of BONELA, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi, said the Act also extends to the protection of non-citizens who are presently subjected to pre-employment HIV testing as a pre-condition for employment in that those who are found to be HIV positive are denied employment in the public service. He said: “It can not be denied that this practice is discriminatory and BONELA is happy that the government has acknowledged it. He added that this provision of the Act is a move in the right direction and will certainly improve Botswana’s human rights standing.”

He added that the Act is also commendable as it deals with employees who have the propensity to disclose confidential information of other employees, including HIV status, as the culprits or perpetrators will be liable to a fine not exceeding P500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both through Section 63 (1).

Ndadi however laments that “the Public Service Act has inherent limitations as it only applies to public service servants and excludes private sector employees who are in the majority of cases victims of wanton abuse, prejudice and discrimination in the workplace because of their actual or presumed HIV positive status. This gap therefore needs to be plugged by amending our Employment Act to be consistent with the new Public Service Act. In this regard, BONELA shall therefore continue steadfastly with its HIV Employment Law Campaign. Our approach now is to engage back benchers in parliament to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on the law”

In a related matter, the Director of BONELA took the upcoming Labour Day commemorations as an opportunity to condemn the dismissal of top officials in government without hearings and without reasons being advanced for their dismissal as this flies in the face of good and fair labour practices.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is thrilled to announce that it has finally been given permission to make its groundbreaking presentation at the National AIDS Council (NAC) on findings of an assessment of access to health services by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gendered community as well as a study on men who have sex with men (MSM) in May this year.

This decision was made by His Excellency, Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana at the NAC last week, following a query by BONELA as the presentation initially scheduled for May last year was cancelled at the last minute without consultation.

Commenting on this turn of events, the Director of BONELA, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi said; “As an organization, we are excited that our leaders are now more progressive and open towards issues of sexual minorities which is reflective of sound democratic principles. The fact that we were the first country to provide antiretroviral therapy to HIV to those in need was a great leap forward, but evidence reveals that this alone will be overshadowed and undermined by leaving sexual minorities in the lurch.”

In addition, BONELA’s Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities, Coordinator, Ms. Felistus Motimedi said that Botswana can not respond adequately to an epidemic based on hearsay, but needs to engage in a holistic intervention that is evidence-based and tailor-made to suit different groups. She added that the research findings BONELA will present are unique as no such research has been conducted in Botswana before, thus it will assist the country in putting in place policies and programmes inclusive of marginalized and most at risk populations.

BONELA conducted a needs assessment on access to health services by sexual minorities and as well as a study on MSM in 2008 to determine prevalence of HIV and knowledge of HIV transmission in this community.

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