In another important legal victory for human rights in Botswana, the High Court in Gaborone yesterday ordered the government to provide HIV treatment to all non-citizen prisoners.

Prior to the court order, the government supplied non-citizen prisoners with treatment for opportunistic infections but not for HIV – leading to a significant deterioration in their health. Non-citizen prisoners were expected to pay for HIV treatment themselves. 

“The order is a significant victory for the rights of people living with HIV in Botswana since it makes it clear that all prisoners are entitled to free HIV treatment regardless of origin,” said Cindy Kelemi, the Executive Director of Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), which sued the government to secure treatment along with two foreign prisoners living with HIV. “This order will not only save the lives of foreign prisoners living with HIV, but it will also help to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.” 

The two prisoners and BONELA argued that the denial of critical medical treatment to non-citizen prisoners violated their fundamental rights, which were guaranteed under Botswana’s Constitution. 

In addition, they used current medical evidence to show that not only would their lives be at risk without HIV treatment but that other prisoners would also be at greater risk of contracting HIV and other opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis. 

“The order will have to be immediately implemented by government and will ensure that the government meets its obligations under the Botswana Constitution and under international and regional law,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which has been assisting in the matter. “More importantly, it shows that the government has no legitimate justification for putting prisoners’ lives at serious risk by denying them HIV treatment.” 

The government, which has been providing free treatment to Botswanan citizens living with HIV in prison, failed to file papers opposing the application by the two prisoners and BONELA, which resulted in the High Court issuing the order.

By : 
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA)

For more information

Cindy Kelemi, Executive Director, BONELA: +267 3932516; +267 72385054; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Priti Patel, Deputy Director, SALC; +27 11 587 5065; +27 76 808 0505; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) in partnership with LEGABIBO (Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana), are appalled by the decision of the Ugandan government to enact the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2013. This new Act aims to prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex as well as to prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations. Furthermore, this Act imposes punitive measures ranging from 3 years imprisonment for persons in positions of authority failing to report an act of homosexuality within 24 hours, to life imprisonment for persons who purport to enter into a same sex marriage. 

This Act is regressive, promotes hate among citizens and goes against all efforts made by the government of Uganda, its regional and international development partners to attain human rights for all; especially for the marginalised populations in reducing the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, essentially criminalising sexual activity between two consenting adults of the same sex. This law also breaches numerous human rights obligations under treaties ratified by the Ugandan government, including the fundamental principles of non-discrimination, basic personal bodily liberty, and private rights. 

BONELA and her partners therefore call on the Government of Botswana, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to condemn this regressive move by the Government of Uganda. The Government of Botswana has a responsibility to ensure that human rights are upheld by its regional and international partners. The Botswana Government has been accountable and has shown leadership in condemning human rights abuses in Africa and beyond, and we urge them to do so once again. It is only when African Union member states and other regional bodies begin to be vocal about the protection of human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, that the people of Uganda and Africa can be protected from oppressive laws.

Recognising the influence that the Government of Botswana has in the region and specifically in SADC, BONELA appeals to the government to take a firm stance against Ugandan’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and develop a position to that effect.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights recognises that “human beings are inviolable and shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person.” The Charter further states that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right. Article 28 of the Charter provides that every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance. The Anti-Homosexuality Act is an obvious threat to these and many other rights.

Uganda was the first African state to speak up about the impact of AIDS on their country and made strides in reducing HIV incidence and prevalence among its citizenry. Regrettably, this Act threatens to rescind the positive steps made by driving those most affected under-ground and stopping them from seeking and accessing the much needed healthcare services. 

We therefore urge the Government of Botswana, Civil Society, Faith Based Organisations, Parastatals and other Human Rights defenders to mount international pressure on the Government of Uganda to rescind this barbaric law. 

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