02 June 2003
Botswana has mobilized all sectors in the fight against the HIV pandemic. The campaign entails an acknowledgement of the ever present risk of infection, thus intensifying the spread of the pandemic.
This campaign also laid bare the myriad of legal and ethical issues that must be dealt with. The huge number of infected and affected persons points to the reality of AIDS related deaths and ailments. The treatment of those determined to be suffering from AIDS related illnesses must concern all of us.
The severity of the pandemic has made society, in the absence of a cure, look to the law as an instrument for achieving the much needed behavioural change. The result has been calls for, and even attempts at, the promulgation of HIV specific legislation.
The legislative response to the pandemic needs to be informed by a profound respect for the human rights of those infected and/or affected. It must involve sensitivity to and appreciation of the following critical principles:
- The principle of autonomy.
- The principle of confidentiality.
- The right to health care.
- The principle of non-discrimination.
It is these principles that must be our guideposts as we fashion whatever legislative response or intervention. Acknowledging the importance of a legal response to the pandemic, the National AIDS Council recently established a specific sector addressing ethics, law and human rights.
Against this background a seminar was held, entitled Justice, Reason and Hope within the HIV Epidemic in Botswana, which meeting brought together lawyers, judges and legal professionals of Botswana in October 2002. During the seminar, the inactivity of the legal profession in the fight against HIV in Botswana was acknowledged and a resolution taken that the profession would henceforth take up its responsibilities.
As a result of the seminar and under the auspices of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), the Lawyers Taskforce was established. Its aim is to ensure the visible involvement of legal practitioners and professionals in the fight against the pandemic. This it sets out to achieve through addressing practical, ethical and legal problems that beset the campaign against the spread of HIV.
- To this end the Lawyers Taskforce notes with concern the extreme overcrowding in Botswana’s prisons. The conditions in these facilities are unsanitary, unhygienic and provide a fertile environment for the spread of communicable diseases. The Lawyers Taskforce declares unequivocally, that conditions in our prisons are inhuman and degrading. These conditions hamper and frustrate efforts curbing the spread of HIV. The adherence, legally and culturally, to the viewpoint that certain sexual practices are unnatural and therefore taboo further fuels the epidemic.
- The Lawyers Taskforce notes further and with grave concern, that the recent attempts at HIV-specific legislation have violated the precepts that should underpin such a process. The result has been the recent amendments to the penal code to provide for enhanced punishment for rape convicts who were determined to be HIV positive. The effect of the amendments has been to encourage the stigma and social discrimination associated with an HIV positive status.
- Thus, it is the intention of the Lawyers Taskforce to facilitate positive legislative interventions. It will also challenge any discriminatory practices and proclivities. It will, as and when it becomes necessary, mount constitutional challenges to any unacceptable practices.
- In the fullness of time the Lawyers Taskforce hopes to guide and direct the fight against HIV in a responsive, sensitive and humane direction in line with the enunciated vision of a humane, just and caring society by the year 2016.
The Botswana Lawyers Taskforce on HIV/AIDS invites members of the press and interested members of the public to attend a press conference on Monday 9th June 2003 at the President Hotel at 4 PM.
The Botswana Lawyers Taskforce Steering Committee:
Duma Boko – Boko, Motlhala & Company
Dick Bayford – Bayford & Associates
Sanji Monageng – the Law Society of Botswana
Herbert Sikhakhane – Sikhakhane &Company
Maame Awuah – Awuah, Khan &Partners
Christine Stegling – the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS
Beaulah Mguni – Attorney General’s Chambers
Botsalano Motlhabane and Lerato Molefe