“Often the case, jurists are perceived by society as implementing the law and, therefore, are rigid with regard to new developments. However, none other than jurists are better positioned to understand the limitations of prevailing legal frameworks and, accordingly, the basis and possibilities of shifting the frontiers of what is legally possible and permissible”, said South Africa’s Justice Minister, Jeff Radebe, in his address at the opening of the meeting.
Minister Radebe described HIV as “an epidemic of discrimination” and said that that has to be challenged.
“Our attitude towards those against whom we discriminate on the basis of their HIV status can be regarded as a conduct that has consequences in law and one that affects those fundamental rights that must enjoy protection in our Constitution. I’m mindful that we are the continent with the highest infliction of the HI-virus in the world. Whilst countries such as China pride themselves with the greatest economic growth of our times, we in Africa seem to be renowned for our regressive aspects such as poverty and, in this case, the high incidence of HIV prevalence. This meeting will help our beloved continent to make a turn-around on this human rights issue as we collectively seek to reposition Africa as a success story”, he said.
Ghana’s Chief Justice, Georgina T. Wood, told the meeting that the judiciary should “form part of each country’s national response to HIV and AIDS”.
“We need to formulate appropriate responses to discrimination… strategic interventions aimed at enhancing legal mechanisms to protect persons living with it from unwarranted discrimination”, she said.
Head of the AIDS Law Project in Johannesburg, Mark Heywood, said “there are two reasons why it’s important to have a discussion around ensuring that the law promotes the protection of the rights of people living with HIV”.
“It’s because we all work and live under legal regimes that require us to protect the human rights of the individual. Another powerful reason is because if we don’t protect the rights of people living with HIV, then people living with HIV will go underground and they will not seek services for HIV testing, for counseling, for treatment and it will be very difficult for us to control the epidemic – as it is very difficult for us to control the epidemic”, said Heywood.
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