ISSUE 101, September 1-30, 2014
LOOKING AT MDGs
Unfiltered, uninhibited…just the gruesome truth
Notice over discriminating persons with HIV and Aids By HENRY OWINO Employers and institutions discriminating against persons living with HIV and Aids in their organisations are hereby cautioned to desist forthwith. The HIV and Aids Tribunal Strategic Plan 2013-2017 has vowed to take legal and disciplinary action against such organisations and their heads. The Tribunal has embarked on laws with legal justice to protect persons living with HIV and Aids against discrimination or stigmatisation in any organisation, workplace, community or colleagues. Most individuals living with HIV suffer silently due to ignorance of not knowing their rights despite being stipulated in the current Constitution. Managers of various organisations have always ridden on this ignorance to discriminate against their employees who are living with HIV and Aids. To curb this common menace among employers and institutions that practice the vice, National Aids Control Council (NACC) in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme have launched HIV and Aids Tribunal Strategic Plan 2013-2017 that would enforce laws to see the end of stigmatization and discrimination to employees. The Tribunal offers free services to its clients which include; listening to cases, referring legal ones to courts of law for fair judgment and hiring lawyers. This is now a relief to many persons living with HIV and Aids who have been or are being stigmatized or discriminated upon by colleagues and bosses in organizations. Jotham Arwa, chairman of HIV and Aids Tribunal (HAT) said stigma and discrimination are the major violations that prevent people from voluntary counselling testing (VCT) of HIV. As a result, many people infect others or get re-infected hence spreading the disease.
Arwa revealed that it is for this reason that the Tribunal was compelled to come up with a programme to protect the rights of people living with HIV and Aids. He regretted that several employees are denied opportunities simply because of their HIV status. “Employers must now know that all forms of frustrations, stigma, discrimination and sacking employees who are living with HIV has consequences,” Arwa cautioned. He reiterated: “It is the right of every person not to be discriminated against on any basis regardless of their background.” Arwa urged members of the public to report cases of discrimination based on one’s actual or perceived HIV status since the Tribunal is open five days a week to receive such complaints. He said there are legal redress mechanisms for the cases: Determination of the case’s viability, communicating the results of the viability assessment and scheduling of hearing. The process takes two weeks. Arwa affirmed that the Tribunal has HIV and Aids lawyers who offer their services to its clients free of charge. However, he noted that cases that do not meet the legal threshold set for complaints may be referred to other relevant institutions. One Dorcas Sangili suffered discrimination from her previous workplace. She reported the matter to legal authorities that assisted her until the
case was heard and she won it. Sangili was compensated for all mistreatment by the company. However, she left the organisation for another that was more welcoming and considerate. Some of the most discrimination cases are forced early retirement, demotion, isolation and quarantine, restriction on country entry or exit, denial of employment, exclusion from credit, denial of treatment after accidents, medical and life insurance and finally sacking from workplace or learning institutions. To certain quarters even in elective positions, one is required to undergo mandatory testing against their wish. Speaking at the launch, James Macharia, Cabinet Secretary for Health said HIV and Aids Tribunal Strategic Plan 2013-2017 will ensure access to justice by the millions of people living with HIV and AIDS in the country. Macharia noted that the plight and welfare of vulnerable members of the society, especially persons living with HIV should be prioritised by all. He regretted that since the first case of HIV was identified in Kenya 1984, the management of HIV and Aids in the country still poses a major challenge. Macharia said recent statistics on the status of the pandemic in the country confirms that 1.6 million people are currently living with HIV and Aids. While new infections indicate 101,560 people are infected annually.
“Employers must now know that all forms of frustrations, stigma, discrimination and sacking employees who are living with HIV has consequences,”
Health Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia, hands over a copy of the report to HAT members. (Above) Health Cabinet Secretary and UNDP Country Representative, Maria-Threase Keating, at the launch of HIV and Aids Tribunal, at a Nairobi hotel. Photo Henry Owino Disturbed by the high figures, Macharia said human rights of the infected persons must be guaranteed irrespective of their gender. He assured Kenyans of Government of Kenya commitment to universal justice to all citizens hence formation of HIV and Aids Tribunal. “As you may be well aware that the HIV and Aids Tribunal plays a critical role of addressing stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV and Aids in the country, the government will give it all necessary support to succeed,” Macharia assured. He added: “My Ministry is fully committed to support the activities of the Tribunal to en-
able it operate effectively and efficiently so as to execute its mandate.” The Ministry has also empowered the Tribunal to set up an independent secretariat with all the required staff to get direct funding from the National Treasury. According to Maria-Threase Keating, UNDP Country Director, there is need to create awareness about the Tribunal and educate the public of their rights. She said though there are reduction in new infections, “people need to be educated that the virus is still here with us”. Keating called for an increase in care, support, control, prevention and
treatment of persons living with HIV and Aids despite provision of human resource capacity. She said criminalization of special groups must stop if the Government of Kenya wants a reduction of new cases of HIV infections and spread. “This launch of HIV and Aids Tribunal is a culmination of many agenda being propelled in the fight against all vices surrounding HIV and Aids. It, therefore, sends signal to employers, communities and groups that it is now illegal to discriminate against persons living with HIV,” Keating stated.
The Reject Online is a monthly publication of the Media Diversity Centre, a project of African Woman & Child Feature Service