Mthokozisi Dube in Gaborone
WILD celebrations greeted a High Court ruling in Botswana compelling the government to provide all foreign inmates in need of HIV treatment with anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) free of charge.
The Gaborone High Court passed the judgment on Friday after two Zimbabwean prisoners, Dickson Tapela and Mbuso Piye, who are HIV positive, dragged the government to the courts for refusing to provide them with the life-saving drugs which are provided at no cost to its citizens.
The court had made a similar ruling in March this year after state legal representatives failed to appear to oppose a provisional order sought by the two Zimbabweans.
The government then made an urgent application asking to be given a chance to argue the merits of its case, but Justice Bengbame Sechele was not pursuaded.
Uyapo Ndadi, the former executive director of Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids (BONELA), which supported the two prisoners, said the court victory was monumental and shows the world that Botswana has an independent judicial system.
“This is a momentous occasion for all human rights actors and it’s an important moment for all prisoners coming from other countries and in dire need of ARVs. It will change their lives and restore their dignity,” Ndadi said.
Tshiamo Rantao, the BONELA board chairman, said: “Hard work pays. Human rights are indispensable. I am the happiest man today.”
BONELA’s argument during the case was that by denying foreign inmates ARV treatment, the Botswana government was violating their constitutional right to equality, dignity and non-discrimination.
The human rights organisation argued that the sustenance of all inmates was the government’s responsibility.
The organisation also accused the government of adopting a conflicting stance as it refused to provide foreign inmates with ARVs but continued to give them free treatment for opportunistic diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia.
The Botswana government pleaded high treatment costs to justify its stance.