5 July 2011

Kenya: HIV Tribunal Finally Gets Down to Business

Nairobi — The rights of people living with HIV received a boost on Tuesday when a tribunal to handle their complaints was inaugurated, two years after members were appointed.

The seven-member HIV and Aids Tribunal will handle complaints on transmission of HIV, confidentiality, testing, access to healthcare, discrimination and policies, as well as HIV-related research.

And the special tribunal warned that it would no longer be business as usual for those who have been discriminating against people with Aids.

The tribunal is authorised to hear and determine complaints or appeals arising from any breach of the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act, excluding criminal jurisdiction.

The tribunal has the mandate to summon witnesses, take evidence, and recommend action to be taken on anyone who is found guilty of discriminating against people on the basis of their HIV/Aids status.

Some of the cases lined up for the tribunal include discrimination against people living with HIV at work place, schools, colleges, foreign embassies and even at home.

According to the Act, it is an offence to conduct a HIV test on a person with disability or a minor without the written consent of a guardian.

The Act says that the tribunal has the powers to make an order; "for the payment of damages in respect of any proven financial loss, including future loss, or in respect of impairment of dignity, pain and suffering or emotional and psychological suffering as a result of the discrimination in question."

Special Programmes minister Esther Murugi said that the Constitution provided for equality and freedom from discrimination and made it illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, sex, health and marital status, among other factors.

"There are instances when the fundamental rights and freedoms of the infected and the affected have been contravened without any recourse for remedy," said Ms Murugi.

Alienated patients

The National Aids Control Council director Alloys Orago said that stigma was more deadly than the virus itself as it alienated the patients.

Lawyer Ambrose Otieno Rachier, who will chair the tribunal, said it was a new dawn for those who had been victimised as a result of their HIV status.

"The tribunal is going to address fundamental human rights abuses as a result of an individual's HIV status," he said.

He said their offices would be located at Landmark Plaza next to Nairobi Hospital, but it would open offices in all counties.

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