The AIDS Charter is aimed at legally protecting the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and to ensure that they are not discriminated against. It was first launched 17 years ago when Justice Edwin Cameron started the AIDS Consortium, a support structure for a network of AIDS support organisations in South Africa. The Charter is now being revised under the leadership of the same organisation.
‘Seventeen years ago, there was a need for a charter of rights for people living with HIV and certainly at that time there was a need for a lot of legal advocacy and development of policies, etc, protecting the rights of people living with HIV. Now 17 years later, we’ve clearly made a lot of progress. We’ve got, certainly, a world-class Constitution, we’ve got a fairly ambitious National Strategic Plan, a number of really good policies and documents. However, being in close contact with community, we at the AIDS Consortium are aware that despite a really good charter the challenge is around the implementation of the policies and rights are, indeed, still violated today, hence, the revision of the charter and reactivating all the clauses of the charter’, explained Denise Hunt, the Executive Director of the AIDS Consortium.
The revision of the charter has been informed by research the AIDS Consortium conducted on the streets of South Africa asking citizens to share their thoughts around whether people living with HIV should have rights. Hunt says ‘the result was disturbing’.
She said: ‘It would appear that young people in particular still see HIV as a condition that is worthy of blame. A lot of fault-finding and a lot of blame was actually raised. In fact I would say, most of the people that we chatted to spoke about ‘whether a person has rights would probably be dependent upon the source of their infection’. In other words, if it was rape or if a child was born with HIV, then, yes, perhaps they qualified or were eligible for treatment and for access to various services. However, there was a quite strong view that if the HIV was contracted through unprotected sex, which, of course, it primarily is in our country, then there was an element of blame involved and perhaps that would then limit the person’s rights. Now, on the backburner of the fact that most HIV-positive South Africans don’t know their status that really shows that there is a lot of work to be done’.
Odette Geldenhuys, Director of ProBono.org, a free legal service for those who cannot afford legal fees, agrees that much needs to be done to address the discrimination and stigma.
‘Personally I’ve been shocked by the levels of discrimination and stigmatisation that still happens in South Africa around HIV/AIDS. We’re how many years down the line? We have had how many educational and awareness campaigns? But we find this discrimination in the workplace, we find it in the community and we find it in people’s own homes’, she said.
The AIDS Charter seeks to ensure that people living with HIV and AIDS are respected and have their dignity restored just like any member of society.
‘We’re not calling for special rights. We’re calling for equal rights. Regardless of your status we have a Constitution that outlines our rights as a people and those would include basic rights to respect, dignity, access to essential services as well as health care, etc, nothing special, but certainly equal’, said the AIDS Consortium’s Denise Hunt.