Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice, Desmond Babatunde Edwards, strongly condemned all forms of discrimination against individuals living with HIV/AIDS on Friday, November 18, 2023. He assured that their rights would be protected in accordance with the Sierra Leone Constitution, emphasizing that any violation of these rights is unacceptable and a breach of the law, as stipulated in Section 15 of the Sierra Leone Constitution, Act No. 6 of 1991.
Speaking as the keynote speaker at a two-day consultative dialogue themed “Promoting Social Justice and Equal Rights in the context of HIV and AIDS in Sierra Leone,” Justice Edwards asserted that every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to fundamental human rights and freedoms, regardless of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, or sex. He stressed the importance of upholding these rights while respecting the rights and freedoms of others.
Justice Edwards highlighted the National AIDS Commission Act, No. 11 of 2011, which guarantees the rights of all Sierra Leoneans to HIV prevention and treatment services. This includes protections for people living with or affected by HIV, such as voluntary HIV testing, confidentiality, privacy, and protection from discrimination in various settings, including schools, homes, workplaces, and communities.
The Chief Justice acknowledged that the AIDS epidemic has brought about new and complex legal and human rights challenges, leading to judicial rulings on HIV-related matters becoming part of the jurisprudence in many countries. He also underscored the challenges Sierra Leone faces in achieving zero HIV/AIDS, particularly the persistent issues of stigma and discrimination, which hinder progress.
In a solidarity message, the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Bryan David Hunt, pledged the commitment of the United States to advocate for a world where dignity, equality, and justice prevail for everyone, regardless of their HIV status. He reaffirmed the US’s readiness to foster a world free from discrimination and stigma.
Minister of Health and Chairman of the ceremony, Austin Demby, expressed his excitement about the commitment shown by the National AIDS Secretariat and partners in co-hosting the consultative dialogue. He emphasized that the engagement had set the stage for a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, utilizing an equality and social justice lens. Demby highlighted the collaboration between the Executive and the Judiciary as a model for strengthening national responses to HIV/AIDS and enhancing equal access to health services for all Sierra Leoneans.
Abdul Rahman Sesay, the Director General of the National AIDS Secretariat, explained that the collaboration with the Judiciary was a result of the commitment made by Chief Justice Edwards on December 1, 2022, at the World AIDS Day commemoration. Sesay indicated that the outcomes of the dialogue would provide clarity on the potential establishment of an Equity Court or expediting the enforcement of the law through the prosecution of individuals discriminating against and stigmatizing persons living with HIV/AIDS. MJB/20/11/2023