Director of Proceedings, it is my singular pleasure and honour to welcome you to this watershed meeting in which we hope to transform the Judicial Education Programme for Judicial Officers in Africa.
It may be appropriate - in order to contextualise our discussion - to give a brief overview of background information, which may serve as a reminder of the challenge we face and must defeat going forward, in order to realise our vision for justice for all.
We are here at an important junction in the history of combating the HIV/TB epidemic. UNAIDS data shows that the number of people with access to antiretroviral therapy has more than doubled since 2010, bringing the new total of people on HIV treatment around the world to an estimated 17 million at the end of 2015.
The progressive, new and actionable political declaration includes a set of specific, time-bound targets and actions that must be achieved by 2020 if the world is to get on the fast-track and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.
While we have made great progress, and whilst declines in new HIV infections among adults have been encouraging, according to the latest UNAIDS report, these declines have now slowed down. In addition to this, we know that we have not done enough to reduce the exclusion, stigma and discrimination that fuels the spread of HIV and impedes access to services and support.
In 2012, the UNDP-led Global Commission on HIV and the Law, concluded that ending AIDS as a public health threat was within reach, but only if science and action were accompanied by respect for human dignity and efforts to end injustice. The same, unfortunately, continues to hold true today.
Decades into the global AIDS response, marginalised populations such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who use drugs, as well as prisoners, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. The UNAIDS report shows that more than 90% of new HIV infections in central Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa in 2014 were among people from these key populations and their sexual partners. Punitive laws, discriminatory and brutal policing as well as denial of access to justice, all contribute to creating and punishing vulnerability.
To turn the epidemic around and fast track the AIDS response, universal access to treatment is simply not enough. We need to increase HIV investments in not only biomedical interventions but also towards ending stigma and discrimination. That requires significantly increasing investments in law and policy reform, human rights programmes and efforts to meaningfully include those we have left behind in the global AIDS response.
As we know, our region – Sub-Saharan Africa – continues to account for the highest burden of HIV globally – despite having made significant inroads into increasing treatment and slowing down the rate of new HIV infections. Furthermore, it is important to underscore that a quarter of our HIV infected population in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be in the 15 to 24-year age group.
We also know that the HIV epidemic in Africa continues to raise new and complex legal and human rights issues and challenges every day. This is often through legislations that either do not address or actively curtail human rights
It is against this background that in 2012, a number of senior judges from countries across Africa expressed an interest in sharing experiences, challenges and new developments in HIV-related jurisprudence in order to uphold the rights of all people, including key populations at high risk of HIV exposure, and to support and sustain judicial excellence on HIV and the law. In response, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre for Africa supported the participation of members of the judiciary in a number of meetings, and the convening of a regional dialogue between 50 judicial officials, including senior judges on HIV and law issues in Nairobi in 2013. Following these events and after some discussions with a number of senior judges who had evinced an interest, in 2014, UNDP supported the convening of an Africa Regional Judges’ Forum (ARJF).
Since 2014, the ARJF has held annual meetings with an increasing number of judges from Africa. The first meeting of the ARJF, held in 2014 in Johannesburg, was attended by 11 Judges from eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa; and the most recent meeting, held in 2017 was attended by 32 judges from 17 countries, including a judge from Tunisia (North Africa), and from the Ukraine (Eastern Europe) – thus making the Judges’ Forum a truly cross-regional forum for the first time.
Experience over the last six years – since the launching of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report in July 2012 as well as the convening of the Africa Judges Forum– show us that despite numerous challenges, there have been some extraordinary advances in terms of laws and rights-based jurisprudence in the context of HIV/TB in our part of the world.
We are witnessing instances where courts have struck down harassment of members of LGBT communities by law enforcement agencies. These same courts have ordered national governments to provide anti-retroviral treatment to foreign nationals in prison; ensured that national registration bodies register LGBT organisations; have struck out orders to incarcerate TB patients in prison on the basis of non-adherence to treatment regimens – emphatically saying ‘TB is not a crime’; and upturned rulings of lower courts imprisoning sex workers on the basis of living on earnings of prostitution. In a more recent case, the courts struck down a lower court ruling sentencing an HIV positive woman for breastfeeding a child “with the intention of wilful transmission of HIV”.
This meeting today is therefore a logical ‘next step’ towards sustaining and institutionalising the efforts initiated by the African Regional Judges’ Forum, through the Judicial Institutes.
Once again, I welcome you and hope that you have a successful meeting to address all the planned objectives and attain the proposed outcomes.
* Welcome remarks by chairperson of the African Regional Judges Forum, Justice Key Dingake at the strategic sub-committee meeting of Judicial Training Institutes on HIV/TB and Human Rights Programme, held in Johannesburg, South Afria on December 12-13, 2018