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Zambia: Live-Blogging a Groundbreaking HIV Discrimination Case

Priti Patel, project lawyer (HIV/Aids) for the Southern Africa Litigation Centre is in Livingstone, Zambia to live-blog a groundbreaking HIV discrimination case in the country.

The case, Kingaipe and Another v Attorney-General, involves two former Zambian Air Force (ZAF) employees, Stainley Kingaipe and Charles Chookole, who were allegedly subjected to mandatory testing for HIV without their knowledge and dismissed due to their HIV status. The two men are seeking reinstatement and damages for mental and emotional anguish. Both applicants in the case worked with the ZAF for over 13 years, having joined when they were 21 years old. They held non-combat throughout their career at ZAF. In 2001, they were allegedly subjected to an HIV test without their consent or knowledge and given anti-retroviral treatment without their knowledge.

In October 2001, without their knowledge or participation, a Medical Board reviewed their medical records and declared them permanently unfit for service. They both continued to work at the ZAF for a full year after the Board decision, performing so well in their job that one of the applicants was promoted during that time. Neither of them took a day of sick leave during that one-year period. In October 2002, they were both dismissed.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is an organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa working on human rights issues in Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The organisation engages in litigations advancing human rights and provides legal support through training.

In one of her posts from Livingstone, Zambia, Priti writes, “…I also am hoping to give folks a sense of what happens inside a courtroom especially in a groundbreaking trial; a lot of that is less about the law itself and more about people and their stories,”

I arrived in Livingstone, Zambia on Monday for the first ever case in Zambia to determine whether discrimination by the military on the basis of HIV violates the Zambian Constitution. The case goes to trial tomorrow, Wednesday.
So a few things to know before Wednesday:

* I expect the trial to last 3 or more days. During that time Paul Mulenga, the passionate lawyer for the two former employees, expects to call the two men, their former colleagues, a psychologist, psycho-social counsellor, an HIV expert, and a medical doctor to testify.
* I don’t know how many or who the Attorney-General’s office is going to call to testify.
* A number of other countries in the region, including Nambia and more recently South Africa, have rejected HIV discrimination in the military noting that there is no medical or policy reason for such a practice.
* I will try to provide regular updates of what is happening in the courtroom, but that will depend on internet connectivity in the High Court. At the least, I can promise to post at the end of the day on the day’s happening.

Finally, we (SALC) are a legal organization and I am a lawyer so there will be discussion of the legal issues and strategy involved in the case. But I also am hoping to give folks a sense of what happens inside a courtroom especially in a groundbreaking trial; a lot of that is less about the law itself and more about people and their stories.

In another post titled “Early coverage of the trial,” she writes:

So the Lusaka Times Online is carrying a wire story on the case. The story itself is basically a rehash of our press release but the comments to the story make interesting reading.

Zambia Watchdog coverage has also generated intense discussions.

Priti Patel spoke with Global Voices Online about their intention to liveblog/semi-liveblog (depending on Internet connection at the High Court in Livingstone) the trial.

Question: Let's start with the case. Why is this case important?
Answer: This is obviously a public interest case. It is the first case in this country that will decide whether the Zambian constitution protects people living with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and unfair dismissal from work. The other reason is that it is pretty clear that strengthening human rights in society helps mitigate the effect of HIV/AIDS. This case will basically decided the extent of rights guaranteed by the constitution for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Q: Your organisation works in 10 countries in Southern Africa. Is this the first case of this kind in the region?
A: There was a similar case in Namibia. Namibia had in a place a pre-employement HIV testing policy. The military was refusing to hire anybody found to be HIV positive. The policy was successful challenged in the Labour court.
Q: Generally speaking, how is the human rights situation in region?
A: It differs from country to country. For example, you have countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe where the human rights situation is very bad and then you have Botswana where the situation is much better. When it comes to HIV human rights situation there is a lot of work to be done throughout the region.
Q: I believe this will be the first time in the region for a trial to be blogged (live or semi-live). Why has SALC decided to blog this case?
A: One of the primary reasons is that most people don't get to see inside a court room. They don't know what happens at a trial. So we are hoping to provide a window into what happens in a trial. Another reason is that some of these cases take place in towns where the mainstream media do not pay attention to. Blogging this trial will also help people in the region to learn more about HIV and human rights issues. We don't intend to focus too much on legal technicalities but on the people involved in the trial and their stories and experiences, which I know will resonate with many other people in Southern Africa.
Q: Has blogging being part and parcel of SALC communication strategy?
A: Our blog has been around for sometimes but this will be our first attempt to blog regularly and engage more people in the region on issues relating to human rights. We intend to use our blog as a space for discussions and conversations about legal and human issues.
Q: How is the relationship between the mainstream media and human rights organisations in region? Is it easy to get your voice out through the mainstream media?
A: The mainstream media try to cover human rights issues. However, these issues are not covered adequately in many countries we work in. This is why we see an opportunity and a need for alternative media to cover human rights issues. Alternative media tools such as blogs, twitter and videoblogs will certainly help to fill the gap.
Q: What else do you have in mind in terms of using new media to report and discuss human rights issues in the region?
A: We are currently thinking about using Twitter to tell people, for example, about cases going to court in different countries in Southern Africa, when decision are issued, etc. We think that it will be useful to explore these new forms of communication in the work that we do. I know that in this process we will encourage other organisations to start thinking about being part of conversations taking place in cyberspace. We are a small organisation, so if we can use new media successfully other organisations will get motivated and hopefully individuals working on human rights issues will also take new forms of media seriously.
Q: Are there spaces online at the moment where there are vigorous discussions about human rights issues in the region?
A: Most of the discussions going on in these new media spaces are about politics and technology. We hope to provide a forum for people to learn, discuss and ultimately get involved with human rights issues in their countries.
Q: What did you learn from your first experience using new media during the Guantanamo trials?
A: That experience gave me the sense that a blog could be a real useful way of letting people see and follow a trial without being physically present in the courtroom.
Q: Lastly, do think new media tools and practices such as blogs, twitter, social networking, etc, will lead to tangible social and political change in the region?
A: New forms of media are good in terms of getting the word out faster with limited resources, raising awareness, eliciting opinions, comments and feedback. In Southern Africa, we are in the first stage, which is about raising awareness and reaching out. I hope we will soon move to the second stage where people will take these issues to policy makers. This is when we will move past discussions and decide to do something about the information we receive. But this first stage is very important because we need to have the knowledge of what is happening and a sense of what should not happen, then we will be able to act. We are not there yet.

* Follow the trial on SALC blog.

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