Human rights and HIV activist brings landmark case to Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court

In Zimbabwe, a human rights activist denied access to antiretroviral treatment while in detention in 2011 has filed a test case to assert the rights of prisoners living with HIV.

In Zimbabwe, a human rights activist denied access to antiretroviral treatment while in detention in 2011 has filed a test case to assert the rights of prisoners living with HIV.

On 22 May, president Robert Mugabe signed Zimbabwe’s new constitution into law to replace the 33-year-old charter crafted in the dying days of British colonial rule. The following day Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights filed an application on behalf of prominent rights activist Douglas Muzanenhamo.

The landmark legal application challenging the ill treatment of people living with HIV in detention by police and prison officials in Zimbabwe is the first case under the new constitutional dispensation.

Denied access to treatment

Tawanda Zhuwarara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing Muzanenhamo, who was arrested in February 2011. He was charged with committing treason together with 44 other social justice, trade union and human rights activists, including University of Zimbabwe lecturer and International Socialist Organisation-Zimbabwe Chapter leader Munyaradzi Gwisai.

The state claimed they were plotting to topple the government using the same means employed in Egypt to oust Hosni Mubarak’s regime. While in detention, Muzanenhamo, who has lived with HIV for the past 18 years, was denied access to his life prolonging ARV drugs in contravention of section 12 (1) of the constitution.

Stung by the harsh treatment, Muzanenhamo filed a constitutional application at the Supreme Court challenging the ill treatment of people living with HIV in detention by police and prison officials in Zimbabwe.

Constitutional rights

In taking up the case, Zhuwarara said: “The landmark case questions the constitutionality of certain practices and treatment of people living with HIV in detention by police and prison officials. We are seeking an order compelling police and prison officials to respect the rights to access medication of detainees living positively with HIV.

“Every individual who is HIV positive, and gets incarcerated in their facilities, and who has notified them about his/her condition must also be given an opportunity to access antiretroviral drugs as prescribed by medical practitioners.”

Muzanenhamo argues the meeting – in which he was arrested – had nothing to do with toppling the government as he was attending a meeting to commemorate the death of an HIV/AIDS activist Navigator Mungoni. The entire treason case later spectacularly collapsed.

Fight for human rights

Zhuwarara said: “Functionaries of the Zimbabwe Prison Service also perpetuated Muzanenhamo’s suffering when they denied him access to his medication during his detention in prison. He was also denied a balanced nutritional diet commensurate with the medical regime that he was following due to his medical condition.

“Due to improper administration of ARVs, Muzanenhamo’s health condition deteriorated rapidly and his CD4 count dropped from the normal 800 to 579. The conditions of his arrest and incarceration endangered his life, the denial of ARVs to Muzanenhamo was not only cruel and inhuman but also a denial of his right to life as these drugs has ensured that he lives long. In any event suspects only lose their right to liberty while in police or prison detention and they must continue to enjoy all their other rights.”

Citizens’ right to life is enshrined in the constitution, in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Zhuwarara said: “We wish to reiterate that anyone who is suspected of having committed an offence only loses his/her right to liberty while in custody and they must continue to enjoy all their other fundamental rights and freedoms.”

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 3
  • comment-avatar
    Clarence 5 years

    Hi Robert

    Many thanks for this wonderfully written article which brings to the spotlight the challenges that PLHIV in detention centers and correctional facilities face. I do hope that the supreme court will respond in a way that will be beneficial to PLHIV.

  • comment-avatar

    I will update you with the outcome.

  • comment-avatar
    Sipiwe 4 years

    Robert,
    Thank you for a well documented report and for being an advocate for People Living with HIV. I work in this field and am pleased each time someone makes an effort to bring HIV awareness as well as advocating for the people in any way or form. Above all people living with the virus have rights to just like anyone else.
    Bravo to you and the lawyer Zhuwarara.
    Sipiwe