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Groups In Southeastern Nigeria Fight AIDS Discrimination - 2003-10-20

Two non-governmental organizations based in southeastern Nigeria are threatening to take legal action against companies or organizations discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS. The international federation of women lawyers and the Nigerian Bar Association say they will offer free legal services to prosecute companies, which discriminate against those infected with the AIDS virus.

Some people living with HIV/AIDS in southeastern Nigeria say they lost their jobs because they tested HIV positive. John Ibekwe is the project coordinator of Save the World Organization, an ngo of people living with HIV/AIDS in southeastern Nigeria. He says apart from losing their jobs, people living with the disease face stigma and discrimination.

Reacting to the issues raised by the AIDS victims, the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, says they will fight for the rights of AIDS victims. Ugo Ezekwem is the chairperson of FIDA in southeastern Nigeria.

She says, "This is a problem that is really prevalent in this part of the world. And we have asked people who are victims to come to us for legal action. We are ready to go to court and take action to protect this people from discrimination and stigma. Discrimination actually fuels the spread of AIDS and we think that if it is not stopped, it will lead to very very serious consequences for the society" Ms. Ezekwem says discrimination violates the Nigerian constitution.

"The Nigerian constitution under the fundamental human rights provision provides for non-discrimination on basis of sex, on basis of place of origin and other things but it does not really say anything much about people living with HIV/AIDS but I believe they can come under that provision because it a form of discrimination. It is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment that persons who have found themselves in the predicament that they didn’t put themselves in is subjected to dismissal from his place of work. I think you are leaving that person helpless and unable to fend for themselves’’

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, agrees with the International Federation of Women Lawyers. Ifeanyichukwu Obiakor is the chairman of the human rights committee of the association in southeastern Nigeria. He says the association will liaise with other groups to protect the interests of people living with HIV/AIDS.

He says, "It is wrong to discriminate against people because they are sick. The Nigerian constitution, the 1999 constitution, specifically guaranteed and protects people from all kinds of discrimination. At the NBA, we are ready and we are going to deal with matters of such discrimination that was brought to our notice. And I can assure you that such people living with HIV who are being discriminated against, their rights are going to be protected by the human rights committee of NBA. We are going to go further to get all other organizations involved to make sure that their rights are protected." AIDS activists have reacted to the move made by the lawyers. One of them is Chris Anyamene, chairman of network of ngos involved in the fight against AIDS in southeastern Nigeria. Mr. Anyamene says the decision of the lawyers is a step in the right direction.

"It’s a very welcome development, a welcome offer coming from the NBA and FIDA. I will want them and others to go further to get the legislative houses in the south-east where we work, that’s the state houses of assembly to enact laws that will prohibit or that will bring out punishment for those who are involved in discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS. It is very important that this law is enacted and when the law is enacted, there will be punishment and it will be publicized and people will know." The International Federation of Women lawyers and the Nigerian Bar Association are planning to sponsor a bill in the state assembly in southeastern Nigeria banning discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS.