Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards has condemned all forms of discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and assured that their rights will be protected in line with the Sierra Leone Constitution.

“It is therefore unacceptable and a breach of the law if the rights of those infected or affected populations are not respected,” the Chief Justice said while referencing Section 15 of the Sierra Leone Constitution, Act No. 6 of 1991.

As the keynote speaker at a two-day consultative dialogue on the theme: “Promoting Social Justice and Equal Rights in the context of HIV and AIDS in Sierra Leone,” the Chief Justice went on to state that every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, and has the right, whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others.

According to Honourable Chief Justice Edwards, “the National AIDS Commission Act, No. 11 of 2011 guarantees the rights of all people in Sierra Leone to HIV prevention and treatment services and protections for people living with or affected by HIV. Their rights to voluntary HIV testing, confidentiality and privacy, and protection from all forms of discrimination at school, home, the workplace, and community at large.”

He told the motley audience that the AIDS epidemic has raised new and complex legal and human rights challenges, leading to judicial rulings on matters related to HIV that have become part of the jurisprudence of many countries.

Highlighting key challenges to have a zero HIV/AIDS country, the Chief Justice said, “There is however a big problem as stigma and discrimination continue to reverse progress made by Sierra Leone in particular to achieving epidemic control.”

In his solidarity message, the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Bryan David Hunt, pledged the United States of America’s commitment to advocate for a world where dignity, equality, and justice prevail for everyone regardless of their HIV status.

He went on to reaffirm that the US is ready to foster a world where everyone can live freely from discrimination and stigma.

In his address, the Minister of Health who doubles as the Chairman of the ceremony, Dr. Austin Demby, said he was thrilled by the commitment of the National Aids Secretariat and partners for co-hosting the consultative dialogue. He said the engagement has set the stage to promote a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, using the equality and social justice lens.

“This engagement is a model on how the Executive and the Judiciary can work together to strengthen the national responses beyond HIV/AIDS by enhancing equal access to health services for all Sierra Leoneans.”

The Director General of the National AIDS Secretariat, Abdul Rahman Sesay, said the collaboration between his institution and the Judiciary stemmed from the commitment made by the Chief Justice on 1st December 2022 at the commemoration of World AIDS Day. He said the outcome of the consultative dialogue will give a clear picture of either the establishment of an Equity Court or expedite the enforcement of the law through prosecution of those discriminating against and stigmatizing persons living with HIV/AIDS.

He commended the support received from their partners and encouraged them to support the process, including the study tour to Kenya. The first day of consultative dialogue brought together all Judges and Magistrates.