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25.03.2004 Regional News

Lawyers attend HIV/AIDS workshop

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Accra, March 24, GNA- A two-day legal literacy training workshop opened in Accra on Wednesday with a call on legal practitioners to intensify their efforts at protecting the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) who may not even know of such rights.

"Respect for human rights is critical in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and it is about time legal practitioners see the need to offer legal services to protect the rights of both infected and affected persons", Mrs Esther Baah Amoako, Executive Director of AIDS Alert Ghana, a non-governmental organisation has said.

Addressing participants at the workshop, Mrs Amoako expressed regret that the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS were often violated because of their presumed HIV status while many judges and lawyers continued to disassociate the disease from human rights provisions, adding "... Thinking it has no connection at all thereby causing PLWHA to suffer both the burden of the disease and the consequential loss of their rights,"

About 30 legal experts representing African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), Ghana Legal Literacy, the Ghana Law Reform, the Judiciary and some private legal practitioners are attending the workshop, the fifth in a series being run by AIDS Alert.

It is to afford lawyers the opportunity to share HIV/AIDS legal-related experiences, and exchange information that will lead to better co-ordination and collaboration among lawmakers. It would be held for 180 legal practitioners for a period of time, to enhance their capacity to deal with legal issues of relevance to HIV/AIDS.

As part of the project, which started in September last year, a network of lawyers has been formed to create a supportive environment for PLWHA and offer free legal services to such persons.

Mrs Amoako said though there are no specific laws on AIDS in Ghana, the Constitution and other international human rights instruments, which Ghana has ratified, guarantee the right to equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination on race, colour, sex, religion and national or social origin.

Participants are being taken through "Ethics of the Medical Profession and HIV/AIDS, Aspects of HIV/AIDS and the Law, HIV/AIDS and Gender and Stigmatisation and HIV/AIDS.

Speaking on Ethics of the Medical Profession and HIV/AIDS, Dr Ama Kyerema Edwin, clinical psychologist at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital said confidentiality, privacy and comprehension of information should be paramount in handling PLWHA.

Mr Henry Tackie, Senior State Attorney at the Attorney-General's Department said presently there were no specific laws about PLWHA's right to privacy, employment and insurance and others which he said was very regretful.

He said activities of traditional "wazams" who continued to circumcise children, barbers, and beauticians, all operate under "risky operations but are not covered by law.

He therefore called on civil society organisations and individuals to initiate actions on legislation to take care of such lapses.