PRESS RELEASE: ARASA awards organisations recognised for defending human rights
Johannesburg, South Africa – On 16 April, Engender Rights Centre for Justice (ERCJ), Zambia and Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) were awarded the 2014 AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) Human Rights, HIV and TB Award at a ceremony hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“The ARASA Human Rights, HIV and TB Award was established in 2007 to recognise and support organisations across southern Africa undertaking ground-breaking work to protect human rights, often in extremely challenging political climates,” explained Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA. “For the first time since the inception of the award, two organisations were selected to receive the award based on their success using litigation as a key strategy to protect rights. They deserve to be lauded for their efforts.”
ERCJ, led by human rights activist Paul Kasonkomona, advocates for sex workers to have access to health and other essential services in a politically and culturally sensitive environment. In April 2013 Kasonkomona was arrested after appearing on a programme on Muvi TV in Zambia, where he spoke about the need to recognise the rights of people at higher risk of HIV and related rights abuses, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and sex workers, in order to comprehensively address the HIV epidemic. Kasonkomona was charged under section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code for soliciting for an immoral purpose in a public place. In February, the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court found that the government had failed to prove its case against Kasonkomona in a ruling that provided a major boost to freedom of expression in the country. In March this year, the government lodged an appeal against the decision.
In accepting the award, Kasonkomona described this recognition as a motivation to continue his work. “The journey I have been on over the past year since I was arrested was often a lonely one. But, this recognition affirms my commitment to continue to speak for the rights of all Zambians. The struggle has to continue!” he added.
GALZ is a membership-based association promoting, representing and protecting the rights and interests of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people through advocacy, lobbying, empowerment, education, research and provision of safe spaces.
“During this period we have faced harassment, raids of our offices and had our staff arrested and assaulted due to the nature of our work as human rights defenders,” stated Chesterfield Samba, Director of GALZ. “Receiving this award will further advance the LGBTI agenda and will help amplify the work of GALZ in Zimbabwe. It will also motivate other human rights and civil society organisations to take up advocacy for the protection of the rights of LGBTI people.”
In August, following a police raid and search of the GALZ offices in Harare, the chairperson of GALZ, Martha Tholanah, was charged with contravening Section 6(1)(3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act. The State alleged that Tholanah, knowing that GALZ was not registered, “unlawfully took part in the management of the organisation by gathering its members and continued to carry out activities while engaging in gays and lesbians activities” in contravention of the PVO Act. In February 2014, the Magistrate found that GALZ was not obliged to be registered in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisation Act.
The award ceremony was held at the conclusion of ARASA’s Annual Partnership Forum, which provides an opportunity for ARASA’s 73 partners to review the status of HIV, TB and human-rights in the region and identify emerging human rights challenges for targeted responses in the next year.
The AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) is a partnership of over 70 civil society organisations working together to promote a human rights based response to HIV and TB in southern and east Africa. For more information on ARASA’s work and its partners please visit: www.arasa.info