Thursday, August 5, 2021

Amnesty International flaks Botswana on civil liberties

Amnesty International (AI) has noted widespread food insecurity in Botswana during 2020 and restrictions on the right to freedom of expression due to the State of Public Emergency legislation.

In its 2020/2021 report, the human rights body (NGO) observed that in Botswana, “Police subjected political activists to torture and other ill-treatment and death by hanging was maintained as a punishment for crimes including murder.”

Alluding to torture and other ill-treatment, AI stated that, “According to the NGO Ditshwanelo (the Botswana Centre for Human Rights), a 16- year-old boy was flogged at a traditional court in Mahetlwe village in Kweneng District by the village’s Deputy Chief, and on instructions from the police, for not wearing a face mask.”

Based on AI’s report, food insecurity remained widespread, mainly as a result of recurring drought. “It was compounded by an African Migratory Locust outbreak in February which affected staple crops,” the report read. According to AI‘s annual report, these factors, combined with Covid-19 pandemic mitigation measures like border closures, adversely affected food supplies and further exacerbated food insecurity levels.

In Botswana, AI discovered that the impact of lockdown and movement restrictions was particularly harsh for people working in the informal economy, among the most vulnerable to a socio-economic shock, who represented the majority of workers across the country, and particularly those who mainly worked in the agricultural sector as well as street vendors.

Botswana was part of the four Southern African countries (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe) that faced serious outbreaks of the African Migratory Locust (AML), threatening the winter crops and the main planting season October. Concentrations of AML were noted in February 2020 and crop damage caused by AML was reported at three sites in North-West, Chobe and Ghanzi districts, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “By 29 June, swarms had spread to some 48 new sites. An estimated 21,728 ha comprising 730 ha of crops and 20,998 ha of grassland and pasture was affected. Some vulnerable smallholder farmers lost their entire crop to the pest,” FAO observed. Through its response, the government managed to control the swarms in only 1887.81 ha or 10% of the affected area.

Undoubtedly, 2020 was an annus horribilis for civil liberties as well, following the advent of the Coivd-19 pandemic. Of freedom of expression, AI’s latest report noted that “The Emergency Powers Act prohibited journalists from using ‘source(s) other than the Director of Health Services or the World Health Organization’ when reporting on COVID-19.” The Act outlawed publishing information with the intention to deceive the public about Covid-19 or information about the government’s measures to control the spread of the virus. AI cited Justice Motlhabane’s case as one of the stains on the immaculacy of freedom of expression.

AI also noted that last year 18 June, journalists David Baaitse and Kenneth Mosekiemang were arrested by intelligence agents after they photographed a building linked to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security.

While some governments took steps to release detainees to curb the spread of COVID-19, overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in places of detention endangered inmates. By the 17th of February, Botswana Prisons Services is said to have recorded 519 Covid-19 positive cases in prisons across the country.

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