First, the good news for Basarwa: Botswana this week voted in support of a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people which calls on countries to give more control to tribal peoples over the land and resources they traditionally possessed, and to return confiscated territory, or pay compensation.
Then the bad news: Botswana will neither return the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) to Basarwa nor pay them any compensation for moving them out.
The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples after 22 years of debate. The document proposes protections for the human rights of native peoples, and for their land and resources. It passed despite opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. They said it was incompatible with their own laws. There are estimated to be up to 370 million indigenous people in the world. They include the Innu tribe in Canada, the Basarwa of Botswana and Australia’s Aborigines.
Responding to enquiries from The Sunday Standard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Clifford Maribe, issued a statement that: “The Government of the Republic of Botswana voted in favour of the revised text of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007. This follows painstaking and protracted negotiations which ultimately resulted in the accommodation of some amendments submitted by Member States of the African Group, including Botswana.
Botswana’s concerns were with respect to the following; The absence of a definition of indigenous peoples; Interpretation of self-determination; Ownership of land and natural resources; Establishment of economic and political institutions and veto powers over laws passed by democratic national legislative bodies; National and territorial integrity; and Deployment of the military in lands and territories owned, occupied or used by indigenous peoples. Botswana is pleased that these concerns have since been addressed in the revised text and Government is particularly pleased to note that the adopted Declaration recognizes that the situation of indigenous people varies from region to region and from country to country and that the significance of national and regional peculiarities and various historical and cultural backgrounds should be taken into consideration when implementing the Declaration. The position of the Government of Botswana on indigenousness to this country is that, Botswana is inhabited by many different ethnic groups that occupied the geographical areas of present-day Botswana at different times in history.
Historical developments have led these ethnic groups to develop as one and a united nation of Batswana. All citizens of Botswana are therefore indigenous to the country with the exception of some naturalized citizens. No tribe or ethnic group is in this regard considered more indigenous than the others in the country and Government rejects outright, attempts by certain quarters to impose on the country, a definition of indigenous people that suits only the narrow and ill-informed agendas and interests of certain advocacy groups.
The General Assembly passed the
declaration with Botswana and 142 other countries, voting in favour and 11 abstaining. Four nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – each with large indigenous populations, voted against. Australia said it could not allow tribes’ customary law to be given precedence over national law. “There should only be one law for all Australians and we should not enshrine in law practices that are not acceptable in the modern world,” said Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough. A leader of a group representing Canada’s native communities criticized his government’s decision to oppose the declaration. “We’re very disappointed… It’s about the human rights of indigenous peoples throughout the world. It’s an important symbol,” said Phil Fontaine, leader of the Assembly of First Nations.
Campaign group Survival International says Canada’s Innu tribe, which lives in the frozen Labrador-Quebec peninsula, are struggling to maintain their traditional lifestyle as the government allows mining concessions, hydro-electric power schemes, and roads on their land. The Canadian government said it supported the “spirit” of the declaration, but could not support it because it “contains provisions that are fundamentally incompatible with Canada’s constitutional framework.” “It also does not recognize Canada’s need to balance indigenous rights to lands and resources with the rights of others,” a joint statement from the Canadian ministries of Indian and Foreign Affairs said. Canada has 1.3 million indigenous people, among a total population of 32.7 million.