Saturday, September 25, 2021

Botswana faces UNHRC human rights abuse charges

Defence, Justice and Security Minister, Ramadeluka Seretse, will next week appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to answer charges of human rights abuse levelled against Botswana.

The charge sheet, which has been put together by the UNHRC following complaints by Ditshwanelo, lists a litany of human rights violations: Disenfranchisement prisoners; denial of ARV treatement to non citizens; criminalisation of homosexuality; abuse of Basarwa living in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) and failure to establish an Independent Human Rights Institution to address complaints from members of the public who feel their rights have been violated.

Ditshwanelo, a Human Rights Organisation, and other local NGOs have submitted a joint report painting a picture of flagrant human rights abuse in Botswana.

In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Seretse, who is a lawyer by profession, confirmed that he will personally appear before the Human Rights Commission to respond to queries of human rights abuse during Botswana’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the auspices of Human Rights Council. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council, which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists.

The minister explained that government’s plan to house the Independent National Human Rights Institution under the office of Ombudsman was shelved following advice from the Human Rights Commission.

It is understood that the Human Rights Commission advised Botswana government against setting up the independent body before the Ombudsman Act has been overhauled to cater for an Independent National Human Rights Institution. Seretse said, as a result, government has gone back to the drawing board to consider establishing a wholly new independent institution. He explained that consultation is ongoing regarding the establishment of the independent body.

Ditshwanelo has argued that the institution was necessary to ensure compliance with ratified human rights instruments, prepare Botswana’s state reports to specific human rights instruments as part of obligations, address issues relating to domestication of ratified instruments and stepping up public education on human rights issues.

The report further calls for Botswana to review the policy of not providing ARV treatment to non-citizens prisoners. Seretse will also answer charges on why the Independent Electoral Commission has not set up polling stations in prisons to enable prisoners convicted and sentenced to less than six months to vote.

The Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders have also expressed concern at the IEC’s failure to provide polling stations at Prison.

The Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders spokesperson, Akanyang Korong, pointed out that denying eligible prisoner an opportunity to vote was a violation of their rights.

IEC Assistant PR Officer, Suzan Leseane, told The Sunday Standard that they are barred by the Prisons Act from setting up polling stations inside prisons.

Leseane explained that the IEC Act and Prisons Act ran parallel when it comes to affording prisoners an opportunity to vote. The contradictory Acts have been cited as a burning issue that the government seems reluctant to resolve.

Seretse will also be quizzed on government’s decision to ignore advice from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, Mr James Anaya. The Special Rapporteur has recommended that Basarwa and Bakgalagadi communities from the CKGR be allowed to engage in subsistence hunting and gathering in accordance with traditional practices.

Ditshwanelo’s report challenges the Botswana government to inform the UPR review how many special licences they have issued to Basarwa/San since their first UPR cycle in 2008. Seretse is also expected to inform the meeting on how many Basarwa have been arrested for poaching, tried in court of law and sentenced since 2008.

A report that has already been submitted by Botswana government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the government has taken affirmative action by affording Basarwa and remote area dwellers preference in schools, vocational institutions and employment.

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