Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Botswana, ILO square up over abuse of prisoners

The International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for matters of observance of democratic labour practice and International standards, has accused the Botswana Government of making prisoners work for the benefit of private persons in breach of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930(No.29), of which Botswana is signatory.
 
And accordingly, the ILO demanded an explanation in respect of the stated violations, to which Government offered an allegedly unsatisfactory response denying the charge.
 
In this regard, it was noted that although Government played down the accusation in their responding statement, the ILO cited section 94(1) of the Prisons Act (Cap. 21:03) which states that, a prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.
 
Government’s attention was further drawn to Article 2(2) (c) of the Convention under discussion, which expressly prohibits that convicted prisoners be hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations.
 
That is, in a sense, that the exception from the scope of the Convention provided for in this Article for compulsory prison labour does not extend to work of prisoners for private employers, even under public supervision and control.
 
In this connection, the ILO Committee dealing with the matter at issue made reference to the explanations given in paragraphs 59-60 and 114-120 of its General Survey of 2007 on the eradication of forced labour, where it pointed out that work for prisoners for private parties is only compatible with the Convention where it does not involve compulsory labour.
 
Mention was made of the fact that such work shall be carried out with freely given consent of the persons concerned.
 
Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA), which is the custodian of labour law locally, when approached by Sunday Standard for explanation preferred to play down the issue by reiterating what they had already said to the ILO, that the Prison Act does not authorize the hiring of convicted prisoners nor placing them at the disposal of private individuals.
 
That is despite the fact that section 94 is very categorical about the position of the law.
 
In order to soothe the reality, Lucky Moahi, Deputy Permanent Secretary at MLHA, posited,┬á“Again when section 95 is read with section 92 of the Prisons Act, they describe the nature of employment to be given to prisoners.”
 
He added that such work, according to the Act, shall not be afflictive, and must be of a useful nature and suitable as to prepare prisoners for the conditions of normal occupational employment.
Government’s response notwithstanding, Sunday Standard has established that over and above the fact that, indeed section 94 of the Prisons Act provides for private use of prisoners, there are no operational guidelines for such “private” engagement.
 
Senior Superintendent, Wamorena Ramolefhe, Public Relations Officer at the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation Headquarters, equally had a difficult terrain to navigate in relation to the issue.
 
“Although the Act makes mention of such provision, as far as I am aware, in practical terms we do not allow prisoners ┬áto be used for the benefit of private individuals or authorities,” said Ramolefhe.
 
To qualify his statement, the Prisons Official intimated that there is a labour allocation committee that sees to all aspects appertaining to employment of prisoners, and “by far we have not heard of any reports suggesting improper use of prisoners”.
 
In spite of this, the statement from the ILO read, “We therefore hope that the necessary measures will be taken, both in law and in practice, to ensure that any work or service by prisoners for private persons is performed voluntarily with freely given consent.”
 
Such “freely given consent”, according to the ILO must be authenticated by the existence of objective and measurable factors than mere “absence of misuse” without any guarantee nor statutory provision criminalizing any possible abuse, (in case it’s not already happening).

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.