Representatives of various nongovernmental organizations and Human Rights activists and lawyers have told officials of the European Delegation to Botswana that the country was increasingly proving unsafe for those fighting on the side of social justice.
At a workshop held in Gaborone at Maharaja Conference Centre on 21 October, 2010 the delegates, however, acknowledged that it was difficult to come up with substantive evidence showing that Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) faced any real security threat.
Duma Boko, locally-renowned human rights lawyer and President of the Botswana National Front (BNF), observed, “We live in a situation where both as a result of lack of capacity and the overreaching behavior of some members of specialized units from the country’s security system and the police, ordinary people find that they have nothing remarkable to say about their own safety and justice system in general.”
The effect of that, according to Boko, was that it wouldn’t make any logical sense starting a debate on whether human rights activists were better protected, without the risk of unnecessarily exonerating those responsible for human rights violations on the basis of unavailable “facts and statistics”.
However, a preliminary assessment by the participants, of the level of security and the level of impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations against activists and defenders in the country showed human rights activists and lawyers were living in fear.
To give credence to the assessment another popular human rights lawyer, Dick Bayford of Bayford and Associates and Newspaper Publisher, Clara Olsen both shared with participants their own experiences at the hands of suspected security agents.
Some of the experiences included strange patterns of robbery where nothing except valuable documents went missing, death threats at critical junctures of national discourse.
Bayford gave an example about incidents in which more than ten people were shot by security agents and which the former Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse, admitted.
“This is one clear indicator of the impunity with which the perpetrators of human rights violations went untouched despite having committed extra-judicial killings,” said Bayford.
For his part, Kenny Kapinga, Deputy Commissioner of Botswana Police Services, Operations, denied the existence of impunity. In the same breadth, he told the Sunday Standard in an interview that he took exception at the use of the term extra-judicial, as if that referred to sanctioned acts.
“As far as I am concerned the BPS is committed to ensuring that any human rights violations would be investigated if established. With regard to impunity I must state without preempting anyone, that we have no extra-judicial killings,” said Kapinga.
Elsie Alexander, a Lecturer at the UB posited, somewhat concurring with Boko that, “In the absence of mechanisms for monitoring of domestication and implementation of international conventions and instruments, human rights defenders can only do so little.”
She suggested that the establishment of a human rights council as an overseer would go a long way towards making a difference.
Professor Lydia Nyathi-Saleshando, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Botswana, pointed out that as a result of her work on human rights for the minorities or non Tswana speaking groups, she was targeted by agents of the State security system who seemed to want to cow her into silence.
“There were instances when I got awakened in the middle of the night only to find some people trying to open my gate, and others involved the apparent poisoning as showed in the forensic pathological findings, over the death of our member but nothing was done about the case,” said Nyathi-Saleshando.
She added that it was only after one of the headmen at her home place queried that there were some Secret Police officers who were always seen idling around some homesteads in the area, that, “we then sought an urgent meeting with the Commissioner of Botswana Police, Thebeyame Tsimako”.
Ambassador Paul Malin, Head of Mission of the European Delegation to Botswana and Southern Africa Community Development (SADC), explained that the purpose of the workshop was to exchange with local HRDs the findings of a survey conducted by the EU Mission on Botswana’s situation.