Friday, June 21, 2024

Botswana UPR review confined to Khama, Masisi tug of war?

Botswana’s human rights reputation in the eyes of the international community has been confined to a mere egotistical fight between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his estranged predecessor, former President Ian Khama.

While some members of the United Nations made repeated references to the country’s stance on death penalty and minority rights, the duo’s continued tug of war took centre stage.

Botswana appeared before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week. The Review highlighted Botswana’s record on human rights, leading to pointed recommendations for improvement.

Some member states confined their review of Botswana’s human rights record to the treatment of self-exiled former president Khama.

Khama has been on a campaign to paint his legal battles with the government as persecution in the wake of his escape to South Africa following charges relating to illegal possession of firearms.

President Masisi has always maintained he had nothing to do with the charges, insisting the law should take its course.

The State successfully sought an arrest warrant against Khama in December 2022 for allegedly possessing illegal firearms.

The Court ordered that Khama be arrested on sight. His subsequent attempt to have the arrest warrant against him struck down failed. Now a fugitive, Khama has since failed to turn up in court to answer to charges laid against him. The charges include unlawful possession of a firearms, receiving stolen property, and procuring the registration of a firearm by false pretense among others. Now the former president has turned to the international community for assistance in a move President Masisi has said is solely aimed at tarnishing his government’s reputation.

UN member states have now accused Masisi of authoritarianism, suppression of free speech, repression of dissent, and persecution of political opponents.

“UN Member States made recommendations for improvement across a variety of pressing human rights concerns, including civil and political rights, freedom of expression and the press, and the protection of politicians, journalists, and dissidents,” said an international press statement by an unnamed source following the Review. However, the international community’s judgment of Botswana’s human rights record seems to have been reduced and confined only to the treatment of former President Khama.

Khama has described charges against him as politically motivated, also claiming there had been attempts on his life by unnamed sources. Dr Agnes Callamard, then-Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and now the global head of Amnesty International, issued an Urgent Appeal to Botswana regarding President Khama’s case in March 2021. Speaking at the UPR Review Minister of Justice Machana Shamukuni dismissed the accusations about Khama’s persecution.

Shamukuni has been accused by some international media reports for what they call failure to address the UN Special Rapporteur’s serious concerns about Khama’s complaints. “The Minister has merely restated the Government’s flawed position at the UPR, mischaracterizing the nature of Dr. Callamard’s Urgent Appeal and trivializing it as an inquiry when her action represents the most serious form of communication that the UN mandate holder can send… Botswana has not explained why the DIS security detail failed to act upon the report of these threats and treat them seriously. Furthermore, having been fully apprised of the threats in the Special Rapporteur’s Urgent Appeal, the Government has continued to adopt a rigidly formalistic approach to the breaches to Former President Khama’s right to life, turning a blind eye rather than actually investigating these threats. Given that Botswana’s duty to investigate the alleged violations of Former President Khama’s right to life has been triggered, the Government’s continuing refusal to examine the allegations can only be interpreted as a violation and, thereby, tacit admission of the State’s participation in or endorsement of those deadly plans, in breach of international law,” reads another statement from international media.

They said Botswana’s denial at the UPR that Khama’s “mistreatment” is a symptom of a broader deterioration of the rule of law in Botswana was weak and wrong. “Civil society organizations, including Civicus, have recently downgraded Botswana’s human rights protection status from ‘Narrowed’ to the higher-concern ‘Obstructed’ rating due to governmental interference with civil and political rights. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre has also described this interference as ‘profoundly alarming’.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and is carried out by an inter-governmental working group of the Human Rights Council. The objective of the UPR is to review the fulfillment of the human rights commitments and obligations of all 193 UN member states as set out in: a) the UN Charter; b) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; c) human rights instruments to which the State is party (human rights treaties ratified by the State concerned); d) voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State (e.g. national human rights policies and/or programmes implemented); and, e) applicable international humanitarian law. It is a state-driven peer review mechanism, whereby all the UN member States are reviewed on the same terms.

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