Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Licensed to sin

A secret document that plumbs the murky depths of Botswana’s diplomatic service reveals how Botswana envoys have turned their diplomatic immunity into a licence to sin, often getting away with crimes ranging from drunk driving, sexual harassment, sexually assaulting minors and abusing their spouses.

International law regulates how countries treat each other’s embassies, diplomats and heads of state. The rules are intended to facilitate diplomatic exchanges and peaceful bilateral dialogue. One way the law does this is by rendering a state’s diplomatic officials immune from certain types of interference with their persons, offices and activities when they serve abroad.

A document compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Reforms Unit dated January 2017, reveals how the diplomatic immunity extended to Botswana envoys by host countries has turned into diplomatic impunity because the Botswana government always covers up for its diplomats who abuse the immunity.

The report further reveals that at least eight male Botswana diplomats who were recalled for various offences abroad have been shielded from prosecution. The Botswana diplomats were forced to leave among other countries  Britain, Brazil, South Africa and Ethiopia in the past decade after being accused of serious criminal offences, including drunk driving, sexual assault involving a minor and abusing their spouses.

It also emerges in the report that an undisclosed number of female diplomats have been unduly promoted in return for sexual favours to their supervisors.

For a long time sex has been a currency of choice among Botswana diplomats and sexual harassment is rampant. The Sunday Standard investigation desk has in its possession a clutch of e- mail messages revealing how Botswana ambassadors use dirty tricks to intimidate junior diplomats into sleeping with them. In one revealing correspondence, a former Botswana Ambassador in Japan, advices a former Botswana Ambassador to the United Nations on what dirty tricks to use to intimidate a staff member into sleeping with him.

Indications are that the problem was allowed to fester because the rot went right up to the top including Cabinet members. A number of high profile names linked to the Foreign Service sex scandal keep cropping up in the series of e-mail letters between former Botswana ambassadors  and this may explain why it took so long for the ministry to take action. In one of the e-mail messages a former ambassador advices another former ambassador into scaring a junior officer who was already sleeping with a cabinet member into sleeping with him. The message states:  “That woman is there for the taking. She obviously has no morals. The minute the old man leaves, I am sure she will start looking for a replacement. I think the problem with you is you want to treat her like a lady. That was your mistake last time…… I think what you should do is to one day call her in and tell her that you have discovered bothlhabetsi mo Embasing involving a member of the local staff. I am sure she would immediately check with others to find out if they have also been called in. Imagine her trauma when she discovers that nobody else was called in. You can then let her stew for a month or two. I am sure she will then begin to realize that the old man is no longer the boss. All you have to do is to play your cards right.”
The ministry was however reluctant to take action against ambassadors, despite numerous sexual harassment complaints against them.

Sunday Standard can reveal that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has in the past received a sexual harassment complaint filed by South Africa against a former Botswana ambassador in Japan. This was after a female consular at the South African embassy in Japan lodged a sexual harassment claim against the Botswana ambassador. The Ministry also had to deal with a case in which a Japanese journalist stopped doing publicity work for Botswana, claiming sexual harassment by the ambassador. This brought to four, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed against the ambassador after two Botswana female envoys complained to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A few years ago one of Botswana’s diplomats in Washington was stripped of diplomatic immunity by the United States government after a female colleague filed assault charges against him. The Botswana envoy was ultimately cleared by the US courts, but not before the country’s dirty linen was aired in public, with secret tapes from the Botswana embassy being played in court, revealing how one embassy employee was allegedly instructed by a former permanent secretary to make secret recordings of conversations by the Botswana ambassador in the US and other staff members.

Investigations have further revealed that in 2014, a Botswana diplomat facing drunken driving charges was recalled from Maputo in an attempt by government to ‘save face’. Before his posting to Maputo he had been recalled from London where he was facing the same offence.  He since been redeployed to Germany.  Another diplomat was recalled from New York, America, after he was accused of abusing his spouse.

Yet another one was expelled from Brazil after impregnating a minor and he was redeployed to Pretoria, South Africa and was later recalled and redeployed to Addis Ababa Ethiopia.

The 2017 secret fact finding mission report warns that

Botswana’s threat to its international image is due to “diminished international respect” and “lack of coordinated Foreign Policy within government agencies.”  

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.