Occasional excessive use of force and abuse by security personnel, police corruption, persistent discrimination against Basarwa and lack of an independent body to investigate killings by security agents were some of the human right violations which blotted what would otherwise be a fairly good human rights report on Botswana by the United States State Department recently.
The U.S. Department of State report titled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 pointed out that, “other significant human rights problems included occasional excessive use of force and abuse by security personnel, police corruption, government attempts to limit press freedom, and shortcomings in the judicial process including lengthy delays and failure to inform defendants of their pre-trial rights.”
Societal problems picked by the report, include trafficking in persons and discrimination against women and children; persons with disabilities; persons with HIV/AIDS; and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.
The discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons threatens to be a major battle ground between African governments and the US Department of State under John Kerry. Launching the country reports recently, Kerry warned that America will support sexually discriminated minorities throughout the world. “These laws contribute to a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons and their supporters, and they are an affront to every reasonable conscience, and the United States will continue to stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters as we stand up for freedom, for justice, for equal rights for all people around the world’, he said.
The report further noted that, “violence, including sexual violence, against women and children; child labour in cattle herding, agriculture, and other work; and discrimination against the Basarwa people persisted as principal human rights concerns,” says the report.
In July 2012, the report says, Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldiers shot and killed two suspected poachers who entered the country illegally from Namibia. The report adds that there is no independent government body charged with investigating security force killings.
On torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the report states that there was an incident in which security force personnel abused an inmate during the reporting year (2013).
“The Directorate for Intelligence and Security (DIS) detained a citizen overnight based on an overheard political comment that DIS claimed an agent interpreted as a threat to the president. He was released the following day,” states the report. . Elements of civil society continued to criticize DIS, claiming it did not receive sufficient independent oversight and posed a potential threat to civil liberties, the report says.
On the conditions of prisons in the country, the report notes that authorities allowed mothers to bring their nursing babies under the age of two with them into the prison system, some of which lacked maternity facilities.
According to the report, in 2012 there were three deaths in prisons and pre-trial detention centres adding that although they are required by law to visit prisons on a quarterly basis, government-appointed welfare and oversight committees did not visit prisons during 2013.
Describing the Botswana government’s interpretation of the 2006 landmark Central Kalahari Reserve Judgment (CKGR) as narrow, the report criticized “discrimination against the Basarwa people persisted as principal human rights concerns.”
“The government’s continued narrow interpretation of a 2006 High Court ruling, however, resulted in a few hundred indigenous Basarwa people being prohibited from living or hunting in their tribal homeland, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR),” says the report.
Although authorities permitted some of the original residents to return to the CKGR, their children and other relatives continue to be required to have permits to come and go from the CKGR, states the report.
The report further says that “in a move criticized by civil society and local media, the government added the Basarwa applicants’ lawyer, a United Kingdom citizen affiliated with Survival International, to a list of individuals from visa waiver countries who must apply for visas to enter the country.”
While the government denied allegations that it planned to bar the lawyer from the country, the report says, it did not grant his visa in time for him to participate in the August High Court hearing.
On press freedom, the report says that “State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and were susceptible to political interference.”
On corruption and transparency, the report found that “the authorities tasked with enforcement were undertrained and under-resourced. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.”