There is mounting international pressure on the government of Botswana to harmonize its national laws with internationally accepted standards, and to eliminate those that undermine basic human rights.
Against that background, Government has been ordered by an agency of the United Nations namely, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to submit copies of its laws relating to media and political associations to be scrutinized for any elements of repression.
In particular, a committee of the ILO assigned by its Governing body to address violations relating to Abolishing of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (no. 105), specifically noted the public service at 1998 and the public service regulations.
“Again, the committee requests the Government to supply copies of laws governing the press and other media. It also asks to be furnished with documentation relating to laws governing public assemblies and meetings as well as marches and demonstrations”, the latest report of the ILO, Document No (ILOLEX): 092009BWA105, states.
The ILO also demanded to be given laws pertaining to political parties and associations.
It has been argued by the ILO, that some of the stated pieces of legislation do contain provisions that amount to criminalizing expression of political views. ┬á
In this context, the committee said that sentences of imprisonment which involve compulsory labour, may be imposed under sections 47 and 48 of the penal code on any person who imports or produces and distribute any publication prohibited by the president ‘in his absolute discretion’ as being ‘contrary to the public interest’.
Similar sentences may be imposed under section 51 sub section 1 ┬®, (d) and 2 concerning other publications classified as undermining Governments integrity and national Security.
Reference has also been made to section 66 up to 68 of the penal code, for providing that a sentence of imprisonment may be visited upon any person who manages or is a member or in any way takes part in the activity of the society declared unlawful ‘and dangerous to peace and order’┬á
It was thus stated by the ILO that article 1(a) of the Convention of Abolition of forced labour makes it an offence to use forced or compulsory labour as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or divergent ideological ideas to the powers that be.
Paragraph 154 of a channel survey conducted by the UN agency in 2007 on the eradication of forced labour observed that the convention prohibits the use of┬ácompulsory labour, regardless of whether it is imposed by law or administrative decision┬á
Lucky Moahi, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, said, “Yes the copies of the specified laws were sent”. However, no elaboration was made on the issue. ┬á
Strikingly, the ILO pointed out that Government response to all its past reports concerning the issues at hand has been that, ‘the stated provisions of the penal code have not been applied in practice’, as if suggesting that therefore they need not to be changed
┬áNonetheless, the ILO expressed hope that Government of Botswana will take appropriate measure to expedite the amendment of the penal code. Meantime it remains to be seen what observations will be made in relation to documents that Government has so far submitted for UN scrutiny.