Saturday, December 6, 2008

Statement by Hon. Minister of Defence, Justice and Security presenting Botswana Report to UN Human Rights Counil Working Group

source: Republic of Botswana (6/12/08): TAUTONA TIMES no 40 of 2008
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President “Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline”


Please find below Statement by the Hon. Minister for Defence, justice and Security at the UN Human Rights Council working Group Periodic Review as well as further response by the Minster. Please also note that this is an annual exercise in which all UN member states are expected to undertake.

[START]: Statement by Hon. Dikgakgamatso N. Seretse, Minister for Defence, Justice and Security on Presenting the Botswana National Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review:

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the TROIKA, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. It is with great pleasure that I appear before this august body to present and introduce Botswana’s National Report to the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. The preparation of the report has been an enriching process of learning, introspection and dialogue.

2. Botswana welcomes the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Human rights are universal and inalienable. The international community rightly decided that all Member States irrespective of their level of development must be held to the same standard of accountability. This is important if we are to make substantial and global progress in the promotion and respect for human rights.

3. Human rights are about the well being of people. In this respect Member States have correctly taken decisions to involve organizations of civil society in the preparation and consideration of national reports for the Universal Periodic Review. Botswana fully embraces the spirit of openness, transparency and dialogue that characterizes the preparation of national reports and deliberations of the Council on such Reports.

4. It is our hope that this approach to the protection and defence of human rights will make it possible to move away from the acrimonious political debates of the past so that moderation, reason and commonsense can prevail. The important matters of human rights are about lives of ordinary men, women and children. It would be wrong to subject them to a political chess game.

5. Mr. President, Botswana is fully committed to the implementation of international human rights, instruments which we have signed and ratified. In presenting this report we are saying to Member States and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that we in Botswana stand ready to work with you. We need your support, partnership and collaboration. We want to abide by our human rights treaty obligations not because someone compels us to do so but because it is the right of people to enjoy human rights. We may differ on the pace at which we must be moving but there can be no doubt as to the direction in which we all intend to go.

6. We must never lose hope. On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us recall that at its adoption millions of people in Africa were not free. In the United States, African-Americans did not have the right to vote. That did not make this universal blue print on human rights less important. This should not be misconstrued to mean that people must wait for the enjoyment of human rights beyond the grave.

7. Mr. President, Botswana would be the first to recognize that commitment to the implementation of human rights instruments must be demonstrated in concrete terms through a series of actions such as domestication of treaties and reporting. There are, however, some capacity constraints, and we would require technical support to enable us to develop the much needed capacity.

8. Botswana has made some progress in meeting her reporting obligations. Periodic reports to CERD, ICCPR, CRC, CEDAW and most recently the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights have been submitted. By honouring our reporting obligations, we have now opened dialogue with the various human rights Treaty Bodies. We would welcome any technical assistance that the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and individual Member States may be able to provide to us.

9. Mr. President, my Government strongly believes that constructive dialogue and exchange of information is the most viable way of addressing human rights questions at national, regional and international levels. The Universal Periodic Review affords us the opportunity to interact in an atmosphere of partnership, mutual respect and to reach common understanding on how human rights issues can be addressed.

10. As a young country we are faced with diverse challenges and have to place emphasis on nation building and developmental issues. For the past four decades, Botswana has made significant strides in the areas of economic freedom, transparency and good governance. We remain focused in our resolve to find innovative ways that can guarantee our nationals and residents full enjoyment of human rights.

11. Mr. President I now wish to present an overview of the Botswana National Report.

Overview of the Report

Chapter -I Methodology

12. The first chapter of the report provides an outline of the methodology and the consultation process that was followed in the preparation of information provided under the Universal Periodic Review.

13. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Treaties, Conventions and Protocols tasked a working group to produce an initial draft that could be used to form the basis for discussions.

14. To further enrich the document, Government consulted with a cross section of civil society to discuss the document and take on board their comments.

15. It is in this spirit that we brought together all the stakeholders (state and non-state actors) in the preparation of Botswana’s report. We have seen great value in involving NGO’s in the process. The inputs by Ditshwanelo-Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Botswana Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisation (BOCONGO), Political Parties, Academia, Trade Unions, Botswana Council of Churches, the Law Society and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) were invaluable.

Chapter II - Background of the country under review and framework

16. The second chapter of the report is a brief description of existing institutional framework in Botswana that allows for the promotion and protection of human rights including a description of the Constitution.

Chapter III - Promotion and protection of human rights on the ground: implementation of international human rights obligations

17. The third chapter of the report is an outline of some of Botswana’s efforts in the implementation of its human rights obligations. It provides a brief description of relevant legislation and other initiatives of Government.

18. The chapter has thus been divided into the following key human rights themes:
• Gender;
• Children;
• Civil and Political Rights:
• right to life;
• torture cruel and inhuman treatment;
• minority groups;
• equality before the courts;
• freedom of expression;
• eradication of racial discrimination; and,
• non discrimination.

Chapter IV Identification of achievements, best practices, challenges and constraints;

19. Under “achievements” and “best practices” some of the issues discussed are: • attainment of health for all ; • the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how it presents significant challenges to the gains achieved in Botswana’s efforts at providing effective healthcare for all ;
• training of Dikgosi (traditional leaders) –this was intended to deal with access to justice, non discrimination and equality.

21. Under “Challenges and Constraints” information that was provided deals with challenges caused by:
• poverty;
• HIV and AIDS; and
• Illegal immigrants (undocumented migrants).

Chapter V - National priorities, Initiatives, and Commitments to Overcome Challenges

22. Under the fifth part of the report we have addressed some key initiatives of Government in the promotion of human rights. It is my hope that Members of the Council will find the Report helpful in understanding the efforts Botswana is making not only to meet its treaty obligations, but also, and most importantly to promote respect for human rights.

23. Mr. President let me underscore the importance of international consensus on the relationship between peace, development and human rights. The three are all important and mutually reinforcing. In Botswana we have a strong culture of peace and orderly development. Our democratic institutions make it possible for the country as a whole to engage in dialogue on matters of national interest and concern. Individuals and groups of people have the freedom of association and speech to promote their views. This made it possible to develop national consensus on a number of issues which in turn propelled society to move forward in the economic, social and political fields. We are a young developing country and we must ensure that our national institutions grow.

24. I am saying this, Mr. President, to point out that in our efforts to promote respect for human rights let us take into account the specific circumstances of each country. Governments should not and cannot move so fast forward as to leave the people behind or bring about destabilization. Change is good, positive and effective if it carries people with it and the people are not only the beneficiaries of that change but are also its owners and architects.

25. In Botswana we are committed to the democratic process. This means that the Government of the day must be responsive to the needs and demands of the people. Government cannot and should not undertake initiatives that are contrary to the interests and wishes of the people. Civil society organizations are however free to mobilise support and educate the people on the need for specific changes which in their view can enhance the enjoyment of human rights.

26. It is against this background that the position of my Government on issues such as the death penalty, corporal punishment, gays and lesbians rights should be understood. As a Government we cannot legislate against the culture of our society nor the wishes of the vast majority of the people. This cannot be done in a democracy. We are concerned about the interests, wishes and benefits of the greatest number because this is the only way in which we can ensure sustainable peace, stability and development in larger freedom. Minority views are likewise vital for our democracy and promotion and protection of human rights and this is where civil society comes in to educate and advocate change. I thank you for your attention.

[Additional responses]

Mr. President let me now respond to questions submitted by member States.

National Human Rights Institution

1. The Czech Republic and the United Kingdom enquired on the steps taken to establish and implement a national framework to promote and protect human rights. In March 2008, we indicated to the Human Rights Committee that Botswana intends to establish a national human rights institution, and in this regard, consultations to initiate the process are ongoing. It is our hope that by the next review, the institution will have been established.

Discriminatory Laws

2. The Czech Republic also enquired on the implementation of recommendations of the commission of enquiry which was tasked to look into provisions of the Constitution which were alleged to be discriminatory. Indeed the Commission concluded that sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution were discriminatory, and these were amended to accommodate the concerns.

Children’s Rights

3. Sweden, Netherlands, Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom enquired on measures Botswana has taken to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to prevent violence and sexual exploitation of children. Botswana has developed draft legislation that will be presented in the next sitting of Parliament in February 2009. The draft legislation incorporates provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Subsequent to the enactment of the revised Act Botswana will withdraw its reservation to Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

4. Regarding the rights of infant children of imprisoned parents, there are family welfare educators and social welfare officers to assist in the upkeep and welfare of the children through established structures.

5. Regarding corporal punishment in schools, the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges States Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity. The Education Act provides a strict framework within which corporal punishment is administered to ensure that it is not excessive or abused to the extent of degrading the child’s dignity.

6. Child labour has been raised as a concern by the Netherlands. The exploitation of children for any reason is also a great concern for the Government of Botswana. The most notable development has been the review of the Children’s Act, which will among others protect children against harmful labour practices.

Women’s Rights

7. Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark raise three issues with regard to women’s rights: • Customary (traditional) laws compromising gender equality; • Marital rape; and • Measures taken to prevent domestic violence.

The questions asked are very general, and thus it is very difficult to give specific answers. If however we are to look at all questions of gender equality within the context of the Abolition of the Marital Power Act of 2004, we should note that indeed the position taken with regard to abolition of marital power is confirmation of customary law in relation to property relationships in a marriage. Application of the new laws therefore in customary courts and practice will be easy and acceptable. It should be noted that Ntlo ya Dikgosi is consulted on all legislation having an impact on custom and being custodians of customary law, and having accepted the new law, the latter has therefore come home.

Marital Rape

8. As regards the issue of marital rape raised by Sweden, we note that there are deficiencies in the existing legislation that defines rape and this may require the enactment of legislation after due consultation.

Domestic Violence

9. The Netherlands requested information on action taken to prevent domestic violence. Government has embarked on a rigorous public education campaign that includes radio, television, print media and kgotla meetings to educate and sensitize members of the public on gender based violence and the provision of the Domestic Violence Act.

10. The Botswana Police Service (BPS) has started to employ social workers to provide counselling and to be responsive to the needs of victims of domestic violence.

Implementation of Treaties

11. The United Kingdom enquired on the steps being taken by Botswana to implement international treaties and conventions.

12. Botswana agrees that international treaties should be domesticated and implemented and to this effect, has set up structures (Inter-Ministerial Committee) to ensure their effective implementation. We however have had challenges relating to technical and financial capacity that we intend to address, in doing so we hope to benefit from the goodwill and support of the international community.

13. On the enquiry by the United Kingdom about ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, when we are in a position to implement the actual provisions of the Covenant, we shall accede. Here again, capacity to implement is critical.

Overcrowding In Prisons

14. In response to the United Kingdom’s question on steps the Government is taking to improve conditions in prisons, we are constructing new prisons, and exploring alternative measures to imprisonment.

Sexual orientation issues

15. With regard to decriminalization of same-sex sexual activities, as asked by Netherlands and the United Kingdom, we confirm that the law in Botswana criminalises same-sex sexual activities. The law does not allow for registration of societies whose constitution and objects go against the law of the land. There are, however, registered civil society organizations in the country that are not specifically set up to advocate on the rights of lesbians, gays, and bisexual. These can within the wider framework of whatever they perceive as human rights, advocate on the rights of such groups. They are free to use the same fora that we use in nurturing our democratic processes.


16. The United Kingdom also enquired on the follow up and implementation of the December 2006 court ruling, which allowed the San communities to return to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve as well as the level of dialogue and progress that has been made since this ruling. The Government of Botswana has fully implemented the Court order. The Government however recognized that the question of the CKGR is not just a legal issue, and to this effect Government has opened dialogue with the people of the CKGR.

17. The President of Botswana met with representatives of the CKGR on the 12th of June 2008, and subsequently instructed the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the CKGR to continue the dialogue. The Committee met with representatives of the CKGR community on the 26th November 2008 to map the way forward. They agreed to meet on the 22nd or 23rd of January 2009, at which meeting, each party will present a list of issues for discussion to bring this matter to an amicable conclusion.

Abolition of the Death Penalty

18. The United Kingdom, Denmark and Netherlands enquired on the abolition of the death penalty or a moratorium on its application. We do not agree that we are in violation of Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because Article 6 (2) recognises that the death sentence may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of commission of the crime. In line with Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR, in Botswana the death sentence is imposed for serious crimes being murder without extenuating circumstances and treason.

19. The position of the Government of Botswana is that there are no plans to either abolish capital punishment or impose a moratorium on its application. In 1997 the Parliamentary Law Reform Committee produced a report on public opinion on the death penalty, which was tabled before Parliament. The findings of the report showed that the public was in favour of retaining the death penalty. Currently public opinion on the death penalty affirms support for its retention.

20. Regarding the question of improving clemency proceedings, the Government considers these to be purely procedural issues for the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. The concerns by member states on representations by family and or lawyers are reasonable and will be put to the relevant authorities.

21. Denmark enquired on torture, alleging reliable reports of widespread use of torture and ill treatment, and also as to when Botswana intends to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. If these allegations of torture relate to Government agencies, we vehemently deny that there is any widespread use of torture in our country.

22. The Constitution provides for the protection against torture and inhuman treatment. As such where there are allegations of torture, investigations are carried out and the perpetrators are prosecuted.

23. We are not in principle opposed to ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture, but we must do so at an appropriate time. Currently we are still working on other structures arising from our international obligations e.g. a national human rights institution, and to take on additional structures as may be required by ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture would be burdensome on our resources.

24. Denmark asked about actions the Government of Botswana is taking to fight the persistent unemployment among youth. Issues of youth unemployment are a priority of the Government of Botswana. To this end, Government has established a Ministry responsible for Youth in 2006. Government has also introduced the following initiatives:

• The introduction of youth officers in each ministry to improve coordination of youth activities; • The National Internship Programme to enhance skills and marketability of graduates; • The graduate recruitment program through which a database of graduates has been created to fast track recruitment and employment of graduates; • A Young farmers fund has been established to encourage youth to undertake commercial farming. The fund exclusively targets young Batswana aged between 18-35 years. Under this fund young Batswana are accorded improved access to finance and entrepreneurial training. To date, 151 projects have been assisted to the value of P58 million under this fund and employment opportunities have been created; • A youth grant programme managed by the Department of Youth to start viable business projects.

Special Procedures

25. Latvia asked whether Botswana would consider extending a standing invitation to all special procedures of the Human Rights Council in future.

26. Botswana has in the past welcomed visits from special rapporteurs. Extending standing invitations to all special procedures is a noble idea that we can certainly look into since it is in line with our commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. We will look into it, but we are comfortable with maintaining the status quo.

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