The Government of Botswana should fully respect the rights of women and minorities and move towards the abolition of death penalty

Press release

FIDH and its member organisation in Botswana, DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, welcome the recent adoption by the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) of its Concluding Observations on 28 of March 2008, after examining the Botswana State report in March. The Concluding Observations largely reflect our concerns and make adequate recommendations. These concerns include the death penalty, domestication of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), corporal punishment of prisoners, overcrowding in prisons, customary law practices and the unfair treatment of women, The Bogosi Bill, The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), and legal aid for the poor. The Government of Botswana is now expected to take appropriate action to implement the recommendations of the Committee.

In their joint report, “The Death Penalty in Botswana: Hasty and Secretive Hangings” [1], which was presented before the HRC experts, FIDH and DITSHWANELO condemned the secrecy surrounding the execution of the death row prisoners in Botswana; the Government’s failure to give prisoners sufficient notice about the death warrant and the time of execution; the authorities’ failure to inform the prisoners’ family members accordingly and also criticised its reluctance to seriously consider the abolition of the death penalty. Our organisations also urged the Government of Botswana to make public, the statistics on the number of death sentences and executions to enable the population to engage in informed debate about the need to abolish the capital punishment.

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee expressed the same concerns and clearly regretted “the delegation’s statements that it remains committed to retain the death penalty” and noted “with concern the practice of the secrecy of execution dates”. The Committee called on the State to “move towards abolition of the death penalty” and said that it should “ensure that families are informed in advance of the date of the execution of their family members”. It also urged Botswana to “provide more detailed information on the number [...] of death sentences imposed by the courts, and on the number of the persons executed year by year” and to “ensure that public debate on the death penalty is conducted”.

In its list of issues transmitted to the HRC experts, DITSHWANELO raised its concern about the lack of full domestication of the ICCPR into national law. The HRC recommended Botswana to “ensure the harmonization of its domestic law with the provisions of the Covenant”.

DITSHWANELO also recommended that the Government of Botswana abolish all forms of corporal punishment, including that of prisoners and adopt urgent measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The Committee urged the State to “increase its efforts to guarantee the right of detainees to be treated with humanity and dignity”, to “abolish all forms of penal corporal punishment” and to” immediately take action to reduce the prison population”.

DITSHWANELO also highlighted customary law practices in Botswana which lead to unfair treatment of women and perpetuate the perception of them having a minority status, in violation of women’s rights as guaranteed in the ICCPR. The Abolition of Marital Powers Act 2005 does not yet apply to marriages conducted under the customary law. In its Concluding Observations, the Committee also expressed concerns about remaining practices which are “highly detrimental to women’s rights, such as discrimination in the area of marriage and custody of children born outside of wedlock”. The Committee said that “the State should as a matter of priority strengthen its efforts to ensure compatibility of customary laws and practices with the rights provided for in the Covenant”.

DITSHWANELO also expressed serious concern regarding the lack of wider consultation by government concerning The Bogosi Bill. The aim of this Bill is to effect equal treatment of and equal protection for all tribes. In its Concluding Observations, the Committee also referred to this lack of full consultation and it calls upon the State to “ensure that consultations are held in relation to the adoption of the Bogosi Bill”.

DITSHWANELO questioned to which extent the residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) are able to truly pursue their economic, social and cultural development in a sustainable manner. This concern was reflected in the observations of the Committee, which encourages the State to “ensure that all persons who were relocated are granted the right to return to the CKGR, [...], and that all necessary measures are taken to facilitate the enjoyment of Covenant rights by these persons upon their return”.

DITSHWANELO asked when the Government would introduce a State-funded Legal Aid system for the poor. This would enable them to have access to a fair trial. DITSHWANELO, like the Committee, welcomes the Government’s intention to conduct a study on establishing a legal aid system in Botswana. For several years, we have advocated for the establishment of a State-funded legal aid system, through holding of workshops and issuing of press statements.

The Committee raised the issue of the establishment of a national Human Rights Institution. FIDH and DITSHWANELO, together with the Committee, welcome the position of the Government that ‘it is willing to consider establishing’ (a national human rights institution).

“The fact that the Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee reflect the key concerns raised by our organisations, supports our work for the promotion and protection of human rights in Botswana. The Government of Botswana has many challenges to address. We shall continue to work with the Government to ensure that the rights of all are protected in Botswana through the implementation of the Concluding Observations”, said Alice Mogwe, Director of DITSHWANELO.

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