The United Nations Special Rapporteur in Minorities Fernand de Varennes has cautioned Botswana government to step up efforts to recognize and protect the rights of minorities in relation to public services, land and resource use and most importantly the use of minority languages in education and other critical areas.
Fernand de Varennes, has been in Botswana from 13 to 24 August to gather first-hand information on the situation of minorities in the country, and to identify good practices as well as key areas that require more effort. Sharing preliminary findings and recommendations at a media briefing at the United Nations Building in Gaborone on Friday, Dr de Varennes said although Botswana has made considerable progress in economic development and other areas including education and literacy, religious freedom, the fight against HIV/ AIDS, more still needs to be done for minority groups.
He said minorities face many obstacles and therefore access to public services, land and the use of resources for minorities can be improved as well as the use of minority languages in education and public health areas.
The UN expert who was in Botswana for period of twelve (12) days to assess the minority’s issues further said: “The overall aim of my visit and assignment was to take a closer look at existing legislation policies and practices for the protection and promotion of the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. I wanted to explore the aspects pertaining to various minorities including access to quality education, access to health and other public services inclusive of participation of minorities in the political process and the existing efforts to fight each other” he added.
He also said his mission was to get a better sense of the normative framework regulating human rights in general and particularly of those minorities including latest amendments to relevant legislation, acts and other mechanisms that have been established in that regard. de Varennes is of the view that the Botswana government need to do more in protection of minorities in access to public service such as quality education and health care, as well the improvement on issues relating to the official recognition in law and practice of steps to ensure equality and non-discrimination for minorities.
The prime challenges that the UN expert mission preliminary findings reflected as the major difficulties that the minorities encounter is the education and health areas. He indicated that the children of minority people face tough period in education. “Basarwa and other minorities living away from the more populated south and south –east of the country faces particular difficulties in accessing quality education, including senior secondary education, because of the scarcity of schools and challenges in transportation," he charged.
The Special Rapporteur also highlighted concerns over the scarcity of medical and other public services, particularly in remote minority areas, notwithstanding government efforts to fill the gap through mobile units and outreach health programmes. He observed that minority languages are rarely used during medical consultations, mainly due to dominance of Tswana and English, as well as due to the practice of staff assignment in areas where locally spoken language is different from the language of the assigned staff. “Despite all the positive initiatives to improve access to justice, health care , water and other public services for all particularly in the more remote regions where minorities are concentrated, some of the Government’s commitments and intentions have not always translated effectively into practice and implementation” he added
Deprived land ownership
According to de Varennes the current land laws still largely reflect the colonial land tenure system that was set up by the British that specifically recognized Tswana interests in land over minority tribes in the country. He stressed that the minorities have rich land which comprises of the natural resources such as wildlife and could be fully utilized by the local communities and this not remain the case as the government regulates and controls most of the land for tourism purposes. “Most minority communities such as the Basubiya for instance have limited access to the lease of very small plots, since their traditional land are considered to be state land," he added.
Moreover, he stipulated that the denial of the communities to utilize the natural resources end up impoverishing the indigenous people citing that the lifting and hunting bans in some minority communities impact negatively on their livelihoods.
de Varennes emphasised the importance of the media particularly the private print and broadcast media on reporting and tackling issues that heavily affects the minority groups. He however said the private media is faced with obstacles to a widespread and vibrant flow of information and exchange through the private newspapers and broadcasting media, which appears not to use or allow broadcasts in minority languages or to receive licences to do so by establishing community broadcasters.
The UN Minority expert concluded by saying that bold political decisions need to be made and implemented by those in power to ensure that there is equality among different tribes and respect for diversity are fully reflected in the constitutional order and the institutional framework. He also said there are moves by the government towards adopting more international human rights standards, but he expressed concern about the lack of a strong comprehensive human rights legislative framework