Questions have arisen in Botswana as to the transparency of Government’s Human rights policy implementation and government’s Report to the United Nations. Concerns have arisen by United Nations member states and locally, after the presentation of Botswana’s third cycle Report by Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Edwin Batshu’s, on Botswana’s human rights, its objectives and concerns, during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
On January 12, Batshu, flanked by staff from the Attorney Generals Chambers and former Attorney General and now Botswana’s Ambassador to the United Nations Athalia Molokomme, informed the United Nations Commission that Government had established two key institutions to monitor and have oversight of human rights concerns.
Presenting Botswana’s report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Batshu advised member states that the parliament had approved for the Ombudsman Act to be amended to include a human rights mandate in 2014 and that a Bill would be tabled before Parliament in the July 2018 session. In addition he noted, the Office of the President had established a Human Rights Unit that was in advance stages of implementation with the process of recruitment and hiring having already began.
Presenting during a televised session of the UPR, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs informed the United Nations member states that Botswana would use the Human Rights Unit under the Office of the President to ensure compliance and ratification of Botswana’s human rights obligations under international treaties to deal with local human rights concerns.
While recruitment for the Human Rights Unit is at an advanced stage, according to Batshu, financial resources would still have to be sought from the National Budget, once the unit becomes operational. This publication has been informed that government, under the Attorney General, has been engaging with various countries to bench mark the Unit. No public announcement has been made to this effect, nor have members of the public, civil society organisations or political parties been consulted on the process of establishing the unit, its mandate and legislative framework.
Botswana’s international obligations impose on the country a duty to consult civil society and create a legislative framework for a Human Rights Unit. In spite of the lack of such consultation and legislative framework, Batshu advised the United Nations that the Unit is already at advance stages of implementation. The current National Budget does not provide an allotment of funds for the creation of a new Democracy Protection Institution (DPI) in the form of a Human Rights Unit, under the Office of the President or at all. In addition Parliamentary records, the Hansard, do not reveal a motion or a debate having been tabled to discuss the formation of a Human Rights Unit, its mandate and operational parameters.
Sources within the Drafting Division of the Attorney Generals Chambers reveal, on condition of anonymity, that they have not been asked to draft legislation for the creation of a Human Rights body other than the amendment to the Ombudsman Act, as no such resolution has been passed in Parliament.
Speaking to this publication Members of Parliament and leaders of the opposition confirmed that a Human Rights Unit under the Office of the President had not been raised by either the opposition or the ruling party in Parliament and that no budgetary allocation has been sought for the creation of a separate entity, over and above the increased mandate of the Ombudsman.
Welcoming the creations of such a Human Rights institution created by Government, opposition MP’s cautioned that such a Unit, ought to be fully independent of Government and the Executive, to ensure transparency in dealing with Human Rights concerns and the implementation of Botswana’s international obligations, Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keoraptese said when speaking to this publication. “In order for the Unit to have any semblance of credibility, even the process of establishing it must be transparent, our democracy demands it” he said.
The MP noted it is parliament’s democratic function to ensure compliance with international standards of human rights not the Executive’s. Keoraptese informed this publication that the lack of transparency due to Executive control of key institutions has led to an abuse of procedures, highlighting the recent use of the Petroleum Fund to make an unauthorised purchase of military equipment by the DIS.
The Selibe Phikwe MP, who has been at the forefront of challenging the lack of independence in democracy protection institutions, such as the Courts and the Ombudsman, rhetorically asked how such institutions would be able to fulfil their oversight obligations when they fell under the control of the very office they were mandated to have oversight of. The MP noted that during the Botswana review nearly all attending states recommended that Botswana, as a signatory to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights, Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (The Paris Principles), implement the principles. “We must stop pretending our oversight institutions are independent, when we do not comply with international standards that we as a country have agreed to under international obligations. The very concerns our Executive is so quick to point out as non-compliance by other countries, are the very same ones we fail to implement at home” said the Botswana Congress Party MP.
The Paris Principles provide that where government establishes a national human rights institution, such institution shall be given as broad a mandate as possible, and that their mandate must be clearly provided for in the legislation that creates the institution, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence. In addition the Paris Principles requires that the composition of such institutions must guarantee their independence and that Government departments can only participate in the deliberations in an advisory capacity.
The Botswana Council of NGOs (BOCONGO), DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Kuru Family of Organisations, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) and MISA – Botswana Chapter and Rainbow Identity Association (RIA) issued a press statement in March 2016 raising concerns over the creation of the Human Rights Unit. In the statement they criticised the formation of the Unit by government without being consulted on its establishment.
At the commencement of his presentation the Minister highlighted that unlike previous reports which had been prepared by Government and subsequently commented on by Non-Governmental Organisations, for the current report Government had engaged NGO’s from the onset. Government has not answered how their position to the UN reconciles with the NGO’s press statement.
Botswana Gazette understands that Botswana has received multiple questions, from international institutions pertaining to Botswana creating a Human Rights Unit under the Office of the President. A source within the Ministry disclosed that the process was at initial stages of planning and that Batshu’s comments at the UPR had been premature and caught them by surprise. “There can be no recruitment process without a budget that would be putting the cart before the horse. There is no such unit as we speak and it has only been discussed in general terms but the ministry has been informed that some people, including the head of the unit have been earmarked by the executive.” It was not revealed who the head of the unit would be, it is understood however that the person comes from the Attorney Generals Chambers.
Jeff Ramsay, the Government Spokesperson, could not be reached at the time of going to press.