In 2018, the Government of Botswana accepted 93 of 207 recommendations made by other member states of the United Nations. While Botswana has begun to rectify some of the recommendations, many will require an active effort from the government to protect human rights in the country, writes human rights activist, TSHEPO JAMILLAH MOYO
In January 2018, the Government of Botswana appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for its third cycle of Botswana’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, a United Nations Human Rights Council unique mechanism allowing all member states to review the human rights record of all 193 UN member states every four and a half years.
The Universal Periodic Review highlights actions that need to be taken by countries in relation to fulfilling their agreed human rights obligations. These actions are presented as recommendations which states either accept or do not accept. In 2018, the Government of Botswana accepted 93 of the 207 recommendations made by other member states. While Botswana has begun to rectify some of the recommendations it accepted in 2018, there are many more that will require an active effort from the government to protect human rights in Botswana.
The process includes a national report compiled by the government, a UN Summary Report compiled by UN agencies and a Stakeholder’s Summary Report compiled by other civil society actors, for example NGOs, individuals, national human rights institutions, and academic and research institutions. The purpose of the Stakeholder’s Summary Report is to give stakeholders the opportunity to bring international attention to human rights violations that may be happening in their country.
In 2023, Botswana will be up for its next cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, and local CSOs have already begun preparations to submit their stakeholder’s report on Botswana’s human rights issues.
A collective stakeholders reported will be submitted to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in September by working group consisting of local NGOs: Black Queer DocX an autonomous LBQ collective of black and queer feminists who work towards societal transformation for the development of inclusive and just communities; Banana Club, an artist-led collective aimed at creating safe space platforms for dialogues in the LGBTQIA+ community; Botswana Trans Initiative, a trans-led collective seeking to advance health rights of trans folks in the country; Love, Loss, Life, an online alternative, reformative, queer social justice movement that seeks to highlight experiences of queerness in Botswana by showcasing artistic elements of activism and community organizing; Mmammati Human Rights Hub, a centre for human rights learning, research and knowledge exchange related to human rights within Botswana, the African region and beyond.
They will be supported in this process by international organisations: Iranti, a Johannesburg-based media-advocacy organisation that works within a human rights framework raising issues on gender identities and sexuality through the strategic use of multimedia storytelling, research and activism; Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI), a coalition of national and regional organisations based in Canada, Poland, India, Egypt, Argentina and South Africa that work together to advance human rights related to sexuality at the United Nations; and Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) that promotes and advances human rights and the rule of law in Southern Africa, primarily through strategic litigation and capacity-strengthening support to lawyers and grassroots organisations.
The report will focus on the following human rights issues in Botswana: Access to hormonal therapy for trans folks and implementation of the policy guidelines following the landmark constitutional 2019 gender marker cases; Repeal and/or Interrogation of Section 167 (Gross Indecency) of the Penal Code which remains post-decriminalisation of same sex sexual acts in Botswana; the high prevelance of human rights violations committed through Gender-Based Violence and Violence Against Women in our society; the implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education which will provide young people with the knowledge to make educated decisions on their sexual and reproductive health; and the limited legal scope of access to safe abortions in Botswana.
Although the UPR Accepted recommendations are non-binding and there are no accountability mechanisms to hold states responsible for non-implementation of accepted recommendations, Banana Club Head of Legal Affairs, Obakeng Chabanga, shared that for their organisation the UPR report was still an important process. “At Banana Club we have identified a huge gap in the protection of LGBTQ+ people in terms of the Legal Infrastructure,” Chabanga said.
“The rights of LGBTQ+ people are often read into other sections of the constitution as there is no specific provision protecting them from discrimination because of their queerness. The UPR Report will help amplify the voices of queer people and be a call to action to those with the power to make inclusive laws.”