- A Botswana government investigation committee that looked into the alleged torture of arrested hunters from the indigenous San people this week concluded that the reports were false. The arrested San themselves had insisted on not having been tortured in any circumstances, blaming the torture reports by the UK-based group Survival International on poor translations.
Botswana's presidential spokesman Jeff Ramsay today issued a statement, saying the affected San "reportedly deny torture allegations" put forward last month by Survival. The UK group, which leads a world-wide campaign to denounce the forced eviction of traditional San communities from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, had quoted San hunters claiming they were tortured by wildlife authorities when caught hunting in the reserve.
Survival in a press release quoted 57-year-old Letshwao Nagayame as saying that Botswana wildlife "beat us up badly. I think they wanted to kill us. I am an old man but they didn't consider this when they handcuffed me, suspended me on a rope tied to some poles with my head dangling, my legs hanging in the air and my knuckles on the cement floor. The officials pulled my testicles and penis, beat me up, and kicked me, while one man smashed my knuckles on the hard floor."
Also one of Botswana's leading newspapers, 'The Voice', on 30 June reported about torture against several San hunters and gatherers. The newspaper quoted Tsuoo Tshiamo as saying: "They shackled my hands and ankles together before cuffing me to a land cruiser bull bar. They drove for a kilometre like that. I was in agony." He added: "They kicked me so badly around the kidneys, I couldn't urinate."
Based on these reports, the Batswana government commissioned an investigation in the allegations. Mr Ramsay of the presidency today revealed that he had "received an initial report of the findings" of the investigation committee. In their investigation, the committee separately had interviewed each of the alleged victims of the abuse. "All are reported to have denied the detailed torture claims supposedly made on their behalf," Mr Ramsay states.
Mr Tshiamo, who had been quoted in 'The Voice', was presented as a man who "does not speak Setswana well" - Setswana being the majority language in Botswana. He had thus been interviewed through an interpreter, the presidency explains.
Speaking to the investigation committee, Mr Tshiamo was reported to have specifically denied having ever been either handcuffed to the bull bar of a Toyota Land Cruiser or "trussed like a chicken" or having been made to run for a long distance. That he had otherwise been handcuffed, after allegedly resisted arrest, had from the beginning been acknowledged in the statement by the arresting officers who maintain the action was carried out in an appropriate manner, Mr Ramsay pointed out.
Letshwao Nagayame, who was quoted in the press release issued by Survival, equally was "reported to have strongly denied ever having been abused in his private parts by any wildlife officers," Mr Ramsay says. The spokesman's statement however does not mention the other allegations brought forward by Mr Nagayame in the interview made by Survival.
The investigation committee also had interviewed a male nurse at the Kaudwane clinic who had treated Mr Letshwao and other arrested San hunters "for body and joint pains" after their detention. The nurse had "confirmed that though he treated them, they did not show any signs of physical abuse," according to Mr Ramsay.
Finally, the local police officer at Kaudwane had reported that he had also seen Mr Letshwao and other San hunters on 14 June, after they had been apprehended by wildlife officers. He stated that he had found no physical or other evidence of torture or brutality, in line with earlier statements made by Batswana wildlife officers.
In light of this the committee had been of the opinion "that the allegations made by both Survival International and The Voice newspaper that [San] suspects were ill-treated by wildlife officers do not have substance" insofar "the very people who are alleged to be torture victims did not validate such claims. They unequivocally dispute them," Mr Ramsay quoted from the initial report of the findings of the investigation committee.
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