- The delegation of the Botswana government is facing tough questions at the UN's human rights agency UNHCHR as its record on racial discrimination is publicly discussed. In particular the fate of the indigenous San people (also known as Bushmen or Basarwa) after their forced relocation from a Kalahari desert game reserve caused concern at the UN conference in Geneva.
The UNHCHR's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is currently meeting in Geneva to review anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by several member states, including Botswana. The Committee is examining reports submitted by Botswana and other states and highlights what it sees as shortcomings in several rounds of questioning. The Botswana government delegation faced tougher than normal questions from the Committee on Friday and today.
The UN Committee member from Burkina Faso referred to the Botswana's San people as "discriminated against and marginalised", while the Committee member from the UK told the Batswana government, "What disturbs many people is the spectacle of one of the great cultures of Africa being placed under severe threat."
The Committee member from India expressed his concern that members of the San people's own human rights organisation, First People of the Kalahari, had been unable to attend the Committee session because their passports had been confiscated. Other Batswana human rights groups such as Ditshwanelo had however been able to attend the Geneva meeting and were also sceptical towards the Gaborone government's treatment of the San people.
Ditshwanelo on earlier occasions also has defended the relocated San, in particular after it became clear that authorities in January 2002 terminated all services to San living within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which the government wanted evacuated. The decision to terminate basic and essential services to the residents inside the Game Reserve was" wrongful and unlawful. We believe that it was a deliberate attempt by the government to force the residents out of the Reserve," the Batswana human rights group held.
Several San groups have taken the government to court to prove that their forced relocation and the termination of essential services in the game reserve indeed were unlawful. The case is on going, but the San groups have met with tough resistance from the state prosecutor.
The Special Rapporteur of the UN Committee, Linos Alexander Sicilianos, stated his belief that the Botswana government should not "prejudge" the ongoing court case, where the San fight for the right to return to their lands. He stated that the government should not continue to relocate people from their homes while the decision in the case was pending.
The committee members also expressed their concern about the alleged ill-treatment of San by police and about the recent amendment to the Botswana constitution that removed a section on indigenous peoples' rights. They called for the Botswana government to enter into real dialogue with the San people about their concerns.
The Botswana government was due to respond to the committee's questions today, which would be followed up by a new round of questions from the Committee members. After the talks on racial discrimination in Botswana end tomorrow, according to schedule, UNHCHR is expected to release a report on the discussions, including advised for the Gaborone government.
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