Bots confronts UNHRC over refugees’ welfare

Gaborone – The high number of refugees in Botswana is becoming a challenge, especially as the country is going through trying times.

In a report presented before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this past week, Security Minister, Ndelu Seretse assured the Council that Botswana would continue to find durable solutions by way of repatriation, reintegration and resettlement of refugees.
The report notes that Botswana provides free education and healthcare to the refugees despite economic hardships.
With support from the United States and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Botswana is providing ARV therapy to refugees who are living with HIV and AIDS. A resident medical doctor has been posted at Dukwi Refugee Camp to deal with the health needs of the refugee community.
Botswana has also developed and implemented robust awareness campaigns for the refugee community, with a view to help advance HIV prevention and promoting abstinence.
Meanwhile, the Geneva-based UNHRC has censured Botswana over marginalisation of the indigenous Basarwa (or San) people, especially those living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
The Council is also seeking answers over the country’s perceived mistreatment of prisoners, denial of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to non-citizens and the criminalisation of homosexuality.
According to local media reports, a local pressure group, Ditshwanelo (Centre for Human Rights), forwarded the complaints to the Council.
Botswana, through the Defence, Justice and Security Ministry, is yet to respond to the queries.
On the issue of the Basarwa that is likely to take centre stage, Botswana has already submitted a report through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that the government has taken affirmative action by affording Basarwa preference in schools, vocational institutions and employment.
As part of this action, the government recently relaxed recruitment requirements for the Basarwa to ease their enlistment into the army and police force.
The UNHRC would also question Botswana’s decision to ignore advice on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.
“Such advice includes recommendations that Basarwa be allowed to engage in subsistence hunting and gathering in accordance with traditional practices.
“Ditshwanelo’s report challenges the Botswana government to disclose how many special licences they have issued to Basarwa/San since 2008,” wrote Botswana’s Sunday Standard.
“Mr Seretse is also expected to inform the meeting on how many Basarwa have been arrested for poaching, tried in court of law and sentenced since 2008,” the paper wrote. The minister was also expected to answer why the Independent Electoral Commission has not set up polling stations in prisons to enable prisoners convicted and sentenced to less than six months to vote.
The Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders (BIRRO) recently expressed concern about IEC’s failure to provide polling stations in prisons ahead of next year’s general election.

January 2013
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