“Diversity, participation and redress for historical wrongs,” key issues for Botswana’s indigenous people

By | 25 February, 2010

GENEVA (25 February 2010) – The UN the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, Professor S. James Anaya, urged today the Government of Botswana “to adequately and fully address the issues faced by many of the indigenous communities throughout the country.”

“The current problems faced by indigenous peoples in the country are associated with three underlying, interrelated issues: respect for cultural diversity/identity, political participation and consultation, and redress for historical wrongs,” said the human rights expert launching an advance version of his report on Botswana*.

In his report, prepared after an official visit to the country on March 2009, Professor Anaya notes many of the initiatives undertaken by the Government to address the conditions of disadvantaged and marginalized indigenous peoples, as well as preserving and celebrating the diverse cultures of the country’s indigenous tribes. However, he calls attention to the shortcomings of these initiatives to tackle the key issues affecting many of the indigenous communities.

The UN independent expert addresses in his report the disadvantaged and often marginalized position that a great many of Botswana’s indigenous tribes find themselves in as a result of colonization as well as policies and laws established post-independence that have continued to prioritise the interests of dominant, Tswana tribes over those of minority tribes.

In calling for a greater respect for cultural diversity across a wide range of Government initiatives and programs, the Special Rapporteur recommends that Botswana “strengthen and adopt new affirmative measures, consistent with universal human rights standards, to protect the rights of non-dominant indigenous groups to retain and develop the various attributes of their distinctive cultural identities, particularly those related to land rights, approaches to development, and political and decision-making structures.” “Particular indigenous groups have uniquely suffered historical injustices, including the dispossession of traditional lands, which has contributed to conditions of marginalization and a range of social ills”, Professor Anaya notes in his findings. “Certain indigenous groups continue to suffer from a lack of secure land tenure, including access to and use of their ancestral lands and resources, in part due to the non-recognition of these groups’ customary land use practices.” In connection with these land right issues, the Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government to “develop and implement a mechanism, in consultation with the affected indigenous groups, to thoroughly examine and provide redress for instances of land dispossession,” as well as “incorporate into the Land Board system a respect for and recognition of those groups’ particular interests in such lands in accordance with traditional land use patterns”. Regarding the highly-publicized situation of indigenous communities removed from and currently living within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the Special Rapporteur draws attention to the vulnerable position in which these communities find themselves and the ongoing need to seek an adequate resolution to the situation. Professor Anaya urges the Government of Botswana to redress the land loss issue; to secure an adequate supply of water for the reserve residents; and to pursue direct negotiations with the affected communities, including by offering technical and financial support to facilitate those negotiations.

In his advance report, the Special Rapporteur makes a series of observations and recommendations aimed at addressing ongoing challenges and promoting the respect and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with international norms and standards. Professor Anaya will present a final version of his report to the UN Human Rights Council in September.