Discrimination against indigenous communities robs them of their human rights

Special Rapporteur met with some members of the San community in Botswana © OHCHRKelkabile Mogodu, a human rights defender of a San indigenous community in Botswana notes that indigenous communities such as the San are often marginalized, both culturally and economically by mainstream society.

“As a San person, we believe that if we do not fight discrimination, our dignity will be taken away - that is the reason that we stand up and fight discrimination,” Mogodu said.

He points out that the community is opposed to discrimination in the form of education policies that are made by the government, saying: “they disregard our culture and our language.”

Mogodu expressed concern about prejudice regarding his community.

“We stand against any kind of discrimination based on differences between our way of life and their way of living.”


He however, is quick to note that education is a key element in empowering the San community. 

Mogodu says: “What I started fighting for when I was in high school is still upon us today. We want our culture to be recognized and our dignity respected and we want to see that reflected in the education curriculums of our country.”

Similarly, the San are speaking out against discriminatory land policies that affect them. The San people in Botswana have for years battled against relocation from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which they describe as their “ancestral land”.

They have petitioned the government that the relocation to outside settlements is discriminatory.

“We stand against discrimination that is sometimes made by the State, whereby we are removed from our ancestral land … We are taken to some places where they believe we need to live,” says Mogodu.

Mogodu’s organization, Khwedom Council, among others, is resisting the relocation of the community, from the Kalahari region of Botswana, where they have lived for centuries.

The San are hunters and gatherers and often live a nomadic life within the region. As an arid and semi-arid area, the Kalahari has huge tracts of grazing land after good rains and it suits the community’s search for food sources.

Mogodu talks about his struggle against discrimination in an OHCHR video on the occasion of Human Rights Day 2010, whose theme this year is: Human rights defenders who act against discrimination.

James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, visited Botswana in March 2009.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council he called on the Botswana government to strengthen and adopt new affirmative measures to protect the rights of non dominant indigenous groups.

Anaya also called for law reforms and a review of government programmes aimed at averting discrimination against particular groups. 

He stressed that these reforms will accommodate and strengthen cultural diversity as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

25 November 2010