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UN expert on indigenous people concludes visit to Botswana

27 March 2009

GENEVA / GABARONE: The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, S. James Anaya, concluded his nine-day visit to Botswana on Friday. The visit was undertaken by the invitation of the Government of Botswana, to which he expresses appreciation and support.

During the nine-day visit, the Special Rapporteur traveled to Gaborone and to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Ghanzi, Shakawe and Mababe to hold discussions with government representatives, local indigenous communities and civil society groups on human rights and development issues within a framework of internationally recognized human rights standards.

The objective of the visit was to shed light on the particular challenges some of the many diverse indigenous peoples of Botswana are facing, especially in the areas of recognition and discrimination, land rights, poverty, education and language, and political participation, with a view to creating a dialogue on how to address these challenges. The visit was carried out in accordance with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to exchange information on overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.

The Special Rapporteur noted the various efforts on the part of the Government of Botswana to improve marginalized indigenous peoples’ access to crucial services, including health and education, and create opportunities for income-generation. He was conscious of the Government’s initiatives to eradicate discrimination in all of its forms and build a society of inclusion. During his consultations, the Special Rapporteur heard that despite these efforts, the design and implementation of these development initiatives did not adequately take into account the language, culture, and heritage of those most affected, perhaps hindering their ultimate success.

The Special Rapporteur visited the settlements of Kaudwane and New Xade, where various communities reported struggling with relocation from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and the communities of Gugamma and Metsiamanong, which have remained in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve despite a lack of access to services, including water. He consulted with communities in West Hanahai, Mababe, and Shaikarawe, where government and NGO-led development initiatives are underway but regarded as deficient by community members. The Special Rapporteur also visited the remote relocated indigenous people of the Tsodilo Hills renowned heritage site, who expressed concern with having scant access to livelihood opportunities.

During these visits the Special Rapporteur consulted with various local officials, community members and civil society groups in order to understand the most pressing concerns hampering the enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of marginalized indigenous peoples in Botswana. The Special Rapporteur received numerous reports about the challenges associated with the fulfillment of rights associated with access to health and education services, and began a dialogue with the intent to provide potential solutions to meet these challenges according to his mandate. The visits were carried out in a spirit of cooperation and mutual exchange of views.

The Special Rapporteur will present the visit’s findings and key recommendations in a report to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council. He intends for the visit and the elaboration of the report to create further opportunity for meaningful dialogue and exchange with the Government of Botswana.

The Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint in 2001 a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, as part of the system of thematic special procedures. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was renewed by the Commission on Human Rights in 2004 and by the Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission, in 2007.

On 26 March 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor S. James Anaya (United States of America), for an initial period of three years. Professor Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (United States).

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur go to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/rapporteur/