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Botswana minorities need boost in education and health care, says UN expert urging Bill of Right

GENEVA / GABORONE (24 August 2018) – Botswana must step up efforts to recognize and protect the rights of minorities in relation to public services, land and resource use and the use of minority languages in education and other critical areas, says the Special Rapporteur on Minorities, Fernand de Varennes.

“Botswana has made considerable progress in economic development and other areas including education and literacy, religious freedom, the fight against HIV/AIDS and corruption, but more must be done for minorities,” said Mr. de Varennes in a statement at the end of a 12-day mission to the country.

“Access to public services, land and the use of resources for minorities can be improved as well as the use of minority languages in education and other critical areas,” he added.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed moves by the Government towards adopting more international human rights standards, but he expressed concern about the lack of a comprehensive human rights legislative framework. He said there were gaps, uncertainties and even contradictions in the protection and promotion of human rights, which could best be addressed through a dedicated Bill of Rights.

Mr. de Varennes said there were obstacles to a widespread and vibrant flow of information and exchange through private newspapers and broadcasting media, which appeared not to use or allow broadcasts in minority languages, or to receive licences to do so.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted difficulties faced by minority children in education. Basarwa and other minorities living away from the more populated south and south-east of the country faced particular difficulties in accessing quality education, including senior secondary education, because of the scarcity of schools and challenges in transportation.

“Many minority children living in remote areas of the country are torn from their families and forced to stay in boarding school hostels, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from their communities; they may be taught in a language they do not yet speak, with over-burdened care-givers not familiar with their culture, and often lacking material and emotional support.

“This form of institutionalisation leads to forced assimilation that has a serious negative impact on the performance in school of many, if not most, of these children, and often forces them to drop out, at a heavy personal and social cost. Less intrusive and harmful approaches to providing education for these children, particularly those of a very young age, must be explored and put into force,” the expert stressed.

“Education in Botswana is provided only in the national Tswana and official English languages without any use of a child’s minority mother tongue at any school level, while ironically French is usually offered as a third optional language. I call on the Government of Botswana to follow-up on the commitment expressed in the Vision 2036 document and introduce the learning of local minority languages in the early school years, and to ensure that schools in regions with a strong minority presence recruit teachers who speak the local languages,” he added.

Mr. de Varennes also made specific reference to the importance of recognizing and promoting Botswana sign language in order to ensure greater accessibility for the deaf minority.

During his visit, Mr. de Varennes also raised issues over the participation of minorities in public life and their representation in key institutions.

“Since its independence in 1966, Botswana has not provided for the official recognition of its numerous tribes, with the exception of the Wayeyi and the Basubiya. In addition, it has maintained a three-tiered legislative and institutional framework that appears to award privileges to the eight constitutionally recognized Tswana tribes, both in terms of representation in the House of Chiefs as well as with regard to control of local administration structures,” noted Mr. de Varennes.

“Bold political decisions need to be made to ensure that equality among the different tribes and respect for diversity are fully reflected in the constitutional order and the institutional framework,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted concerns over the scarcity of medical and other public services, particularly in remote minority areas, despite Government efforts to fill the gap through mobile units and outreach health programmes. Minority languages are rarely used during medical consultations, mainly due to the dominance of Tswana and English, as well as due to the practice of staff assignment in areas where the locally spoken language is different from the language of the assigned staff. Accurate diagnosis of health conditions and resulting prescriptions may be compromised, in particular in those cases involving older minority patients who are not fluent either in Tswana or English.

“Despite all the positive initiatives to improve access to justice, health care, water and other public services for all, particularly in the more remote regions where minorities are concentrated, some of the Government’s commitments and intentions have not always translated effectively into practice and implementation,” he said.

Mr de Varennes raised concerns over the current system of land management and land allocation, in particular under the increasing pressures of development projects and business initiatives, mainly in the tourism sector.

“In a number of districts, State-declared land, including national parks and forest reserves, as well as large foreign-owned plots and farms, significantly limit access of local minority communities to agricultural land and areas for hunting and other economic activity,” he said.

Finally, Mr. de Varennes expressed concerns about a lack of clear data about people’s ethnicity, religion or language, which he thought could be addressed by adjusting the country’s approach to its census.

During his mission, Mr. de Varennes met high-level officials, civil society organizations and minority community leaders in the capital Gaborone and in the North-East, Central, Ghanzi, Chobe and Ngamiland districts.

The Special Rapporteur will present a detailed report on his visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.

ENDS

Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

UN Human Rights country page: Botswana

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
In Botswana (during the visit) and in Geneva (before and after the visit):
Mr. Damianos Serefidis (+41 79 500 00 32 and +41 22 917 9681 / dserefidis@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.