Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


Third session meeting highlights

1 December 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group began its third session this morning during which it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the third group of 16 States under this new mechanism. The third session of the Working Group will last from 1 to 15 December.

During its morning session the Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Botswana, during which 42 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of Botswana was DIKGAKGAMATSO N. SERETSE, Minister of Defence of Botswana, who said his country was fully committed to the implementation of international human rights instruments it had signed. Botswana was of the view that commitment to the implementation of human rights instruments must be demonstrated in concrete terms through a series of actions such as domestication of treaties and reporting. Botswana had made some progress in meeting its reporting obligations and had opened dialogue with the various human rights treaty bodies. Botswana welcomed any technical assistance that the OHCHR and individual Members States were able to provide to it. The UPR afforded Botswana the opportunity to interact on an atmosphere of partnership, mutual respect and to reach common understanding on how human rights issues could be addressed. For the past four years, Botswana had made significant strides in the freedom, transparency and good governance and remained focussed in its resolve to find innovative ways that could guarantee its nationals and residents full enjoyments of human rights.

In terms of the preparation of the national report, he said the Government of Botswana brought together all stakeholders in the preparation of the report and had seen great value in involving NGOs in the process. The report provides a brief description of existing institutional framework in Botswana that allowed for the promotion and protection of human rights including a description of the Constitution. It also provided an outline of some of Botswana’s efforts in the implementation of its human rights obligations and provided a brief description of relevant legislations and other initiatives of the Government. Another chapter addressed the achievements, best practices, challenges and constraints.

Responding to questions put for the ahead of time, the Minister recalled that his country indicated in March 2008 of its intention to establish a national human rights institution and that consultation in that regard were ongoing. On another question, it was noted that Botswana will withdraw its reservation to articles one of the Convention in the on the Rights of the Child. Regarding corporal punishment, the Education Act of the country provided a strict framework within which this practice was not excessive or abused to the extent of degrading a child’s dignity. On child labour, the Children’s Act had recently been reviewed, he added. Concerning domestic violence, the Botswana Police Service had started to employ social workers to provide counselling and to be responsive to the needs of victims of domestic violence. On the issue of overcrowding in prisons, the Government was constructing new prisons, and exploring alternative measures to imprisonment. In response to a question on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), he noted that the Government had opened dialogue with the people of the CKGR and that the President met with representatives of the CKGR in June 2008 and subsequently instructed the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the CKGR to continue their dialogue.

On the issue of the abolition of the death penalty, the Minister noted that, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in Botswana the death sentence was imposed for serious crimes being murder without extenuating circumstances. There were no plans on part of the Government of Botswana to either abolish capital punishment or impose a moratorium on its application. The Constitution of Botswana provided for protection against torture and inhuman treatment and when there were such allegations investigations were carried out and perpetrators were prosecuted. On another issue, he said the Government regarded youth unemployment as a priority and had established a Ministry responsible for Youth in 2006. On a question concerning standing invitation to Special Procedures, the Minster added that his Government would look into this issue.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the State’s efforts to uphold a multi-party democracy; the State’s commitment to good governance; its regional peace efforts; the “Prosperity for All” programme; access to health care; policies to strengthen the role of women in society; efforts to reach universal primary education and the national plan of action for children aimed at promoting the rights of children in the country (2006-2016); the adoption of the national plan for the poverty reduction; the establishment of the Department of Women’s Affairs; and the State’s achievements in combating HIV/AIDS.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the status of draft legislation for the protection of children; the nature of the difficulties in child protection; challenges faced in the implementation of child programmes, including the National Plan of Action for Children (2006-2016); the issue of child labour and commercial and sexual exploitation and actions taken to prevent the sexual and physical abuse of children; efforts to address discriminatory practices towards women’s roles in marriage and in the home; whether human trafficking was a problem for the country; measures adopted to deal with situation of increasing numbers of HIV/AIDS orphans; the approach intended to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child and challenges in that regard; and approaches foreseen for the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the prison population. Several delegations expressed concern about cases of corporal punishment in the country and efforts to sensitize the public in this regard.

A number of delegations also sought information on the steps being taken towards progressive restriction and/or abolishment of the death penalty and the level of public debate on the issue in Botswana. Additionally, delegations raised questions and comments pertaining to the State’s policy regarding illegal immigrants, particularly those from Zimbabwe; the intention of the Government to ensure the respect of the rights of indigenous people in areas being used for diamond excavation; measures taken by the Government to combat racism with regard to migrant workers; efforts to tackle discrimination based on ethnic or national origin; the intentions and problems of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the Office of the Ombudsman and its mandate.

Other questions pertained to steps to reduce prison overcrowding; obstacles faced in setting up the national human rights commission; challenges faced in implementing the National Poverty Reduction Strategy; and plans to decriminalize homosexuality. Clarification was also sought on the law of the media practitioners’ bill and its consequences on the media.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To continue its efforts to establish a national human rights commission; to continue progress being made in eradiation of poverty; to increase access to education of children in rural areas, especially girls; to take steps to reverse instances of school drop outs; to develop national strategy for human rights education in the school for all levels; to continue with the process of implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Children and the National Plan of Action for Children (2006-2016); to urgently finalize and implement the necessary programme of action to address the problem of child labour; and to consider establishing a coordination mechanism for implementing policies and programmes for children. Several delegations called on the State under review to establish public awareness campaigns on corporal punishment and to eliminate all practices of corporal punishments.

Other recommendations included: To consider alternatives to providing care for children for parents in detention; to take additional steps to implement the provisions of the domestic violence bill; to continue efforts to strengthen the role of women, particularly in rural areas; to continue efforts to promote gender equality; to consider drafting legislation on marital rape; to encourage the full participation of women in discussions on customary laws and practices; to establish a specific timeline towards the implementation of the Marriage Act; to eliminate the cases of contract marriages and polygamy; to ensure a medical follow-up for HIV positive mothers and children; to educate prisoners about the risks of HIV infection; and to ensure that anti-retroviral HIV/AIDS drugs were available to refugees.

Several delegations encouraged Botswana to explore the possibility of imposing a moratorium of the death penalty. Some called on the State to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Additionally, recommendations included to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR; to respect and implement the provisions of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers; to implement the ILO Convention 169 concerning indigenous peoples; to ensure non-discrimination of all ethnic minorities; to accept the visit of the Special Rapporteurs on indigenous peoples as well as the Special Rapporteur on racism; and to take actions taken to ensure the fair representation of minorities and ethnic minorities in government bodies.

A number of delegations also called on Botswana to take steps to decriminalize homosexual practices, and review its legislation with regard to sexual orientation. Delegations also called on the State under review to extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the United Nations human rights system; to consider signing and ratifying the Convention on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights; to consider extending its cooperation with the regional office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Southern Africa; and to provide sufficient resources to the Office of the Ombudsmen’s Office.

Delegations also called on international development partners to assist Botswana in implementing its human rights policies and programmes; to improve the conditions of prisons and legislation in practice in that regard; and to undertake renewed negotiations with affected members of the communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Other delegations called on the Human Rights Council to make available the requisite support in the areas highlighted under Section VI “Expectation in terms of technical assistance” in the national report of Botswana; and for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights support Botswana in its treaty body reporting obligations.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Cuba, Chile, France, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Mexico, Slovakia, Germany, Brazil, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Djibouti, Zambia, Italy, South Africa, Canada, China, Argentina, Japan, Ghana, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, Finland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Sweden, Sudan, Latvia, Maldives, Australia, Norway, Holy See, Tanzania, Ireland and Denmark.

· The 10-person delegation of Botswana consisted of representatives of the Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Women's Affairs Department, the Ministry of Local Government, the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Permanent Mission of Botswana to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Botswana are Uruguay, Senegal and Slovakia.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Botswana can be found here.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Botswana on Wednesday, 3 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Bahamas.

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