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Botswana – UN cultural rights expert calls for a renewed “nation-building” to celebrate rich diversity

Botswana / Cultural Rights

27 November 2014

GABORONE (27 November 2014) – At the end of a 13-day official visit to Botswana, the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights Farida Shaheed called on the country to embark on a “second phase of nation building that reflects, builds on and celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the country.”

Shaheed shared her observations on cultural rights issues ranging from the recognition of tribes, to language rights, to land rights, to the need to involve and engage with communities affected by Government policies. Shaheed identified a number of good practices and potential obstacles relating to the promotion and protection of cultural rights in the country.

The Special Rapporteur, who is mandated to monitor the enjoyment of cultural rights, stressed that issues relating to the recognition of communities as tribes under the Bogosi Act of 2008 needed to be addressed.

“Unlike the eight Tswana tribes who have a guaranteed seat in the House of Chiefs, other communities do not,” she said. Shaheed expressed further concern that the adjudication system based on the Kgosis (chiefs) often leads to the dominant tribe imposing its customary law on all groups in a particular tribal territory in civil matters.

Shaheed also identified language diversity as a possible area for improvement.

“While the use of Setswana as the national language has enabled most people in the country to communicate with each other, mother tongue education in the first years of schooling is certainly a way forward,” she said. “The risk of further disadvantage incurred upon children in remote areas who have no or minimal exposure to Setswana in their families and communities, in particular those residing in hostels without family support systems, is significant.”

Shaheed congratulated Botswana for its success in having the Okavango Delta included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. She specifically welcomed the Government for its consultative process prior to the listing, as well as the recognition of the small numbers of people who have inhabited the Delta for centuries without any significant ecological impact.

“I have been assured by the government that there will be no fencing off of the area, no eviction of local communities, and no disruption of their rights of access to natural resources,” she said. The Special Rapporteur hoped that such steps would help to establish good practices both in this area, and in other parts of Botswana.

However, in many of the places she visited, Shaheed heard the frustration, anger, and fears expressed by community members, particularly of the San, Hambukushu, and Wayeyi communities. She stressed that many of these feelings stem from a lack of clear information and communication about policy and future plans, especially with regard to human/wildlife conflicts.

“The legacy of past violations of human rights needs to be acknowledged and addressed if the authorities wish to engage in meaningful consultations with communities for future projects,” she said.

“The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has been at the centre of considerable controversy since the Government decided to relocate all people residing there to settlements outside the Reserve,” said Shaheed. Despite a Court ruling confirming the right of the petitioners to return to the Reserve, concerns remain regarding an overly restrictive interpretation of the ruling and the right of offspring to remain on the reserve upon attaining the age of majority at 18. “I would like the Government to clarify the matter,” the expert said.

Shaheed also called for more alternative spaces for people, besides the traditional spaces offered by kgotlas governed by chiefs, to engage in sports and creative activities in both rural and urban centres. “I welcome the increased number of cultural activities being promoted by the Government, through numerous festivals and competitions across the country,” she said. “I encourage the Government to expand its support to non-traditional forms of cultural expression and to consider the establishment of a national arts council for the promotion and further development of art and creative industries.”
The Special Rapporteur visited Gaborone, Maun, Ghanzi / Dkar, Old Xade, New Xade, Shakawe, and the Tsodilo Hills, as well as several villages in the Okavango Delta, and Ramotswa. She met with Government officials, chiefs, artists, academics, and representatives of civil society.

The Special Rapporteur will present her assessment and recommendations in a report to the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2015 in Geneva.


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Ms. Farida Shaheed took up her functions as Independent Expert and then Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in August 2009. She has worked for more than 25 years promoting and protecting cultural rights by fostering policies and projects designed in culturally sensitive ways to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities. Ms. Shaheed has been the recipient of several national and international human rights awards, and is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels. Learn more, log on to:

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