Botswana must step up efforts to recognise and protect the rights of minorities in relation to public services, land and resource use, and the utilisation of minority languages in education and other critical areas, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on minorities, Fernand de Varennes said.
When addressing the media in Gaborone on Friday, Varennes who was urging for a Bill of Rights said even though the country has made considerable progress in economic development and other areas including education and literacy, religious freedom, the fight against HIV/AIDS and other critical areas, access to public service, land and the use of resources for minorities could be improved. He welcomed moves by the government towards adopting more international human rights standard, but 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.
“The obstacles to a widespread and vibrant flow of information and exchange through private newspapers and broadcasting media, appear not to use or allow broadcasts in minority languages, or to receive licences to do so. During our 12-day mission to different parts of the country, we have also observed difficulties faced by minority children in education.”
“Basarwa and other minorities living away from the more populated south and southeast of the country faced particular difficulties in accessing quality education, including senior secondary education, because of the scarcity of schools and challenges in transportation,” he noted.
“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.”
Varennes also stressed that this form of institutionalisation leads to forced assimilation that has a serious negative impact on the performance of many of those children,
He explained that education in Botswana was only provided 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 was usually offered as a third optional language. He therefore called on the Botswana government 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 local languages.
He also made specific reference to the importance of recognising and promoting Botswana sign language in order to ensure greater accessibility for the deaf minority.
Varennes also raised issues over the participation of minorities in public life and their representation in key institutions.
“Since its independence, Botswana has not provided for the official recognition of its numerous tribes, with the exception of the Wayeyi and the Basubiya,” he said.
“In additional, it has maintained a three-tiered legislative and institutional framework that appears to award privileges to the eight constitutionally recognised Tswana tribes, both in terms of representation in Ntlo Ya Dikgosi as well as with regard to control of local administration framework.” During his mission, Varennes met high-level officials, civil society organisations and minority community leaders in Gaborone and in the Northeast, Central, Ghanzi, Chobe and Ngamiland districts.
The special rapporteur will present a detailed report on his visit to the UN Human Rights in March 2019.