Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but unlike in years prior to 2019, there were no reports of police using such tactics. Some laws prescribe corporal punishment for convicted offenders in both criminal and customary courts. Human rights groups viewed these provisions as cruel and degrading; the Court of Appeals ruled these provisions do not violate the constitution’s provisions on torture or inhuman treatment. In April police reportedly used excessive force in at least one instance while enforcing the 2019 COVID-19 lockdown regulations in Lobatse, where two persons were beaten and injured. President Masisi released a statement vowing to investigate the incidents thoroughly and pledged not to tolerate abuse by security forces. The government did not release further information on the investigation following this statement. On September 29, police also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at university students in Palapye who were protesting nonpayment of their student allowances. Students alleged police used excessive force to break up the protests, while police said the students set fires and refused to disperse. Two students were arrested and charged with incitement to violence and disobedience of the law.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.
Physical Conditions: Authorities occasionally held juveniles with adults, although only for a few days while the juveniles awaited transport.
The Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally. In previous years journalists reported allegations of authorities abusing asylum seekers in the FCII, but there were no reports of such abuses during the year. There was no school at the center, and international observers expressed concern some children were separated from parents at a young age. The government considered FCII to be a transit center for refugees, but some refugees previously spent several years there while awaiting review of their cases. Although in 2019 the government moved remaining long-term residents to the nearby Dukwi Refugee Camp, there was no protocol in place to prevent arrivals from spending long periods in FCII while their cases were processed. There were no significant reports regarding conditions at other prisons that raised human rights concerns.
Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought by inmates against prison officials and took disciplinary or judicial action against persons responsible for abuses. The law requires the minister of defense, justice, and security to appoint a committee to visit prisons on a quarterly basis and allows religious authorities to visit with prisoners. The government enforced this law. Prisoners in general may also attend religious services.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to meet with prisoners and permitted independent human rights observers to visit prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons. Representatives of diplomatic missions have also been allowed access to the FCII.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
In the formal judicial system, there is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including for human rights cases, which includes a separate industrial court for most labor-related cases. Administrative remedies were not widely available. By mutual agreement of the parties involved, customary courts, which handle land, marital, and property disputes, tried most civil cases but; they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal judicial system. Although individuals and organizations may file complaints regarding domestic decisions with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the country has not ratified the protocol that established the court, which means the country does not always implement the court’s rulings.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the DISS had developed capabilities for online surveillance. The BPS also used online surveillance of social media as part of COVID-19 state-of-emergency measures.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press.
Freedom of Speech: The law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. There were no arrests or convictions under this law during the year.
The state of emergency includes a statute that makes it illegal to publish COVID-19 statements online “with an intent to deceive” concerning a person’s health status or containing information on the virus. The maximum penalty for conviction of violating the provision is five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both. At least six persons were arrested under the statute, including an opposition official and a teacher who questioned the government’s decision to impose a seven-week national lockdown.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government dominated domestic broadcasting. The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.
Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.
A 2008 law mandates registration of media outlets and journalists with the National Press Council and has been criticized by human rights and press freedom NGOs, although it has never been implemented.
On June 18, police arrested journalists David Baaitse and Kenneth Mosekiemang for allegedly taking photos of a DISS facility. DISS stated the pair was surveilling a “highly classified strategic security installation.” The pair were charged with nuisance and released on bond pending trial. DISS issued a statement on the case that declared press freedom was not limitless and that media had a responsibility to defend the country’s national security. As of October, the two had not been tried.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations stated the government occasionally censored stories in government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were no arrests for slander during the year. Nevertheless, the law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense. The law also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense under the sedition clause. The Constitutional Court has not considered the constitutionality of the sedition clause.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government did monitor social media content related to COVID-19 while enforcing state of emergency rules (see section 1.f.).
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although there were restrictions on the ability of labor unions to organize and strike (see section 7.a.).
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges, although police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators. In February 2019 the BPS Commissioner announced it would no longer allow the withdrawal of gender-based violence (GBV) cases waiting to be heard by magistrate court. On October 13, President Masisi announced the BPS would establish standard operating procedures for dealing with GBV, including establishing dedicated units to handle GBV, establishing a special hotline for GBV victims, and requiring GBV victims to be interviewed in private spaces. By law the minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment, increasing to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender was unaware of being HIV-positive and 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender was aware of being HIV-positive. By law formal courts try all rape cases. A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.
The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but it remained a serious problem. Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murder cases.
The government regularly referred victims of gender-based violence to a local NGO that ran shelters for women.
In April shelter operators and civil society groups reported a significant increase in victims of GBV at the start of the seven-week COVID-19 lockdown. The government made statements to discourage such violence but did not devote extra resources to address the issue or help shelters overwhelmed by the influx of victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors. Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand. Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, was widespread.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. A 2018 study of family planning found that 98 percent of women knew of at least one family-planning method. The major factors hindering greater contraceptive prevalence rates included a shortage of supplies, provider biases, inadequately skilled health-care workers, HIV status, culture, religion, and popularly accepted myths and misconceptions. Access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was widespread, with 95 percent of the population living within an average of 5 miles from the nearest health facility.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including postexposure prophylaxis, emergency contraceptives, counseling, treatment of injuries, and rapid HIV testing.
According to 2019 data, the maternal mortality ratio was 166 deaths per 100,000 live births. The leading causes of maternal mortality included postpartum hemorrhage, genital tract and pelvic infections following unsafe abortion, and ectopic pregnancy.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Under the constitution women and men have the same civil rights and legal status. Under customary law based on tribal practice, however, a number of traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults. Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and the government generally enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Birth Registration: In general, citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory. The government generally registered births promptly. Unregistered children may be denied some government services, including enrollment in secondary schools and national exams.
Education: Primary education was tuition free for the first 10 years of school but is not compulsory. Parents must cover school fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books. These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.
Child Abuse: The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children. There was reportedly widespread abuse of children. The deputy opposition whip, Pono Moatlhodi, was charged with assault for allegedly setting a dog on a 12-year-old he suspected of stealing mangoes. Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child. Police referred the children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as to local NGOs. Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes. The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is younger than the minimum legal age of 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution and sexual abuse of children. Conviction of sex with a child younger than 16, including a prostituted child, constitutes defilement and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration. In 2019 parliament amended the law, raising the age of consent from 16 to 18. The penalty for conviction of not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from a substantial monetary fine to imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both. Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished, if convicted, with a substantial monetary fine, imprisonment for no less than five years but no longer than 15 years, or both. The law further requires the government to develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. In May, Member of Parliament Polson Majaga was charged with defilement of a minor (statutory rape), and was subsequently suspended by the BDP from party activities but retained his seat in the legislature.
Child advocacy groups reported increases in sexual abuse of children during COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, UNICEF in April reported 23 cases of defilement and 22 rape cases during the first seven days of the national lockdown.
Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Displaced Children: According to an international organization, 61,649 orphans and vulnerable children received government support between April and September 2018. Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking. It mandates access to public buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities, but access for persons with disabilities was limited. Although government buildings were being constructed in such a way as to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible. Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities.
Violence against persons with disabilities was not common, and authorities punished those who committed violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.
Children with disabilities attended school, although human rights NGOs raised concerns the law does not stipulate accessible education for children with disabilities. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed that most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons. The special rapporteur also noted that the absence of sign language interpreters in the health-care sector inhibited the dissemination of information. The government made some accommodations during elections to allow for persons with disabilities to vote, including providing ballots in braille.
There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities. The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination. Individuals may also submit cases directly to the Industrial Court. The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not explicitly criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct, but the penal code includes language that has been interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Specifically it criminalizes “unnatural acts,” with a penalty if convicted of up to seven years’ imprisonment. There was widespread belief this was directed against LGBTI persons. In June 2019 the High Court found this language unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct in the country. The ruling party welcomed the decision. The government, however, has since appealed the judgment. Consideration of this matter by the Court of Appeals was delayed when the court system shut down for seven weeks as a consequence of the country’s COVID-19 response. A court date for the appeal had not been set as of November, and the existing laws on same-sex sexual activity remained in effect. Security forces generally do not enforce these laws.
There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity. There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reported cases of authorities investigating abuses against LGBTI persons, however. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt official intimidation.
In July a transgender woman was given a sentence of flogging by a traditional court after being convicted of violating public order for insulting another person. By traditional law women are excluded from flogging in the traditional courts due to modesty concerns over removing a blouse for canings. The transgender person was not afforded this exception but was able to avoid the punishment after a doctor deemed she was too ill for corporal punishment. She paid a fine instead.
Public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI matters occurred without disruption or interference. In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register the NGO Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) formally. LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers–except police, military, and prison personnel–to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law provides some workers with the right to strike. The COVID-19 state of emergency barred all industrial actions by unions, although workers at some companies did conduct short work stoppages over pay matters without government interference. The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference and with protection from antiunion discrimination.
The law limits the right to organize. Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations to communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer. Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.
Trade unions failing to meet formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities. The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination. This means that those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union are not protected from antiunion discrimination.
The law imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions. The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.” It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property. Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice was uncommon and the latter has never been employed. Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.
The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled at least one-third of a sector’s workforce. The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions. The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification. The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.
The law prohibits employees providing “essential services” from striking. In August 2019 the National Assembly passed legislation limiting the sectors covered by this prohibition in line with a recommendation from the International Labor Organization. The law limits its definition of essential services to aviation, health, electrical, water and sanitation, fire, and air traffic control services.
The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.
Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and the ombudsman generally made decisions without government interference. Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, which, if not resolved within 30 days, may be referred to the Industrial Court.
Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities. Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered payment of more than two months’ severance pay. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities. The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.
The government generally did not respect freedom of association for workers. In addition the government placed significant barriers to union organizing and operations, and there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and employers generally did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. The government refused to recognize migrant workers’ attempt to form a union after the workers had submitted all required documents to register their association. Legal penalties for violations of laws governing freedom of association were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare. When unions followed legal requirements, exhausted arbitration, and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers. Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal. The law prohibits sympathy strikes. Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services. The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor.
The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to (their) health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian. The law, however, does not define the types of permitted light work activities. The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school, but only on vacation days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities, such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment. In addition the law establishes the right of children to be protected from sexual exploitation, including through prostitution and the production of pornography (see section 6).
The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors, but its resources were too limited for effective oversight in remote areas. District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Government officials continued to address public gatherings, cautioning against the worst forms of child labor. Penalties, however, were not commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.
Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, child labor occurred mostly on small-scale cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region. Child labor also occurred in domestic work and street vending. Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among parents and their employers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector. The minimum wage was higher than the official estimate of the poverty income level for all sectors. Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage.
The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at time-and-a-half times the base hourly rate. In May the government froze payment for overtime work of public servants as a measure to address a budget shortfall during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to union representatives, some workers were required to perform overtime duties without compensation.
There are limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements. The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions. The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain about hazardous conditions, but no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. There were no figures available on the number of industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury of workers.
The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and OSH standards, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.
The primary forms of compensation for labor in the informal sector were housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas. Wages in the informal sector were frequently below the minimum wage. Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers.
Foreign migrant workers were vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor.