Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy. Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly. The Botswana Democratic Party has held a majority in the National Assembly since the nation’s founding in 1966. In October 2019 President Mokgweetsi Masisi won his first full five-year term in an election that was considered free and fair by outside observers.
The Botswana Police Service, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security, has primary responsibility for internal security. The Botswana Defense Force, which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, which reports to the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
The National Assembly passed a six-month state of emergency in April and extended it for an additional six months in September. Ostensibly to give the government necessary powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the terms of the state of emergency included a ban on the right of unions to strike, limits on free speech related to COVID-19, and restrictions on religious activities. It also served as the basis for three lockdowns that forced most citizens to remain in their homes for several weeks to curb the spread of the virus. Opposition groups, human rights organizations, and labor unions argued that the state of emergency powers were too broad, placed too much power in the presidency, and were unnecessarily restrictive.
Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal slander and libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; serious acts of corruption; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced child labor.
The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was generally not a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Botswana Defence Force has a judge advocate general that would investigate any such cases; the Botswana Police Service would conduct an internal investigation into these types of allegations with a referral to civilian prosecutors if necessary.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and provide for the right of any person to challenge his or her detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) officers received human rights training at the country’s International Law Enforcement Academy.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police must produce an arrest warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate upon the presentation of compelling evidence, except in certain cases, such as when an officer witnesses a crime being committed or discovers a suspect is in possession of a controlled substance. Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) personnel have the power to enter premises and make arrests without warrants if the agency suspects a person has committed or is about to commit a crime (see also section 2.a.).
The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent and to file charges before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities generally respected these rights. There were no reports of denial of a suspect’s right to an attorney during the first 48 hours after arrest and the right to arraignment before a magistrate. A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of detention that may be renewed every 14 days. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a person’s detention. Heavy court caseloads occasionally delayed this determination. Authorities generally informed detainees of the reason for their detention, although there were some complaints this did not always occur. There is a functioning bail system, and detention without bail was unusual except in murder cases, where it is mandatory. Detainees have the right to contact a family member and hire attorneys of their choice, but most could not afford legal counsel. There were no reports authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.
Pretrial Detention: A writ of pretrial detention is valid for 14 days and is renewable every 14 days. Some detainees, however, waited several weeks or months between the filing of charges and the start of their trials. Pretrial detention in murder, rape, livestock theft, and robbery cases sometimes exceeded a year, but there were no reports of instances in which the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentences actually imposed. Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 25 percent (2015 data) of prisoners, according to the NGO World Prison Brief. Delays were largely due to judicial staffing shortages and a backlog of pending cases.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities generally informed them promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals if he or she cannot understand the language of the court. Trials in the civilian courts are public, although trials under the National Security Act may be secret. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. In capital cases the government provides legal counsel or private attorneys to work pro bono for indigent clients. Courts tried those charged with noncapital crimes without legal representation if they could not afford an attorney. As a result many defendants were not aware of their procedural rights in pretrial or trial proceedings. Defendants may question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and to appeal. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. The constitution states these rights extend to all citizens. Some NGOs provided limited, free legal assistance.
In addition to the civil court system, a customary or traditional court system also exists. According to traditional practice, a tribal chief presides over most small villages. While customary (traditional) courts enjoyed widespread citizen support and respect, they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal court system. Although defendants may confront, question, and present witnesses in customary court proceedings, they do not have legal counsel, and there are no standardized rules of evidence. Customary trials are open to the public, and defendants may present evidence on their own behalf. Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal leader or elected by the community, determine sentences. Many tribal judges were poorly trained. The quality of decisions reached in the customary courts varied considerably, and defendants often lacked a presumption of innocence. Tribal judges applied corporal punishment, such as lashings on the buttocks, more often than did civil courts. Those convicted in customary courts may file appeals through the civilian court system.
A separate military court system does not try civilians. Military courts have separate procedures from civil courts. Defendants in military courts are able to retain private attorneys at their own expense and view evidence to be used against them. Defendants in military court may have their cases transferred to the civilian judicial system. In addition military personnel may sue other military personnel in civilian civil court.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
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.).
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
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.).
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The government barred in-person religious services during lockdown periods and limited the size of services to 50 persons as well as the number of weekly religious services per congregation as part of the state of emergency.
Freedom of Association
Labor leaders expressed views that restrictions on strikes during the COVID-19 state of emergency were unnecessary, unrelated to public health concerns, and were an attempt by the government to restrict trade union activities.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government’s COVID-19 restrictions set limits on internal movement. A series of “extreme social distancing” periods (lockdowns) forced most of the population to remain at homes for weeks at a time. Those engaged in essential services such as food supply, utilities, and critical government functions were allowed to circulate with permits. Ordinary individuals required permits to carry out basic functions like visiting the grocery store. The number of permits was strictly limited on a daily basis and could only be acquired through an online application. Additionally, the government divided the country into nine zones, with permits required to pass from one zone to another. Regulations stated permits were meant only for exceptional travel, such as essential services or for funerals. The automated online permit system, however, approved most permits regardless of the purpose of travel.
The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system for granting refugee status was accessible but slow. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The government held refugees and asylum seekers in the FCII until the Refugee Advisory Committee, a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met quarterly during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers.
The government repatriated a number of Zimbabwean refugees from the Dukwi Refugee Camp, many of whom had been living at the camp for more than a decade. Approximately 375 persons agreed to repatriate voluntarily, but another 200 refugees refused repatriation, stating they feared abuse in Zimbabwe due to their affiliation with opposition parties. UNHCR alleged the government rushed the repatriation process for the 200, preventing UNHCR from assessing the veracity of their claims and whether they were eligible for resettlement. Under international pressure from UNHCR and foreign missions, the government agreed to a more thorough process of evaluating the Zimbabwean cases.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in previous years it detained individuals, many of whom had refugee status in a third country and then claimed asylum.
Freedom of Movement: As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi Refugee Camp under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.
Employment: In February 2019 UNHCR reported that most of the country’s 1,005 registered refugees were living in the Dukwi Refugee Camp and did not have the right to work outside the camp.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees at the Dukwi Refugee Camp had access to education and basic health-care services. In 2019 the government began allowing noncitizens, including refugees, to receive HIV/AIDS medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.
International observers stated there was no access to education in the FCII, which as of August held nine children. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases are referred to the Francistown city hospital.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at the Dukwi Refugee Camp to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority in the October 2019 parliamentary elections, returning President Mokgweetsi Masisi to office for a full five-year term and continuing the party’s control of the government dating from independence in 1966. The vote was generally considered credible by outside observers; however, opposition parties challenged some of the election results in court, citing primarily irregularities with voter registrations. In December 2019 the Court of Appeals dismissed all claims and ordered the opposition parties to pay court costs.
Using COVID-19 state of emergency powers, the government postponed indefinitely two special elections, scheduled for May, for district council seats to replace two lawmakers who died. As of November the special elections had not been rescheduled.
Political Parties and Political Participation: On July 29, the National Assembly suspended the leader of the opposition (an officially designated position), Dumelang Saleshando, for one week for accusing members of President Masisi’s family of improperly manipulating the government tendering process. The speaker of the National Assembly, who was appointed by the president, called for the suspension vote after the opposition leader refused to retract his accusation. All votes for the suspension were from the BDP, which the president leads as party chairman. The Court of Appeals temporarily lifted the suspension after the opposition leader filed a lawsuit challenging it. On August 6, the BDP subsequently suspended from party activities for 60 days the only party member of parliament who voted against the opposition leader’s suspension.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, observers suggested cultural constraints, including the sexual exploitation of women in politics, limited the number of women in government. There were six women in the 65-seat National Assembly, three of them elected and three appointed by President Masisi. In 2014, four women were elected to the National Assembly. The president named four female members of parliament to serve in the 30-member cabinet. There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.
While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs. The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights. Outside observers noted many tribes were unrecognized or unrepresented, and women were underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively. Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however. Media reports of government corruption continued during the year. There were numerous reports of government corruption, including allegations tied to tenders issued by local governments for COVID-19 projects, such as renovating public facilities so that they complied with virus prevention measures and also in the acquisition of personal protective equipment. A 2019 poll by Transparency International found that 7 percent of those polled had paid bribes to government officials. This number grew from the 1 percent who reported paying bribes in a 2015 poll.
Corruption: In July former permanent secretary to Presidents Khama and Masisi Carter Morupisi and his wife stood trial on charges of abuse of office, money laundering, and receiving bribes. The government continued to investigate Isaac Kgosi, the country’s former chief of DISS, regarding alleged embezzlement at the National Petroleum Fund. In March, Kgosi was arraigned on charges of embezzlement. Trial procedures continued as of year’s end.
Financial Disclosure: In August 2019 parliament passed a bill requiring declaration of assets and liabilities by members of parliament. A 2009 presidential directive requires all cabinet ministers to declare their interests, assets, and liabilities to the president. There were no cases reported where a declaration was questioned or sanctions imposed.