Botswana

Executive Summary

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. In October 2014 the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the majority of parliamentary seats in an election deemed generally free and fair. President Ian Khama retained his position. The BDP has held the presidency and a majority of National Assembly seats since independence in 1966.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included excessive use of force and abuse by security personnel; lengthy judicial delays; government attempts to limit freedoms of the press and assembly; mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees; corruption; sexual and gender-based violence against women and children; economic and political marginalization of the Basarwa (San) people; and government curtailments of the right to strike.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was generally not a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however 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 be fined up to 400 pula ($40). 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 be fined up to 500 pula ($50).

Press and Media Freedom: NGOs and media reported the government attempted to limit press freedom. 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. The government ombudsman stated in an August 28 report that public broadcaster Botswana Television “unduly favored” the ruling party in its political coverage.

The independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, members of the media 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.

Violence and Harassment: In March, DISS agents reportedly detained and threatened three journalists from the INK Center for Investigative Journalism near President Khama’s private residence in Mosu. The journalists were researching claims that public funds were being used to construct the residence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations alleged the government occasionally censored stories in the government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship. The government banned private radio station GabzFM from broadcasting live content after it aired a controversial live interview with anti-lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) American pastor Steven Anderson in September 2016.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2014 police arrested Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and charged him with sedition for publishing articles about an automobile accident allegedly involving President Khama. Observers noted the use of the penal code’s sedition clause for a newspaper article was unprecedented and further noted the Sunday Standard had published several articles exposing corruption allegations within the DISS. In 2016 lawyers for Mokone sought to have the charges dropped based on the penal code’s infringement of the defendant’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. That same year the High Court ruled the penal code’s sedition clause was constitutional and charges of sedition against Mokone could proceed. The case was still pending at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 27 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected these rights.

In February tertiary students protested delays in student allowance payments and course accreditation in a series of riots in Gaborone. There were media reports the BPS used rubber bullets, tear gas, and rubber whips to disperse crowds. One student was reportedly shot with a rubber bullet and others beaten. A student claimed to have been mistreated while in police custody based on her transgender identity, saying police made her strip to disclose her gender.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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 generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting more than 2,800 refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government held refugees and asylum seekers in CII in Francistown until the Refugee Advisory Committee (RAC), a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met four times during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers. Through September, RAC authorities approved refugee status for 37 minors who received derivative status from their parents.

The ministry of defense, justice, and security introduced biometric identity cards for refugees and asylum seekers.

The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in 2015 it detained more than 400 individuals, many of whom had received refugee status in a third country and then entered the country illegally and claimed asylum.

In November the Court of Appeal ruled only recognized refugees were authorized to reside at Dukwi Refugee Camp, and asylum seekers who were transferred there earlier in the year based on a July High Court order should be returned to the CII. The ruling prompted the majority of the asylum seekers to flee the camp rather than be returned to the CII, where they had allegedly been physically abused by guards and prison inmates. More than 400 persons, including more than 200 children, sought asylum during 2015; the majority were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Composed mainly of families that had transited Zambia and Tanzania, the RAC refused their claims based on its “first country of asylum” policy and held the families at the CII while they awaited deportation. UNHCR urged the government to review its decision to deny asylum and to keep the asylum seekers at the CII, where authorities separated families, and women and children lived in tents in substandard conditions. Prior to July, asylum seekers were housed at the CII with inmates from the local men’s prison while it underwent refurbishment. Security at the CII was a concern, and an inmate allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old male asylum seeker. There were reports food rations provided to asylum seekers were inadequate.

In December the private weekly The Botswana Gazette ran a 16-page special report by the INK Center for Investigative Journalism summarizing a four-month investigation into the treatment of the asylum seekers at the CII. According to the report, the asylum seekers said Botswana authorities physically abused them.

Employment: As of August most of the country’s 2,153 registered refugees and 727 registered asylum seekers were living in Dukwi Camp without the right to work outside the camp. As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi 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.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees in Dukwi had access to education and basic health care. They were unable to access government programs for HIV/AIDS medication, but the government allowed an international donor-funded parallel program to provide such medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary through their implementing partner, the Botswana Red Cross. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.

According to UNHCR there was no access to education in the CII. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases were referred to the Francistown city hospital.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, as of October there were 27 voluntary repatriations of Namibian and Zimbabwean refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at Dukwi to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.

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