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Title: Botswana Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Botswana is a longstanding, multiparty democracy.  Constitutional power 
is shared between the President, Sir Ketumile Masire, and the 44-member 
popularly elected lower house of parliament.  The ruling Botswana 
Democratic Party (BDP), continued to dominate the National Assembly, 
holding 31 of 44 seats.  The opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) 
holds the remaining 13 seats.  In October 1994, the President was 
reelected in free and fair elections for a third 5-year term.  The 
Government respects the constitutional provisions for an independent 

The civilian Government exercises effective control over the security 
forces.  The military, the Botswana Defense Force (BDF), is responsible 
for external security.  The Botswana National Police (BNP) are 
responsible for internal security.  Members of the security forces 
occasionally committed human rights abuses.  

The economy is market-oriented with strong encouragement for private 
enterprise.  Steady diamond revenues and effective economic and fiscal 
policies resulted in steady growth, although the economy grew at a 
relatively modest annual rate of 4 percent following a downturn from 
1991 to 1993.  Per capita gross domestic product was approximately 
$2,800 in 1995.  Over 50 percent of the population is employed in the 
informal sector, largely subsistence farming and animal husbandry.  
Rural poverty remains a serious problem, as does a widely skewed income 

The Constitution provides for citizens' human rights, and the Government 
generally respects those rights in practice.  Despite some continuing 
problems, Botswana's overall human rights record has been consistently 
positive since independence.  There were credible reports that the 
police sometimes mistreated criminal suspects in order to coerce 
confessions, and members of the police riot squad were accused of using 
excessive force in quelling violent student demonstrations in February.  
Women continued to face legal and societal discrimination, and violence 
against women is a continuing problem.  Some Batswana including groups 
not numbered among the eight "principal tribes" identified in the 
Constitution, because they live in remote areas, still do not enjoy full 
access to social services and, in practice, are marginalized in the 
political process.  In many instances the judicial system did not 
provide timely fair trials due to a serious backlog of cases.  Trade 
unions continued to face some legal restrictions, and the Government did 
not always ensure that labor laws were observed in practice.

The Government took a number of steps to address human rights problems 
in 1995.  In September the Government announced plans to construct a 
separate detention facility for refused asylum seekers, and in August 
Parliament ratified the Citizenship Amendment Act, designed to bring 
Botswana legislation into conformity with the Constitution, and remedy 
citizenship gender inequities.  In March Botswana ratified the 
International Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

In a case related to February's violent student protest, a member of the 
riot police (the Special Support Group - SSG) was convicted of the 
murder of a young man who apparently had no connection with the 
demonstrations.  Hearings in mitigation of sentence were scheduled for 
February 1996.  

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The Constitution explicitly forbids torture, inhuman, and degrading 
treatment or punishment.  The authorities generally respect this 
prohibition in practice, and in some cases have taken disciplinary or 
judicial action against persons responsible for abuses.  However, 
instances of abuse do occur.  While coerced confessions are inadmissible 
in court, evidence gathered through coercion or abuse may be used in 
prosecution.  There were credible reports that police sometimes used 
intimidation techniques in order to obtain evidence or elicit 
confessions.  In the past, police sometimes suffocated criminal suspects 
with a plastic bag.  In 1995 there were no allegations of similar 
mistreatment, and beatings and other forms of extreme physical abuse 
remained rare.  

In February some poorly trained members of the SSG reportedly used 
excessive force to quell violent student demonstrations over the 
Government's failure to prosecute suspects in a ritual murder of a 14-
year-old girl.  In separate incidents related to the demonstrations, one 
person was killed and another paralyzed.  Several students arrested 
after the riots alleged police assault.  Students who had been detained 
were released and charges against them dropped.  

Unlike past years, there were no reports that Department of Wildlife and 
National Parks (DWNP) wardens tortured suspected poachers in remote 
areas.  Both the DWNP and the rest of the Government have long condemned 
such practices.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, although 
overcrowding is a problem.  The Government permits visits by human 
rights monitors, and women in custody are placed in the charge of female 

The Government neither forcibly repatriates nor deports failed asylum 
seekers, but it has incarcerated them alongside convicted felons.  By 
mid-year all previously incarcerated asylum seekers had been permitted 
to move to Dukwe Refugee Camp, and only a few new arrivals suspected to 
be economic migrants were being incarcerated.  In September the 
Government announced plans to build a dedicated facility for refused 
asylum seekers.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the Constitution "every person in Botswana" is entitled to due 
process, the presumption of innocence, and freedom from arbitrary 
arrest.  The authorities respected these guarantees in practice.  Upon 
arrest, suspects must be informed of their legal rights, including the 
right to remain silent, to be allowed to contact a person of their 
choice, and generally to be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours.  
A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of 
detention, which may be renewed every 14 days.  Most citizens charged 
with noncapital offenses are released on their own recognizance; some 
are released with minimal bail.  Detention without bail is highly 
unusual, except in murder cases, where it is mandated.  Detainees have 
the right to hire attorneys of their choice.

Poor police training and poor communications in rural villages make it 
difficult for detainees to obtain legal assistance, however, and 
authorities do not always follow judicial safeguards.  The Government 
does not provide counsel for the indigent, except in capital cases, and 
there is no public defender service.  Two nongovernmental organizations 
(NGO's)--the University of Botswana Legal Assistance Center and the 
Botswana Center for Human Rights--provide pro bono legal services, but 
their capacity is limited.  Constitutional protections are not applied 
to illegal immigrants, although the constitutionality of denying them 
due process has not been tested in court.

Following student demonstrations in February (see Section 1.c.), police 
arrested several hundred persons.  All detainees were subsequently 
released and charges were dropped.  

The Government does not use exile for political purposes.  

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government respects this provision in practice.  

The judiciary consists of both a civil court (including magistrates 
courts, a High Court, and a Court of Appeal) and a customary 
(traditional) court system.  The law provides for the right to a fair 
trial.  The civil courts remained unable to provide for timely, fair 
trials in many cases, however, due to severe staffing shortages and an 
accumulated backlog of pending cases.  The courts are making a major 
effort to clear this backlog, especially in murder cases.

Most trials in the regular courts are public, although trials under the 
National Security Act (NSA) may be held in secret.  As a rule, courts 
appoint public defenders only for those charged with capital crimes 
(murder and treason).  Those charged with noncapital crimes are often 
tried without legal representation if they cannot afford an attorney.  
As a result, many defendants may not be informed of their rights in 
pretrial or trial proceedings.

Implementation of the 1994 Anticorruption Act assuaged earlier concerns 
that it would weaken the defendant's constitutional presumption of 

Most citizens encounter the legal system through the customary courts, 
under the authority of a traditional leader.  These courts handle minor 
offenses involving land, marital, and property disputes.  In customary 
courts, the defendant does not have legal counsel and there are no 
precise rules of evidence.  Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal 
leader or elected by the community, determine sentences, which may be 
appealed through the civil court system.  The quality of decisions 
reached in the traditional courts varies considerably.  In communities 
where chiefs and their decisions are respected, plaintiffs tend to take 
their cases to the customary court; otherwise, people seek justice from 
the civil courts.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Constitution provides for the protection of privacy and the security 
of the person, and government authorities generally respect these 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression, both individual and 
corporate, and the Government respects this right in practice.  Botswana 
has a long tradition of vigorous, candid, and unimpeded public 

The independent press is small, but lively and frequently critical of 
the Government and the President.  It reports without fear of closure, 
censorship, or intimidation.  The Government also subsidizes a free 
daily newspaper which depends heavily on the official Botswana Press 
Agency (BOPA) for its material.  The broadcast media remain a government 
monopoly, with radio the most important medium of information in this 
highly dispersed society.  Radio Botswana follows government policies 
and draws most of its stories from BOPA.  Opposition leaders have access 
to the radio, but they complain--with some justification--that their air 
time is significantly limited.  There are no privately owned radio or 
television stations, but there is a semilegal television station 
broadcasting to viewers in the capital city.  Independent radio and 
television from neighboring South Africa are easily received.

On occasion the Government has taken steps, under loosely defined 
provisions of the NSA, to limit publication of national security 
information.  However, the courts dismissed in March the only recent 
case, filed in 1993, against two journalists.  

Academic freedom is not restricted.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no barriers to domestic and international travel or migration.  
Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.  

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees 
and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  There were 
no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee 
status.  While asylum seekers entering Botswana are still occasionally 
placed in prisons with convicted felons on arrival, the Government has 
made substantial progress in providing a more secure environment for 
those whose applications for permanent asylum have been rejected.  In 
August it released a number of failed asylum seekers from prison and 
permitted them to reside at Dukwe Refugee Camp, and in September 
announced plans to build a separate facility for asylum seekers.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice 
through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of 
universal adult (21 years) suffrage.  The Botswana Democratic Party 
continued to dominate Parliament following the October 1994 elections, 
ensuring the reelection of BDP leader Sir Ketumile Masire as President.  
The opposition Botswana National Front, the only opposition party to win 
seats, increased its representation from 3 to 13 seats.  

The House of Chiefs, an advisory upper chamber of Parliament with 
limited powers, is constitutionally restricted to the eight "principal 
tribes" of the Tswana nation.  Consequently, other groups (e.g., the 
Basarwa "bushmen," Herero, Kalanga, Humbukush, Baloi, or Lozi) are not 
represented there.  Given the limited authority of the House of Chiefs, 
the impact of excluding other groups of Botswana citizens is largely 
symbolic, but it is viewed as important in principle by some non-
Setswana speakers.  Members of the National Assembly are required to be 
able to speak English.  This restriction has never been challenged in 

In practice, women are underrepresented in the political process.  
Although women constitute just over 50 percent of the population, there 
are only 4 women among the 44 members of the National Assembly, and only 
2 women in the Cabinet.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operate without 
government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on 
human rights cases.  Government officials are generally cooperative and 
responsive to such inquiries.  

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and Penal Code forbid discrimination on the basis of 
ethnicity, nationality, or creed, but do not address 

discrimination based on sex.  These provisions are implemented in 
practice by the government authorities.  


Violence against women, primarily beatings, remains a serious problem.  
Under customary law and in common rural practice men have the right to 
"chastise" their wives.  Statistics are believed to underreport the 
levels of abuse against women.  Police are rarely called to intervene in 
cases of domestic violence, and there were no court cases related to 
domestic violence in 1995.  Spousal abuse is beginning to receive 
increased attention both from the media and from local human rights 

Women in Botswana do not have the same civil rights as men.  However, 
one important step was the resolution of the "Unity Dow" case through 
the ratification of the Citizenship Amendment Act in August.  This Act 
brought an end to discrimination against women in transmitting 
citizenship to children.

A number of other laws, many of which are attributed to traditional 
practices, restrict civil and economic opportunities for women.  A woman 
married in "common property" is held to be a legal minor, requiring her 
husband's consent to buy or sell property, apply for credit, and enter 
into legally binding contracts.  Women have, and are increasingly 
exercising, the right to marriage "out of common property," in which 
case they retain their full legal rights as adults.  Polygyny is still 
legal under traditional law and with the consent of the first wife, but 
it is rarely practiced.  The Government announced its intention to 
review all potentially discriminatory legislation, although the precise 
modalities of this review had not been finalized at year's end.

Well trained urban women enjoy growing entry level access to the white 
collar job market, but the number of opportunities decreases sharply as 
they rise in seniority.  Discrimination against women is most acute in 
rural areas where women work primarily in subsistence agriculture.

A number of women's organizations have emerged to promote the status of 
women.  The Government has entered into a dialog with many of these 
groups.  While some women's rights groups reportedly felt that the 
Government has been slow to respond concretely to their concerns, 
women's NGO's say that they are encouraged by the direction of change, 
and by the increasingly collaborative relationship with government 
authorities.  Within the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs, the 
coordinator of the small Women's Affairs Unit is charged with handling 
women's issues.


The Government provides 7 years of education for children.  The rights 
of children are addressed in the Constitution and the 1981 Children's 
Act.  Under the Act, Botswana has a court system and social service 
apparatus designed solely for juveniles.  There is no pattern of 
societal abuse against children.  Botswana ratified the Convention on 
the Rights of the Child in March.

  People with Disabilities

The Government does not discriminate on the basis of physical or mental 
disability, although employment opportunities for the disabled remain 
limited.  The Government does not require accessibility to public 
buildings and public conveyances for people with disabilities, and the 
NGO community has only recently begun to address the needs of the 

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Tswana majority, of which the Constitution recognizes eight 
principal tribes, has a tradition of peacefully coexisting with "minor" 
tribes.  Each of the eight principal tribes is represented in the 
advisory House of Chiefs, while the other groups are permitted only a 
subchief, who is not a member of the House.  Other than the lack of 
schooling in their own language and representation in the House of 
Chiefs, Botswana's Bantu minorities and nonindigenous minorities, such 
as the white and Asian communities, are not subject to discrimination.  
However, the nomadic Basarwa remain marginalized and have lost access to 
their traditional land.  The Basarwa are vulnerable to exploitation, and 
their isolation, ignorance of civil rights, and lack of representation 
in local or national government have stymied their progress.  

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and in practice, 
all workers, with the exception of government employees, are free to 
join or organize unions of their own choosing.  Government workers may 
form associations that function as quasi-unions but without the right to 
negotiate wages.  The industrial or wage economy is small, and unions 
are concentrated largely in the mineral and to a lesser extent in the 
railway and banking sectors.  There is only one major confederation, the 
Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), but there are no obstacles 
to the formation of other labor federations.

Unions are independent of the Government and are not closely allied with 
any political party or movement.  Unions may employ administrative 
staff, but the law requires elected union officials to work full time in 
the industry the union represents.  This severely limits union leaders' 
professionalism and effectiveness and has been criticized by the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In addition, the law severely restricts the right to strike.  Legal 
strikes are theoretically possible after an exhaustive arbitration 
process, but in practice none of the country's strikes to date has been 

Unions may join international organizations, and the BFTU is affiliated 
with the ICFTU.  The Minister of Labor must approve any affiliation with 
an outside labor movement, but unions may appeal to the courts if an 
application for affiliation is refused.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for collective bargaining for unions that have 
enrolled 25 percent of a labor force.  In reality, only the mineworker 
unions have the organizational strength to engage in collective 
bargaining, and collective bargaining is virtually nonexistent in most 
other sectors.

Workers may not be fired for union related activities.  Dismissals may 
be appealed to labor officers or civil courts, but labor offices rarely 
do more than order 2-months' severance pay.

Botswana has only one export processing zone--in the town of Selebi-
Phikwe--which is subject to the same labor laws as the rest of the 

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically forbids forced or compulsory labor, and it 
is not praticed.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Although education is not compulsory, the Government provides 7 years of 
free education to every child, and most children in Botswana take 
advantage of this opportunity.  Only an immediate family member may 
employ a child 13-years-old or younger, and no juvenile under 15 years 
may be employed in any industry.  Only persons over 16 years may be 
hired to perform night work, and no person under 16 years is allowed to 
assume hazardous labor, including in mining.  District and municipal 
councils have child welfare divisions which are responsible for 
enforcing child labor laws.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage for full time labor is $100 (270 pula), which 
is just under 50 percent of what the Government calculates is necessary 
to meet the basic needs of a family of five.  The Ministry of Labor is 
responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, and each of the country's 
districts has at least one labor inspector.  The Ministry of Labor began 
developing a small number of potential cases to take to the Industrial 
Court, but none had been brought before the Court by year's end.

Formal sector jobs almost always pay well above minimum wage levels.  
Informal sector employment, particularly in the agricultural and 
domestic service sectors where housing and food are included, frequently 
pay below the minimum wage.  The Ministry of Labor recommends a monthly 
minimum wage of $92.60 (250 pula) for domestics, but this is not 
mandatory.  Illegal immigrants, primarily Zambians and Zimbabweans, are 
easily exploited as they would be subject to deportation if they filed 
grievances against employers.  

Botswana law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime 
which is payable at time and a half for each additional hour.  Most 
modern private and public sector jobs are on the 40-hour workweek.

Workers who complain about hazardous conditions cannot be fired.  The 
Government's institutional ability to enforce its workplace safety 
legislation remains limited, however, by inadequate staffing and unclear 
jurisdictions between different ministries.  Nevertheless, worker safety 
is generally provided for by employers, with the occasionally notable 
exception of the construction industry.


[end of document]


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