March 31, 2005

Discriminatory tribal policies must be amended, states UN committee

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has maintained pressure on the government of Botswana regarding what it considers to be the discriminatory effects of tribal legislation and elements of Botswana's Constitution on minority tribal groups. In a letter to the government, the Chair of CERD, Mario Yutzis, stressed Botswana’s clear obligations under the terms of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the fact that it prohibits both direct and indirect forms of discrimination. The CERD communication comes as fears grow amongst minority groups in Botswana that the government will defy the request. The Committee has responded to claims from national NGOs and Minority Rights Group International (MRG) that sections of the Tribal Territories Act, the Chieftainship Act and Sections 77 to 79 of the Constitution have discriminatory effect. These Acts recognize only the Tswana-speaking tribes while non-Tswana speaking groups including the Wayeyi and Basarwa/San peoples suffer from cultural, social, economic and political exclusion, do not enjoy group rights to land, and do not participate in the House of Chiefs.
Despite universal objection by non-Tswana speaking groups, RETENG (the Multicultural Coalition of Botswana) are extremely concerned that the Bill relating to the Chieftainship Act will be passed without amendment, in defiance of the CERD communication, when it is debated in the Botswana's Parliament next week. National NGOs, MRG and CERD have previously welcomed the government of Botswana’s apparent willingness to enter into constructive dialogue with the UN Committee and its evident serious consideration of the Committee’s concerns, demonstrated through its recent communications.
The UN Committee’s communication, which forms part of its mandate to follow up issues of concern directly with states parties, notes that the High Court of Botswana declared the Chieftainship Act discriminatory in a decision adopted in November 2001, and ordered that its section 2 be amended to give equal protection and treatment to all tribes under that Act. The letter additionally draws the attention of the State party to CERD's General Recommendation XXIV, according to which criteria for recognition of groups should be consistently applied. (Minority Rights Group international, London)

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