State of emergency legislation introduced in response to Covid-19 was extended twice, restricting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Women and girls suffered increasing rates of gender-based violence. Asylum rights were restricted. Licences for oil exploration threatened the environment and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. Death by hanging was maintained for crimes including murder.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
In April, the president extended the state of public emergency for the second time since its introduction in April 2020. Regulations under the Emergency Powers Act (EPA), also introduced in 2020, continued to prohibit the right to strike, and carried a maximum five-year prison sentence or a BWP100,553 (about US$9,250) fine for anyone publishing information with “the intention to deceive” the public about Covid-19.
In February the state amended the charge sheet of opposition spokesperson Justice Motlhabane and journalists Letsogile Barupi and Oratile Dikologang, who were arrested, detained and charged in April 2020 for allegedly publishing false information about Covid-19 on Facebook. They faced two counts of publishing “with the intention to deceive” under the EPA regulations, one count of “publication of alarming statements” under the penal code, and one count of “offensive electronic communication” under the cybercrime act.
In September, Reverend Thuso Tiego was arrested under the Public Order Act after holding a demonstration calling for the president’s resignation. Several others were arrested when they demanded his release.
In April, the Botswana GBV Prevention and Support Centre (a local NGO) reported an increase in violence against women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
The right to asylum continued to be severely limited. Botswana hosted fewer refugees and asylum seekers than most countries in Africa (674 refugees and 58 asylum seekers as of September). In April, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, raised concerns after the authorities deported 57 Zimbabwean refugees who had lived in Botswana since 2008. The refugees failed to register for voluntary repatriation, which led to their forced removal in March.
LGBTI people’s rights
In November, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court judgment that declared a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual relations unconstitutional.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Right to health
There was a third wave of Covid-19 infections during July and August. At its peak, Botswana had a higher percentage rate of infection than any other country in Africa, with 668 positive cases per 100,000 people (in a population of 2.3 million).
In August, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee registered its concern about oil exploration licences being granted in environmentally sensitive areas in the Okavango River basin to Canadian-based mining company ReconAfrica. The Committee urged the government to ensure that any further steps to develop the oil project be “subject to rigorous and critical prior review, including a thorough environmental impact assessment that corresponds to international standards”. There were concerns that such projects would have an adverse effect on Indigenous peoples living in the area.
Botswana was among a minority of Southern African countries to impose the death penalty.