Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have called for protection of human rights during the six (6) months State of Public Emergency. The organisations said they note with deep concern, early reports of abuses of power soon after the parliamentary resolution of 9 April 2020 and the alleged violations of human rights. They warned that the State of Emergency should not be used by government to achieve political goals not linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CSOs that raised the concerns are Botswana Centre for Public Integrity (BCPI), Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre (BGBVC), Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLAMA), Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDs (BONELA), CHILDLINE Botswana, DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Friends of Diversity, Inclusive Directions Botswana, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo), Molao Matters, Molayakgosi, Putting Women First Trust, Save Widows and Orphans Botswana, Skillshare International Botswana, Stepping Stones International, Turning Point, WoMen Against Rape (WAR), and Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA - Botswana).
"We were assured by President Masisi on 8 April 2020, that ‘The State of Emergency is intended to deal only with the COVID-19 crisis and will not in any way undermine people’s fundamental rights’.
“We call upon our political representatives to be fully committed to ensuring the protection of our democratic principles, respect for human rights, non-discrimination, equality and respect for the rule of law, in accordance with Section 18 of the Constitution, which enables an enforcement of protective provisions or fundamental freedoms contained in the Constitution," said the CSOs.
The organisations reminded government that any restrictions to its obligations to protect the human rights of all in public emergencies which threaten the life of the nation, must be “proportionate, limited in time, and in no way discriminatory’’ (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 4, United Nations, 16 December 1966).
"We, however, note with deep concern, early reports of abuses of power soon after the parliamentary resolution of 9 April 2020 and the alleged violations of the human rights of: the spokesperson of the Botswana Patriotic Front, Justice Motlhabane, allegedly assaulted and arbitrarily arrested on 10 April 2020 by the police; Nicholas Kgopotso of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), who was allegedly harassed by 12 police officers for allegedly causing noise during the current COVID-19 lockdown; two persons (Neo Dikgole and Thuso Sebinyane) who were allegedly assaulted by the police (Office of the President, 11 April 2020); and three suspects arrested for "publishing, through electronic communications, offensive statements against government" (Botswana Police Service, 11 April 2020."
It is not clear in which law the offence of ‘offensive statement against government' is contained, said the CSOs adding that, the right to freedom of expression is protected under section 12(1) of the Constitution. It can only be limited under exceptional circumstances provided by law. They called upon the government to ensure that it does not emulate countries such as China, Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, which all targeted journalists, physicians, health workers and human rights defenders for exposing serious concerns about the coronavirus and concerns for vulnerable communities.
"We therefore urge political leaders to work together, in order to earn the trust of all our people; strongly encourage our government to adhere to the essential principles of public trust, transparency, respect and empathy for the most vulnerable. “These are key to us working together as a nation to effectively implement a national strategy to combat COVID-19 and to protect our people; and call upon our government to respect and protect human rights, under all circumstances."