Friday, February 26, 2010

Botswana: Government must step up efforts to tackle the challenges faced by many indigenous communities

UN - Botswana’s Government must step up efforts to tackle the challenges faced by many indigenous communities, such as land rights, according to a new report by a United Nations independent expert.

“The current problems faced by indigenous peoples in the country are associated with three underlying, interrelated issues: respect for cultural diversity/identity, political participation and consultation, and redress for historical wrongs,” S. James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, said.

Mr. Anaya, who visited the country last March, noted that the Government has undertaken many initiatives to address the conditions of disadvantaged and marginalized peoples, as well as preserving and celebrating the diverse cultures of Botswana’s indigenous tribes.

However, he stressed in his advance report that there are shortcomings in these schemes in tackling the key issues affecting many indigenous communities.

The expert pinned the blame on colonization and policies established post-independence that continue to prioritize the interests of the dominant Tswana tribes for the disadvantaged and often marginalized position that many indigenous groups are in.

He called on the Government to “strengthen and adopt new affirmative measures, consistent with universal human rights standards, to protect the rights of non-dominant indigenous groups to retain and develop the various attributes of their distinctive cultural identities, particularly those related to land rights approaches to development, and political and decision-making structures.”

The dispossession of traditional lands, a kind of historical injustice, has lead to marginalization and a range of social ills, Mr. Anaya stressed. “Certain indigenous groups continue to suffer from a lack of secure land tenure, including access to and use of their ancestral lands and resources, in part due to the non-recognition of these groups’ customary land use practices.”

A mechanism, in consultation with affected indigenous groups, to examine and provide redress for cases of land dispossession, is necessary, he emphasized.

Mr. Anaya, an unpaid expert who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, will present a final version of his report in September.

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