The US State Department’s latest Human Rights report has criticized the Botswana government for its ‘continued narrow interpretation’ of the 2006 High Court ruling that granted the Bushmen the right to return to their ancestral lands.
The report states that although the ruling recognized the Bushmen’s constitutional right to live on their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the majority are ‘being prohibited from returning to or hunting’ in the reserve. It found that many Bushmen have not returned to their land because ‘lack of water made [the reserve] an extremely inhospitable environment’.
Since the ruling, the government has banned the Bushmen from accessing a water borehole which they used before they were illegally evicted from the reserve. Without it, they struggle to find enough water to survive on their lands. At the same time as denying the Bushmen water, the government has drilled new boreholes for wildlife and allowed Wilderness Safaris to open a tourist lodge with swimming pool in the reserve.
The report comes just weeks after the UN’s top official on indigenous rights, Professor James Anaya, condemned the government for its treatment of the Bushmen, arguing that the ‘denial of services to those currently living in the reserve does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit and underlying logic of the [2006 High Court] decision, nor with the relevant international human rights standards’.
Following his visit to the country last year, Anaya found that those Bushmen who have returned to the reserve, ‘face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water’, and called on the government to reactivate the borehole ‘as a matter of urgent priority’.
The EU is a large donor to Botswana and the issue has also been raised recently in the European parliament by Irish MEPs Brian Crowley and Proinsias De Rossa.
The Bushmen have launched legal proceedings against the government in order to access the borehole; the hearing for the case is due to take place on June 9th.
Survival’s director, Stephen Corry said today, ‘This is the second major embarrassment to the Botswana government in the last two months. How can it claim to be a ‘shining light’ of democracy when it is continuing to persecute the Bushmen?’