Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy. Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority in the October parliamentary elections, returning President Mokgweetsi Masisi to office for a five-year term and maintaining the party’s control on government that it has held since independence in 1966. The vote was generally considered free and fair by outside observers.
The Botswana Police Service (BPS), which reports to the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security, has primary responsibility for internal security. The Botswana Defense Force, which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. The Directorate for Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), which reports to the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal slander laws, and corruption.
The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was generally not a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press.
Freedom of Expression: The law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 400 pula ($37). The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 500 pula ($47). There were no arrests or convictions under this law during the year.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: In a break from his predecessor, President Masisi initiated a productive relationship with media. He continued to hold press conferences and has repeatedly assured journalists of his respect for their role in a healthy democracy.
The government dominated domestic broadcasting. The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.
Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.
The 2008 Media Practitioner’s law mandates registration of media outlets and journalists with a statutory body and has been criticized by human rights and press freedom NGOs, although it has never been implemented. In April an opposition parliamentarian proposed repealing the law, but the repeal was voted down in parliament on a party-line vote.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations stated the government occasionally censored stories it deemed undesirable in government-run media. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were no arrests for slander during the year. Nevertheless, the law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense. The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense. The government in 2014 arrested an editor and charged him with sedition for publishing articles regarding an alleged automobile accident involving then president Khama. In 2018 the government dropped the charges, but the courts did not rule on the constitutionality of the sedition clause.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although there were some restrictions on the ability of labor unions to organize (see section 7.a.).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. A number of Namibians, whose refugee status was revoked in 2015, sued the government for restoration of their refugee status. In July the Court of Appeal ruled the Namibian refugees should be repatriated back to their country of origin, finding a lower court erred in granting them an order to stay in the country. In September the roughly 800 Namibians were deported back to Namibia following an agreement between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the governments of Namibia and Botswana.
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system for granting refugee status was accessible but slow. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The government held refugees and asylum seekers in the FCII until the Refugee Advisory Committee, a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met quarterly during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in previous years it detained individuals, many of whom had refugee status in a third country and then claimed asylum.
Employment: In February UNHCR reported that most of the country’s 2,334 registered refugees were living in Dukwi Camp without the right to work outside the camp. As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees in Dukwi had access to education and basic health care. They were unable to access government programs for HIV/AIDS medication, but the government allowed an international donor-funded parallel program to provide such medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.
International observers noted there was no access to education in the FCII, which as of August 2018 housed 61 children. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases are referred to the Francistown city hospital.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at Dukwi to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively. Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however. Media reports of government corruption continued during the year. There were numerous reports of government corruption. A poll during the year by Transparency International found that 7 percent of those polled had paid bribes to government officials. This number was growing from the 1 percent who reported paying bribes in a 2015 poll.
Corruption: In January the country’s former chief of DISS was arrested as part of an ongoing investigation of alleged embezzlement at the National Petroleum Fund, according to press reports. In September President Masisi suspended his personal secretary after he was charged with abuse of office, money laundering, and receiving bribes.
Financial Disclosure: In August parliament passed a bill on declaration of assets and liabilities. A 2009 presidential directive requires all cabinet ministers to declare their interests, assets, and liabilities to the president.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
The small number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to domestic NGO views on most subjects. The government interacted with and provided financial support to some domestic organizations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: An ombudsman within the Office of the President handled complaints of maladministration, including some human rights abuses in the public sector, and the government generally cooperated with the ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman had inadequate staff, however. In July 2018 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights encouraged the government to enhance the autonomy and financial independence of the ombudsman.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers–except police, military, and prison personnel–to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Some workers are provided the right to strike. The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference and with protection from antiunion discrimination.
The law limits the right to organize. Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations to communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer. Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.
Trade unions failing to meet formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities. The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination. This means that those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union are not protected from antiunion discrimination. The law imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions. The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.” It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property. Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice was uncommon and the latter has never been employed. Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.
The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled at least one-third of a sector’s workforce. The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions. The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification. The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.
The law prohibits employees providing “essential services” from striking. In August the National Assembly passed legislation limiting the sectors covered by this prohibition in line with a recommendation from the International Labor Organization. The law limits its definition of essential services to aviation, health, electrical, water and sanitation, fire, and air traffic control services.
The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.
Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and the ombudsman generally made decisions without government interference. Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, which, if not resolved within 30 days, may be referred to the Industrial Court.
Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities. Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered payment of more than two months’ severance pay. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities. The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.
The government generally did not respect freedom of association for workers. In addition, the government placed significant barriers to union organizing and operations, and there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and employers generally did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare. When unions followed legal requirements and exhausted arbitration and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers. Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal. The law prohibits sympathy strikes. Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services. The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children. Civil society representatives reported in previous years the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws, particularly in remote areas, mainly due to a lack of staff and funding. Labor inspectors refer cases to the BPS for prosecution. In the past, authorities prosecuted cases involving trafficked individuals and won convictions. There were anecdotal reports of forced child labor in cattle herding and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). Members of the Basarwa community, including children, were sometimes subjected to forced labor conditions on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district. The law prescribed penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law punishes, with compulsory prison labor, any willful breach of a contract of employment by an employee who is acting either alone or in combination with others, if such breach affects the operation of essential services. Sentences of imprisonment involving compulsory prison labor may be imposed on any person who prints, makes, imports, publishes, sells, distributes, or reproduces any publication prohibited by the president “in his absolute discretion” as being “contrary to the public interest.” Similar sentences may be imposed concerning seditious publications and on any person who manages, or is a member of, or in any way takes part in the activity of an unlawful society, particularly of a society declared unlawful as being “dangerous to peace and order.” The provisions are worded in terms broad enough to allow punishment for the expression of views and, insofar as they are enforceable with sanctions involving compulsory labor, they are incompatible with international standards. A prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor.
The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to (their) health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian. Light work is not defined by law. The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school, but only on vacation days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities, such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment. In addition, the law establishes the right of children to be protected from sexual exploitation, including through prostitution and the production of pornography (see section 6).
The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors, but its resources were too limited for effective oversight in remote areas. District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Government officials continued to address public gatherings, cautioning against the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, there were anecdotal reports of child labor, mostly on subsistence-level cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region. Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among parents and their employers.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, tribe, place of origin, including national origin, social origin, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV status, marital status, religion, creed, or social status. The government generally enforced these regulations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector. The minimum wage was higher than the official estimate of the poverty income level for all sectors. Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage. The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, and each of the country’s districts had at least one labor inspector, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to effectively enforce the law.
The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at time-and-a-half times the base hourly rate.
There are limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements. The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions. The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain about hazardous conditions, but no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
The primary forms of compensation for labor in the informal sector were housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas. Wages in the informal sector were frequently below the minimum wage. Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers.
Foreign migrant workers were vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor.