Human Rights in Africa: Review of 2019 - Botswana [AFR 01/1352/2020]


Freedom of expression remained restricted. The government appealed against a groundbreaking High Court ruling decriminalizing consensual same sex relationships. Unemployment remained high at 17.7%, and with a Gini coefficient of 0.52, Botswana’s income inequality is one of the highest in the world.

International scrutiny

In May, the Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Botswana’s second and third periodic reports. While recognizing efforts by the government, among other things the Committee expressed concerns that some groups of children suffered from discriminatory attitudes in accessing basic services, and that there was limited access to health care for children living in remote areas and children without identity documents.

Media freedom

Journalists continued to be at risk of physical abuse, threats and lawsuits.

On 17 July, agents from Directorate of Security Services (DIS) raided the home of Mmegi journalist Tsaone Basimanebotlhe and confiscated computers and her mobile phone. The agents reportedly informed Basimanebotlhe that they were investigating her in connection with the ongoing case involving former spy chief Isaac Kgosi in which it is alleged that Kgosi shared pictures of DIS agents with the Mmegi publication. The Botswana Editors Forum (EFB) and The Freedom of Expression Committee (FEC) condemned the raid as harassment and intimidation.

There remained no law on access to information, despite demands from journalists. The 2008 Media Practitioners Act (MPA) continued to restrict journalists’ work, access to information and media freedom. National organisations such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) have denounced a ‘raft of laws that [the government of Botswana] can tap into to impede free flow of information or use to punish ‘errant’ journalists in the event that information deemed ‘protected’ by these laws was published’[1], including the National Security Act, the Sediment Act, the Protected Areas Act and the Cybercrimes and Computer Related Act 2007.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

On 11 June, the Botswana High Court handed down a groundbreaking judgment decriminalising same-sex relations between consenting adults.[2] The Gaborone High Court found that sections 164(a), 164 (c) and 167 of the Botswana Penal Code, which criminalized ‘Unnatural Offences’ and ‘Indecent practices’, were unconstitutional. The provisions criminalized sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex and created a climate in which people could be discriminated against, harassed or subjected to violence with impunity because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. The court found that these laws were discriminatory, violated the rights to privacy, liberty and dignity, and served no public interest.

In July, the Attorney General, on behalf of the government, filed an appeal on several grounds, including that the High Court had overstepped its boundaries by overruling a 2003 Appeal Court decision that the circumstances and time for decriminalization had not yet arrived.

Death penalty

Botswana did not carry out any death sentences in 2019. However, the country remains retentionist, and it is the only country in the Southern Africa Development Community that has retained the death penalty in law and in practise. In 2018, Botswana executed two people for murder: Joseph Tselayarona in February, and Uyapo Poloko in May.[3]

Despite having accepted recommendations to take active steps to ensure that public consultations on the abolition of the death penalty are held and renew the work to hold a national discussion on the death penalty, under the UN Universal Periodic Review that took place in January 2018, no such debates were organized in 2019.


Refugees and asylum seekers

In July the Court of Appeal declared a group of Namibian refugees at the Dukwi refugee camp “illegal immigrants.” The refugees had fled to Botswana in 1999, after violent clashes with Namibian government forces broke out over the disputed Caprivi Strip. Out of some 3,000 initial refugees, 709 had remained in Botswana. Their leader continued to assert that it was not safe for them to return as they belonged to a party banned by Namibia. Botswana began the repatriation on 17 September, starting with a group of 94 refugees who were transported to Namibia.


[2] Letsweletse Motsidiemang v Attorney General, MAHGB-00591-16 (2019) Also see,

[3] ,