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Botswana bars Bushmen’s lawyer as landmark case starts

Justice and human rights under significant stress as Bushmen lose their right to choose their own counsel.

The effective banning of Gordon Bennett from Botswana is an insult to that country's legal and democratic tradition. It also suggests that the fears surrounding the purported lack of respect for human rights and obsession with security of Ian Khama, President of Botswana and board member of Conservation International, may be bearing a bitter fruit.


In an unprecedented move branded ‘vindictive and repressive’, Botswana’s government has prevented British attorney Gordon Bennett from entering Botswana, where he was due to represent Kalahari Bushmen at an important High Court hearing about the tribe’s access to their ancestral land.

Mr Bennett was put on a ‘visa list’ after he represented Bushmen clients at a successful hearing in June 2013. It was the third time Mr Bennett had won a victory for Bushmen clients: in the first, in 2006, the Bushmen won the right to return to their ancestral land; in the second, in 2011, they won the right to drill their own water boreholes after the government attempted to stop them doing so.

British citizens do not normally need a visa to enter Botswana, but six days after the Ranyane victory Mr Bennett was put on a ‘visa list’. No-one on this list appears ever to have actually been granted a visa. Mr Bennett applied for a visa, but has faced a series of delaying tactics by the authorities in Gaborone, apparently in an attempt to ensure that they do not have to consider his application until after the case has been heard. By then the application will have become academic.

Mr Bennett said today, ‘The right to a fair trial normally includes the right to be represented by counsel of your choice. Not in Botswana, apparently – or at least not if you sue the Government. Most of us would struggle to understand why one party to a legal action should ever be allowed to deprive the other of the counsel he has chosen, but the Government sees no problem. It does not even think it necessary to explain itself. Not a good day for the rule of law in Botswana.’

The Bushmen are returning to court for the third time on Monday, July 29 2013, over the Botswana government’s refusal to allow all Bushmen evicted in 2002 free access to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

Most Bushmen are currently required to apply for permits to enter the CKGR – in blatant violation of a 2006 High Court order – and are facing ceaseless harassment and intimidation by the government.

Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone told Survival, ‘It has never been our will to go to court, but the repression, evictions, harassment, and torture carried out by the Botswana government have forced us to talk to them in court.’

In a landmark ruling in 2006, at which Mr Bennett was the lead counsel, Botswana’s High Court confirmed the Bushmen’s right to enter the CKGR without a permit. The historic case was the first to establish the principle of native land title in Africa.

But the government now claims that only the 189 people formally listed as applicants in that case, and their children up to the age of 16, are allowed free passage into the reserve – and that everyone else must apply for a one-month access permit. However, at the start of the case in 2002 the government had acknowledged that the ruling would apply to around 700 Bushmen, including children.

The Bushmen live in constant fear of overstaying their permits, amidst a spate of arrests and violence towards the tribe by paramilitary police and wildlife scouts.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, ‘This is yet another calculated move by President Khama to thwart the Bushmen’s access to justice. It’s ironic that Botswana is still thought to be ‘transparent’ and ‘democratic’ when its government has spent years trying to destroy its original peoples. Now, after their successes in court, Bushmen are not even allowed their lawyer. This is a vindictive and repressive step.’

Ref: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/9397

Gordon Bennett is an adviser to Just Conservation.


Bennet won't get visa anytime soon - Govt

From Mmegionlinehttp://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?sid=1&aid=49&dir=2013/July/Friday26

If Basarwa were hoping for some reprieve from the current ban of their legal representative advocate Gordon Bennet before Monday when they enter court they are in for a surprise.

This is the message government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay gave last night when quizzed about the refusal by government to grant Bennet a visa on Wednesday. "We are a sovereign country and we can do what we want but he will not get his visa this week," he said.Ramsay said that Bennett demanded a visa at short notice. He also said that a decision surrounding Bennett being granted a visa was to be finalised today and he could not confirm whether he would get it or not. 

"Bennett approached the High Commissioner in London and demanded to be given a visa within 48 hours. Why should he work in our country and make such demands?" Ramsay asked.Ramsay said that Bennett has to undergo processes to attain his visa and also castigated him for issuing statements through Survival International and Africa.com. When questioned about whether the government was denying Basarwa their legal right and freedom by barring their lawyer from entering the country with only two days left for trial, Ramsay said there were other legal channels they could follow under such circumstances. "I am not going to confirm whether the government is okay with him representing Basarwa but there are channels to be followed when one wants to work in Botswana. "He was allowed in the first place and now he is going around issuing statements on Survival International and Africa.com about the visa matter," Ramsay said. Basarwa are returning to court for the third time on July 29, 2013, over the government's refusal to allow all Basarwa evicted in 2002 free access to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

Recently, Bennett was put on a 'visa list' after he represented Basarwa clients at a hearing in June 2013 that was successful in preventing the eviction of the Basarwa community of Ranyane. British citizens do not normally need a visa to enter Botswana, but six days after the Ranyane victory, Bennett was put on the 'visa list'. Bennett applied for a visa, but has faced a series of delaying tactics by the authorities in Gaborone, apparently in an attempt to ensure that they do not have to consider his application until after the case has been heard. By then the application will have become academic."The right to a fair trial normally includes the right to be represented by counsel of your choice. Not in Botswana, apparently - or at least not if you sue the government.

Most of us would struggle to understand why one party to a legal action should ever be allowed to deprive the other of the counsel he has chosen, but the government sees no problem. It does not even think it necessary to explain itself. Not a good day for the rule of law in Botswana," said Bennet in a statement published by Survival International (SI). "This is yet another calculated move by President [Ian] Khama to thwart the Bushmen's access to justice. It's ironic that Botswana is still thought to be 'transparent' and 'democratic' when its government has spent years trying to destroy its original peoples. Now, after their successes in court, Bushmen are not even allowed their lawyer. This is a vindictive and repressive step," said SI director Stephen Corry.

Most Bushmen are currently required to apply for permits to enter the CKGR - in blatant violation of a 2006 High Court order - and are facing ceaseless harassment and intimidation by the government.Basarwa activist Jumanda Gakelebone said: "It has never been our will to go to court, but the repression, evictions, harassment, and torture carried out by the Botswana government have forced us to talk to them in court."The government now claims that only the 189 people formally listed as applicants in that case, and their children up to the age of 16, are allowed free passage into the reserve - and that everyone else must apply for a one-month access permit. However, at the start of the case in 2002 the government had acknowledged that the ruling would apply to around 700 Basarwa, including children.

OARABILE MOSIKARE STAFF WRITER
LAWRENCE SERETSE CORRESPONDENT

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