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Botswana's government is pushing a bill through Parliament to scrap the key clause in the Constitution that protects Bushman rights. The move comes half way through the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari's landmark legal action against the government, in which the same clause forms a major plank of their case.
The current trial marks the first time in Botswana's history that the clause has actually been tested in court, but now it is highly likely that it will be removed from the Constitution. The amendment removing the protection passed its second reading in Parliament this week. If voted through on a third reading, it could become law within a few months.
The clause, s14(3)©, says that the general public can have their right to free movement restricted within 'defined areas' if this is necessary for the protection or well-being of Bushmen. This should mean that the Gana and Gwi Bushmen's ancestral land within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is protected.
The Bushmen's organisation First People of the Kalahari said in a statement on Friday, "how can the government even think of changing this section half way through our court case? This section was included in the Constitution to give us protection. Now we are trying to rely on the section for the first time in history. Can it be a coincidence that a few months later, the government has decided to remove it?"
Survival International's Director, Stephen Corry, said today, "The government claims the Constitution must be changed to render it 'tribally neutral'. In fact, removing this section takes away the only constitutional protection given to an already vulnerable people, just when they need it most. It is outrageous that the Government should act before the Court has handed down its judgement. The court's guidance as to the purpose and effect of section 14(3)© would have helped the Parliament decide whether it was sensible to scrap it. This confirms that the government is happy to bend the law and even the Constitution just to get its own way."
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