Botswana (University of Botswana) Promote Inclusive Justice

Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, has thanked the US government for a close to P13 million (US$117 000) grant which was given to the University of Botswana through the Department of Law under the Global Equity Fund.

The grant is part of a project named Promoting Inclusive Justice in Botswana whose aim is to strengthen the training and understanding of judges and law students in LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) persons’ rights. Such will be achieved through developing a module on the rights of LGBTI persons for the Human Rights Course in the Department of Law, ensuring the inclusion of the Module in the Human Rights Curriculum and training the next generation of lawyers in LGBTI rights as well as establishing an LGBTI rights clinic within the UB Legal Clinic. In addition, there should be a Moot Court competition on LGBTI rights.

The project follows a partnership the Law Department entered into with the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) and its Botswana Chapter in November 2020. Since the commencement of the project 18 months ago, the department has conducted three human rights seminars during which students were trained on the Yogyakarta principles, a set of human rights imperatives for LGBTI people. Landmark cases on LGBTI rights have also been discussed in addition to conducting two moot court sessions. The third session is scheduled for April 2024.

Further, the department has received 11 clients at its Legal Clinic with various matters. Consequently, Professor Norris said a free legal service which has assisted thousands of Batswana to navigate their legal challenges, the clinic served as an important arm of legal training in Botswana.

“We are training these young lawyers to go out and defend the individual rights of others,” observed the Vice Chancellor, adding “I am encouraged to see that this grant has also impacted positively on our Legal Clinic through the provision of equipment and supplies and through making it possible to assist members of the LGBTI community to resolve their legal challenges”.

Professor Norris was speaking at a Round Table on Promoting Inclusive Justice at the University of Botswana Department of Law organised at the UB Campus Indoor Sports Centre on March 24, 2022. The Round Table was also attended by the US Ambassador to Botswana, Mr Craig Cloud who was invited to come and appreciate the various activities and experiences students had been engaged in.

Professor Noris said he was happy to see the Law Department seeking out opportunities for meaningful partnership that enabled students to extend their legal education and engage in legal problem-solving. The Vice-Chancellor added that he was also excited to learn that the IAWJ was keen to work with the University of Botswana on this groundbreaking project through its local chapter.

“We value these partnerships. I trust that this engagement will continue to bear fruit,” noted Professor Norris underlining that the Promoting Inclusive Justice in Botswana project came at the most opportune time given that the rights of sexual minorities were currently some of the most challenging issues facing Batswana.

As such, he said this was the most ideal time to inform UB law students about such developments and train the next generation of lawyers that viewed human rights as indivisible and inalienable.

Industrial Court judge and IAWJ Botswana Chapter representative, Justice Annah Petje, said the aim of promoting inclusivity was to foster the capacity of the justice sector to protect the rights of the LGBTI community and prepare future generations in the legal profession to view LGBT rights within the human rights framework.

Justice Patje stated that even after Botswana courts pronounced the rights of the LGBTI, they still faced constant discrimination hence the justice sector’s response to such issues was critical in making social inclusion a reality for the LGBTI persons in Botswana. She also highlighted the need to raise awareness in the community to bring it on board on such issues. Justice Patje revealed that they had come up with a training manual for judges with input from a variety of stakeholders to address critical issues facing LGBTI individuals in Botswana.

Head of the Department of Law, Dr Elizabeth Macharia-Mokobi, said the department was conducting human rights seminars for students through which learnt about the recent cases and legal developments on LGBTI issues. She said so far they had successfully trained two cohorts of 100 students each and the aim was to have trained 300 students on LGBTI rights when the grant period ends.

Sharing their experiences, Ms Keatleretse Sebeso, a fourth-year law student, underscored the importance of laws that fostered equality, universality and non-discrimination for all while Ms Basetsana Salani, a fifth-year law student, said research showed no support for the LGBTI given that homosexuality was criminalized in Botswana. As such, there was still a long way to go, she added. Sharing his experience at the LGBTI Clinic, Mr Ame Pelekekae, highlighted how difficult it was for individuals to change their gender marker. Not only was it expensive in private health facilities but Mr Pelekekae lamented that it was also a hurdle in the public sector as a result of complex administrative procedures.

US Ambassador to Botswana, Mr Craig Cloud, said his attitudes towards the rights of the LGBTI community changed gradually with time, noting that was how things generally evolved in life. He said the new generation bore a huge responsibility of liberating minorities. He expressed optimism and delight at the way both the students and UB Legal Clinic in pursued human rights issues.