Human Rights Groups Call For an End to Botswana Anti-Sex Work Campaign

Following reports that the Botswana Government is planning to target, arrest and possibly deport sex workers in the country, several human rights organisations have come out to strongly condemn this move.

The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, in a statement, strongly denounced this campaign and called for an end of the campaign.

‘The Botswana government's “Draft Strategies to Address Key Populations” has been reported by local and international media to include a recommendation to detain sex workers and deport “foreign sex workers”. This has materialised with the arrest of at least 30 women suspected of being sex workers earlier this month, some of whom the Botswana Police Services has allegedly confirmed are now under the custody of Botswana's Department of Immigration for possible deportation,’ the statement read.

Botswana police have been arresting – and in some instances, planning to deport – sex workers from the southern Africa nation, NSWP reported earlier this month. ‘In an exercise conducted by police early November, over 30 sex workers were arrested in what has been termed as ‘a campaign to curb the influx of sex workers and gays’ in Botswana.’

Terming the campaign as a direct violation of human rights, the statement said ‘Detaining women presumed to be sex workers violates the right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Article 6).’

It also condemned the forced expulsion of foreigners as it violated international law. ‘State actors are not permitted to deprive anyone of her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.’ It further read: ‘A crackdown on sex workers and other marginalized communities also promotes a climate of fear and repression that wrests control from sex workers over their working conditions, discourages sex workers from carrying condoms and accessing sexual and reproductive health services, undermining any effort to address HIV.’

The Government’s plans has also faced strong opposition from human rights group Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA). In a statement, BONELA said “We accordingly collaborated with nested organisations and mobilised our members in the sex work and men who have sex with other men community to take part in the survey in the belief that the government will use the findings to create an inclusive and accommodative environment.”

“The Botswana government has now done what is totally unexpected and deviated from the study findings by taking punitive, discriminatory, homophobic and xenophobic measures,” said BONELA.

The joint statement by ARASA and Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network echoed the UNAIDS and the Global Commission on HIV and Law that states ‘laws that penalize or criminalize sex work contribute to working conditions that increase sex workers'vulnerability to HIV.’

“There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work stop demand for sex or reduce the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalization for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations to avoid arrest of themselves or their clients.”