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article imageKalahari San People launch appeal in bid to regain water rights

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 2, 2010 in World
The decision of a Botswana Judge to deny the San People their water rights shocked the world in July. The San had applied to regain access to a water bore they had used in the past, going to court when the government refused access.
The San People launched their legal appeal Wednesday, said Survival International. The decision of Justice Walla, handed down in July, denying the San access to the borehole they had used in the past has been condemned around the world, particularly by the African Union, who said the decision is a violation of the African Charter, which states access to water is a human right.
The Government of Botswana had resisted returning the San People their water rights for a particular well in the Kalahari Desert, located within San lands. The decision has earned the government criticism, paticularly because the government has given water rights in the Kalahari desert to both a diamond mine and a luxury safari lodge that boasts a swimming pool. According to Survival International, when delivered his ruling, Justice Walla justified his decision by saying "having chosen to settle at an uncomfortably distant location, [the Bushmen] have brought upon themselves any discomfort they may endure."
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) has not said if it will bring any sanctions to bear against Botswana should the country fail to restore the San's legal access to water. The organization, however, reminded Botswana it had signed the African Charter, saying "The right and access to water are essential to the full enjoyment of the right to life and all the rights contained in the African Charter. A denial of such right is a denial of the basic right and the denial of the right to life as enshrined in the article 4 of the African Charter.
The African Commission therefore urges the Government of Botswana to embrace the spirit of the 13 December 2006 ruling of the High Court which concluded that the evictions of the Bushmen were illegal and unconstitutional, by allowing Bushmen to access their own water using the pre-existing borehole at Mothomelo, within the reserve. Refusal to allow the Bushmen to use their existing borehole at Mothomelo can only be interpreted as a clear sign that the Government of Botswana is determined to continue what is perceived as a policy of keeping the Bushmen from returning home."
Survival International and the San People have received the support of the former Water Adviser to the United Nations, Canadian Maude Barlow. The organization said Barlow commented on the situation the San People must fight, saying "Last week, the UN General Assembly declared that everyone, everywhere, has the right to water. But now the world witnesses one of Africa’s most prosperous countries denying its first inhabitants the right to sink a well, while promoting mining and safari camps just a few miles away. It’s hard to imagine a more cruel and inhuman way to treat people. One can only conclude Botswana’s authorities view Bushmen as less important than wildlife. Many people around the world will be horrified at what they’re seeing."
A United Nations vote in July saw access to clean water and sanitation become fundamental human rights.
San spokesman, Jumanda Gakelebone commented on the fight to gain access to water, saying "Like all human beings, we can’t live without water. We, the Bushmen, are appealing for our basic human right, and the world is watching."
In related news, Botswana's Sunday Standard published an article Thursday reporting on a World Bank investigation into Botswana's handling of funds meant to go to its most vulnerable citizens. The World Bank has found Botswana may have mishandled and even diverted funds earmarked for its poorest citizens.
Botswana's San population, numbering around 1,000, are among the poorest citizens of the country.
It is not yet known when the appeal will be heard.
Readers can link here to an earlier article about the court decision to deny access to water.
More about Kalahari san people, Bushmen, Water rights, Botswana
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