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Politics | Human rights

Controversy over US-Batswana "impunity agreement"

afrol News, 17 July - While the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs has defended its decision to sign an agreement with the US exempting US war criminals from being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Batswana human rights groups today demand a briefing on "the costs and benefits" of the deal.

Two days before US President George Bush Jr's visit to Botswana last Thursday, the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had signed a so-called "impunity agreement" with the US. This requires the government of Botswana to obtain US permission before releasing to the ICC US-affiliated suspects charged with war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

- The citizens of Botswana have the right to know how such an agreement weakens international justice, said Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, in a statement today. The centre today repeated its call for President Festus Mogae to brief parliament about the bilateral treaty between Botswana and the US.

Ditshwanelo said it believed that the agreement "dangerously undermines the commitments which Botswana made by joining the ICC."

The group therefore said President Mogae should brief parliament on several questions, including which human and financial costs would Botswana have incurred if it hadn't signed the agreement and if there were any concrete benefits to signing, and, if so, are these benefits assured?

- Does the agreement apply equally to both countries? the group wants to know. Botswana has exempted US citizens and government employees from ICC prosecution. "Does the U.S. also exempt Batswana from such prosecution?"

Amid the controversy over the agreement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Monday only would say the decision had been based on Botswana's national interest. It maintained that Botswana and the US "enjoy excellent relations", which had brought many "tangible benefits to the people of Botswana".

- At the end of the day, our interests dictated that we should sign this agreement with the United States, which is what we have done, Ernest Mpofu, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said. He did not want to give further details.

Ditshwanelo however holds these vague statements are not enough. "In line with the Vision 2016 pillar of an Open and Democratic Society, we urge the government to provide the public with information on the process and reasoning which lead to the decision to sign the agreement," the group says.

This would "allow for informed debate on what has now become a highly controversial issue," Ditshwanelo added.

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