Friday, October 23, 2020

A death sentence for Botswana’s death penalty?

Botswana’s capital punishment faces its own death sentence after it emerged that the country’s hangman may have crossed the thin line between lawful execution and murder. The European Union has revealed this week that Botswana’s executions are flawed as they do not observe the United Nations minimum standards of clemency. Speaking in an interview following a workshop to commemorate world day against death penalty, Alexander Baum, EU Ambassador to Botswana and SADC cited the execution of death row inmate Patrick Gabaakanye saying it was flawed.

“The problem is that Gabaakanye was executed while clemency procedure was not yet completed with doubts relating to his the inmate’s mental ability,” said Baum. He said there was an attempt to have a psychological assessment conducted but Gabaakanye was executed even before the assessment could be done. One of the minimum standards defined by the UN relates to persons suffering from mental illness. Therefore Baum faults Botswana’s death penalty process for breaching this minimum standard by executing Gabaakanye while an application to have him mentally assessed was pending.

Gabaakanye’s attorney Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners had made multiple requests for a mental health assessment for Gabaakanye, all of which were either denied or ignored. “Due process in terms of deciding whether to grant clemency was not followed and therefore UN standards were not followed,” he said. According to Baum, the fact that the issue of assessment of Gabaakanye’s mental assessment was not done is a flaw in the proceedings. He said the case of Gabaakanye demonstrates that “you can have flaws in the application of the death penalty proceedings.”

Baum said by failing to conduct a mental assessment on Gabaakanye, the country and its judicial system opened itself to criticism for failing to meet or observe the UN minimum standards. Gabaakanye was sentenced to death for the 2010 murder of a visually impaired septuagenarian at Ga-Mosusu and was jailed for five years for unlawfully wounding the wife of the 74-year-old man.

Reports indicate that Gabaakanye, who had a string of previous convictions dating as far back as 1989, was no stranger to the death sentence. He escaped the noose in 2004 after his 1993 conviction was overturned to 15 years imprisonment following a successful appeal. Baum said they would continue “to encourage Botswana to have a public discussion without being political. It is an important issue not because of the murderer per se.”  On suggestion that before Botswana could abolish death penalty there was need for a referendum; Baum said a referendum was open to abuse. “The world over the referendum has shown that it can be abused. To say let the people decide is becoming an instrument of populism.

You can break the basic principle of human rights under the pretext of let people speak,” he said. “He added that the issue of principle must not be subjected to popular vote. Basic human rights are non-negotiable If death penalty should be subjected to a referendum why not subject privacy laws to a referendum. “A moratorium is the best; abolishing death penalty is not something that can be decided today. A moratorium would give space for discussion and later on society will come to a conclusion,” he said.

Where the death penalty still exists, the EU calls for its use to be progressively restricted and insists that it be carried out according to international minimum standards. The EU says that the abolition of the death penalty worldwide represents one of the main objectives of its human rights policy. EU is of the view that the death penalty does not deter crime more effectively than other punishments; abolition of the death penalty does not lead to an increase in crime.

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