“Who is free to say that this has never happened in Botswana?” poses the European Union Ambassador to Botswana and SADC, Alexander Baum, leaving little doubt what his own impression is.
“This” relates to execution, by the state, of a death row prisoner primarily because he is either poor or doesn’t have connections within circles of power. Someone with such connections may be pardoned, Baum points out. The next two questions he poses are as crucial. Is the application of the death penalty even across socio-economic classes? Who can be 100 percent certain that a death row prisoner in Botswana has not been executed on the basis of false evidence?
“This is a debate that has to take place,” says Baum who, a few days earlier, signed off on a press statement from the local EU office that condemned the recent execution of Joseph Tselayarona, a Molepolole man who murdered his girlfriend and her son in cold blood.
The Ambassador’s analysis of the issue proceeds on a strict, no-names-no-pack-drill basis. However, in the most private of settings, some people in Botswana will, with regard to the first question, be able to conclude that were it not for his riches, so-and-so would be on death row or long executed. Thus far, the evidence from all death-penalty jurisdictions across the globe is that the death penalty disproportionately affects the poor. Part of the reason is that justice, like a can of Coke, is a commodity that can be bought. Rich people who can afford excellent and high-priced lawyers have avoided the hangman’s noose. In the context that Baum casts this issue, death penalty then becomes an extension of discrimination against the poor. On such basis, the answer to his second question would be no. The thrust of this argument is that in order to eliminate such discrimination, then death penalty should be abolished.
Baum puts the figure of wrongful executions at 150 in modern history in the case of the United States. At least as far as the public record shows, no death row inmate in Botswana has been executed on the basis of false evidence. The next point that Baum makes in a general sense is that the police will never admit that they made a mistake in the conduct of their investigations. That opens the possibility of innocent people being killed.
The EU statement following the execution of Tselayarona calls for a public debate on the death penalty. Baum believes that such debate would reveal all the multiple dimensions of the death penalty and make Botswana less reflexive in their thoughts and attitude about what should happen to people who kill others.