Monday, June 5, 2023

British Home Office under pressure to cut trade links with Botswana

The United Kingdom is under pressure to revoke its trade deals with Botswana because of the Khama administration’s questionable human rights record.

Among the Gaborone ÔÇô London trade deal which face the axe is the Botswana Police Service training agreement with the British Police.

The British government was this week accused of putting trade deals before human rights as documents revealed that countries with the death penalty among them Botswana were clients of the British Home Office body

It has since emerged that The College of Policing, an arms-length body of the Home Office, has earned more than ┬ú3.3m by providing “international leadership” and “international strategic leadership” training to police forces in 23 countries since it was set up by Theresa May in 2012.

It is UK government policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. However, documents obtained by the British Guardian under a freedom of information request show that 89% of the money earned by the college came from countries where the death penalty still exists.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, accused the government of putting trade deals before human rights. She said: “It is yet another example that when trade deals and security alliances are on offer in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, Theresa May’s government throws any concern for human rights out the window.”

The college earned £800,000 from 18 other countries. These included Botswana, Indonesia and Singapore, which all executed prisoners in 2016.

The Botswana 2016 execution especially raised eye brows within the European Union after it emerged that the country’s hangman may have crossed the thin line between lawful execution and murder. The European Union revealed 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.

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.

The Home Office says British training is designed to improve human rights compliance but campaigners say there is a lack of evidence to prove this claim.

The home affairs committee found last year that the college “has been put under pressure by the Home Office to raise revenue” by providing overseas training. The committee raised concern that the “provision of training on the basis of opaque agreements, sometimes with foreign governments which have been the subject of sustained criticism, threatens the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the college is trying to promote. It simply smacks of hypocrisy.”

Following criticism for dealing with countries that still practice capital punishment, the British Home Office conducted an internal audit of the college that assessed its reputation management.

Reprieve said MPs should conduct an inquiry to establish the full details of the “secretive” College of Policing. Foa said: “The UK government continues to shroud this assistance in secrecy, refusing to disclose the human rights risk assessments it conducts for these projects. Now is the time for MPs to mount a full inquiry into this secretive overseas assistance.”

A College of Policing spokesman said: “Before we undertake any international work, we refer to the International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB), which assesses all requests against British values and in the context of maintaining UK security. The IPAB comprises policing representatives and those of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Home Office, Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

“The college publishes details on its website of the countries where international assistance is provided, the overall amount of money received and a list of the areas where the college assists including developing senior women and counter-terrorism. Respect for human rights and dignity is interwoven into programmes.”


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