Innocent people are likely to hang for murders they never committed because Botswana’s criminal justice system does not have safe guards against miscarriage of justice in murder cases ÔÇô legal experts have warned.
This emerged at a workshop organized by DITSHWANELO-Centre for Human Rights with support of The British High Commission. The workshop was aimed at evaluating where Botswana currently is regarding the death penalty and if enough is being done to minimize fatal errors.
Discussions centered around emerging global issues related to the death penalty, the clemency process in Botswana and the role of the Judiciary as well as whether Botswana should have a moratorium on the death penalty while the quality of the criminal justice system is being reviewed.
One of the facilitators at the workshop Justice Lovemore Paul Chikopa of the Malawi Supreme Court said although public opinion is very important, the judiciary should be seen to rise above the views of the public “and I want to emphasize that visible major investment in terms of money, time and other resources need to go towards ensuring accuracy in the judgments being handed down
“Civil society organizations like Ditshwanelo should be given more of a platform to assist from a human rights perspective where the death sentence is concerned,” he said.
Chikopa said also to be taken into consideration is the local socio economic context which if gotten wrong could only simultaneously escalate the rate of crime with numbers of sentencing and consequently increase death sentences.
“Talking too much about punishment and not enough focus on reducing people’s chances to offend and or reoffend does not serve any good,” he said
Chikopa added that “In Malawi for instance despite the death penalty although the government has not executed anyone in the past 10 years, repeat offenders have over the years been in the bulk of the offenders leading many people to the belief that extreme punishment tend not to deter criminals.”
Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners said the clemency process and the role of the judiciary are too unclear. “There is no formulated procedure for the exercise of clemency, neither are there timelines within which a convict or lawyer can approach the president or his advisory committee. The president then acts to his own discretion and it is ultimately his purgative whether to pardon or not. He may pardon conditionally or unconditionally, reduce or alter sentences and as it is an exercise of executive powers it cannot be challenged on the basis of irrationality or illegality especially because not much information is given throughout the process,” Dingake said. He feels to afford one man so much power as to decide whether or not to take a life in itself is unjust.
Another private attorney Kgosietsile Ngakaagae said, “I have taken a tour through Maximum Prison in Gaborone and got a chance to witness an execution, people are kept on death row for years under inhumane conditions, afterwards the way the execution is carried out is extremely cruel.”
He said the execution style is so messy requiring one of the prisoners to clean the death chamber. “There was blood everywhere and you can imagine the amount of trauma caused on all the people concerned with the whole execution process,” Ngakaagae said.
While the majority of countries across the globe have discontinued the practice, Botswana remains the only one in the SADC region that still upholds and practices the death penalty having executed about 53 people since independence, most of which were men.
Currently there are 4 death row inmates awaiting their fate.