The legal standoff between Botswana and South Africa over the death penalty is threatening to disrupt diplomatic relations between the two countries.
This week the Minister of Defense, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse vowed that Botswana will not give in to South Africa’s demands of assurances that murder suspects extradited to Botswana will not be sentenced to death even if found guilty.
Botswana has a strictly implemented death penalty.
In South Africa the Constitutional Court declared death penalty unconstitutional under that country’s post-independence constitution.
As a result of the differences of law, South Africa continues to refuse to extradite a number of murder suspects to Botswana, demanding that before that happens Botswana Government should give official assurances that suspects will not be hanged if found guilty.
A strong proponent of capital punishment, Botswana refuses to grant such assurances. The standoff has stalled a number of legal cases in which murder suspects have fled to South Africa after committing crimes in Botswana.
“The demand by the South African government is simply unjust, and we will not even consider acceding to it,” said Seretse in an interview with The Telegraph.
He further said that South Africa should not be imposing its laws on Botswana.
“Botswana is a sovereign state. South Africa wants to impose its laws on us and we will not accept that. They cannot dictate to us how we should run our affairs,” he said.
Seretse presented a scenario where two people commit murder in Botswana and one of them flees to South Africa.
“It would mean that the one who is arrested in Botswana will be sentenced to death when found guilty, while the one who is extradited from South Africa will not. Where is fairness in that?” he asked.
Recently, a number of murder suspects have fled Botswana for South Africa in the knowledge that they will benefit from the present standoff. While accepting that such a scenario exists, Seretse said that it is up to the South African authorities to decide if they want a situation where their country becomes a haven for criminals fleeing prosecution from Botswana.
Seretse also said that South Africa has promised to further look into the issue to see if such people cannot be prosecuted in South African courts.
Emmanuel Tsebe, who fled to South Africa after committing murder in Botswana, was recently set free after Botswana refused to give South Africa guarantees that he would not be executed if found guilty by the Courts in Botswana.
When such assurances were not forthcoming SA authorities released him from custody.
He was further granted asylum.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that Botswana has also threatened to revoke guarantees made to South Africa that Benson Keganne, who is currently on death row after being extradited from South Africa, will not be executed if the Court of Appeal dismisses his appeal. South Africa abolished the death penalty after its first democratic elections.