Sunday, May 26, 2024

Insider reveals chilling details of Botswana’s shoot to kill code

A former civil servant who claims that he was an insider during the adoption of Botswana’s shoot to kill policy has revealed for the first time chilling details of how for more than three decades the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) systematically used extra judicial executions in a bid to crush poaching. Richard White a Wildlife Specialist, Forester, Environmentalist and Rural Planner with over 40 years’ experience disclosed this week, that he was part of a meeting 29 years ago where former BDF commander Lt Gen Ian Khama divulged that the BDF had adopted a policy of “not arresting poachers” as they had found it to be “a waste of time”.

The BDF felt that since the suspected poachers could not be taken care of within the law, then they should be dealt with outside the law. The BDF then resorted to deliberately killing suspected poachers on sight without any attempt to arrest them. From Richard White’s disclosure, indications are that the BDF attitude to the rule of law, due process and life itself has been casualised: Why waste time giving suspected poachers the benefit of the due process of the law, when the case can be settled with a bullet? Richard White’s claims have been confirmed by a former BDF officer who described a macabre scene about how they used to pack loads of pauper’s coffins with them when conducting anti-poaching patrols.

States Richard White: “The BDF soon adopted a policy of shooting suspected poachers on sight. In January 1991, Lt Gen. Ian Khama told the committee of the Kalahari Conservation Society in my presence that the BDF had adopted a policy of “not arresting poachers” as they had found it to be “a waste of time”. He said that the BDF had found that men who were arrested and brought before court were back in the field poaching again “the next week”.It emerges from Richard white’s allegations that the BDF extra judicial execution which has become the bedrock of Botswana’s criminal justice against suspected poachers was adopted as a quick fix against assumed criminals who always beat the rap at the court of law.

Richard White revealed how during the more than three decade wave of extra judicial executions the BDF killed young children barely in their teens, killed a 19 year old young woman who was cut in half by automatic fire while sitting in a mokoro in the middle of the Linyanti river, shot and killed suspected poachers on the back while apparently were hors de combat (no longer in the fight and fleeing) and apparently planted evidence to justify their wilful executions.

He points out that in all the BDF encounters with suspected poachers, no suspected poacher has been wounded or arrested, instead they were all shot dead. He said “although Lt Gen. Khama then denied that BDF anti-poaching patrols have orders to “shoot to kill” at suspected poachers, I have been told over the years by other BDF officers and men that they do have such orders.” Botswana’s shoot to kill policy was later confirmed by Ian Khama’s brother Tshekedi Khama, then Minister of Wildlife, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. Richard White says also present at the KCS meeting were Neo Moroka who later became Minister of Trade and Industry, Ambrose Masalila who later became Minister of Local Government, Neil Fitt then KCS board member and later served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism, and Eleanor Patterson who later became Secretary of The Botswana Wildlife Producer Association and the late Louis Nchindo then Managing Director of Debswana.

Richard White traces Botswana’s first extra judicial execution of poachers to 1988, at the time Khama was deputy Commander of the BDF.

“In October 1988, the BDF ordered all civilians to leave the Linyanti and Kwando areas and conducted an “anti-poaching” sweep. At this time, the BDF delivered the bodies of three persons to the mortuary at Maun hospital. BDF personnel told the mortuary staff that the three had been killed on an “anti-poaching” operation. All three had been shot in the back and their bodies were stripped naked and all means of identification removed. One of the bodies was of a boy estimated by a doctor to be about 12 years old while another was of another boy estimated by the same doctor to be about 15.”Richard White who at the time was a District Officer at the Chobe District Council further revealed that, “towards the end of 1990, a BDF patrol opened fire on a party of alleged poachers, killing two. One of the bodies fell into the Chobe river and was not recovered. A few days later, a BDF patrol in the same area was fired on from the Namibian bank and one soldier was killed. These incidents were widely reported in the press.

The BDF then laid an ambush at the site from which they shot two more men who came to pick up some clothing that was lying on the ground at the site of the previous shooting. My informant was told by Lt. Gen Khama that the BDF had orders to shoot to kill in both instances.” Richard White stopped short of accusing the BDF of sometimes planting evidence to justify their extra judicial executions. He revealed that, “the Namibian government made a formal diplomatic protest about these killings and a meeting was held at the site of the second killing. During this meeting the BDF “discovered” an AK47 at the scene. It is surprising that the Namibian Police, who had earlier conducted a search of the scene, did not find this rifle.”

Richard White says he confronted Khama over these killings at a meeting of the Committee of the Kalahari Conservation Society in January 1991. “In response, Lt. Gen Khama” disclosed that four ‘poachers’ had been killed, no arrests had been made, that the BDF “gave up” arresting poachers in 1986 and that the BDF has “permission” from government for its actions.“In response to what Lt Gen Khama had to say, I pointed out that: It was odd that no-one had been wounded or arrested; Shooting suspects without trial is contrary to a basic principle of the rule of law, shooting fleeing persons is unlawful in Botswana, and the actions of the BDF were tantamount to murder.”

Asked to confirm the KCS meeting, Neil Fitt told the Sunday Standard that he could not remember because “that’s a long while ago, I’m too old.” He further stated that as a former government official he could not comment on the shoot to kill policy because he signed a confidentiality agreement under the Official Secrets Act.Neo Moroka who was also allegedly at the meeting could not be reached for comment as his phone rang unanswered.Richard White says “between 1987 and mid-1990 BDF anti-poaching patrols shot 15 people dead. So far as I have been able to ascertain, no-one was wounded and they made no arrests during this period. The deaths of nine of these 15 people were reported in the press.”

He says “since 1991 more than 40 more people have been shot and killed by anti-poaching patrols,  They include a man found skinning a giraffe who ran away leaving his rifle and was shot in the back, a 19 year old young woman cut in half by automatic fire while sitting in a mokoro in the middle of the Linyanti river and a nine year old boy killed on Namibian soil.”

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