A showdown could be looming between Gaborone and Windhoek at the next meeting of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) after the latter took a decision to throw its weight behind western nations’ bid to compel Botswana to abolish the death penalty.
A report by the United Nations’ Working Group on the (UPR) has shown.
According to the report by the UPR, Namibia was the only country in Southern Africa that urged Botswana to abolish the death penalty.
The report states: “While welcoming the public debates on the death sentence, Namibia encourages Botswana to consider placing a moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences to other sentences and consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.”
In their advance questions to majority of Western countries took Botswana to task for its continued use of capital punishment against murder convicts.
Leading the onslaught is Botswana’s former coloniser, the United Kingdom (UK).
The UK sought to know: “What steps has the Government of Botswana taken to ensure the families of death row inmates are informed before an execution takes place?”
Belgium was blunt in its questions addressed to the Botswana Government. Describing herself as a strong opponent of the death penalty, “Belgium regrets that Botswana – as only country in the SADC region – retains the death penalty in law and in practice.”
Belgium added: “Is Botswana considering to hold public consultations, in a participatory manner together with civil society, about the desirability and long-term effectiveness of the use of the death penalty as a deterrent?”
Sweden also didn’t mince her words. “In its mid-term report from 2016 the Government of Botswana announced its intention to undertake dialogue on the issue of the Death Penalty and was commissioning a study on the issue. How these plans proceeding and does the Government of Botswana are intend to initiate a public debate?,” Sweden asked.
German observed that “despite numerous recommendations in the past UPR cycles, Botswana still applies the death penalty. Botswana has stated that it has not been able to initiate a public debate. What are Botswana’s plans regarding such a debate and the abolishment of the death penalty?
The report shows that in 2016, when the country appeared before its peers at the UPR meeting Botswana held the view that the death penalty was not a human rights violation, or a form of torture, but rather a matter of criminal justice. Botswana retained the sovereign right to independently decide on its own criminal justice system, including the retention of the death penalty.
“There were robust laws and institutions in place, including an independent judiciary, in order to ensure that there was no arbitrary imposition of the death sentence. Nonetheless, the Government intended to hold public debates on the death penalty and would welcome technical and financial assistance in carrying out that exercise,” the report says.
But since then Botswana has not delivered on its promises to hold public debates on the death penalty hence a barrage of questions sent in advance before the upcoming meeting. The date for the meeting is yet to be announced. In a letter addressed to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vincent Seretse, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner stated that “…I encourage Botswana to submit a mid-term report for the third cycle, by 2020.”
He also stated: “I take this opportunity to follow up on a number of areas raised in the two reports that my Office had prepared for the review – the Compilation of UN information and the Summary of Stakeholders’ submissions – which I consider in need of particular attention over the next four and a half years, leading up to the next cycle of the UPR,” adding that “ In identifying those areas, I have also considered the statements and recommendations made by 83 delegations, the presentation and responses by the delegation of Botswana, and the action that had been taken to implement over lOO recommendations accepted from the second cycle of the UPR.”
The UPR is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States.
The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights.