An inquisition into the death of four Namibian ‘fishermen’ shot by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in 2020 on suspicion of being involved in poaching activities has raised more questions than answers about what transpired that night.
The inquisition has failed to produce a fire arm allegedly used by the Namibians to illicit a fatal response from the BDF officers in the Chobe River near Sedudu Island.
Only the BDF soldiers provided real time accounts of the circumstances surrounding activities during the fateful night of November 5, 2020 that ended with the death of four Namibian nationals.
While the account of activities by the seven BDF soldiers in the operation indicate the Namibians were the first to open fire, the inquest has failed to produce even a single gun allegedly used by the Namibians.
A search by scuba-divers failed to produce the gun in question, leading to more questions about what really transpired on that fateful night. Did the BDF employ the ‘Shoot to Kill on Sight’ policy and ignore the Rules of Engagement?
The BDF’s own Rules of Engagement ((ROE) stipulate that “all means of enforcement other than the use of fire arm should be considered to arrest the situation. The use of a fire arm should be the last resort when other means did not bear any result particularly where there is an eminent danger or threat to self, persons, property that BDF operatives have been intrusted to protect.”
The lack of fire arm/s from the deceased has raised questions about whether the BDF soldiers used reasonable force to arrest the situation.
The Namibian Lives Matter Movement on Friday said they considered the verdict as “highly biased and a miscarriage of justice by Botswana”.
“We take note of the verdict by the Botswana Magistrate in the matter of the killings of the Nchindo brothers and their cousin by the BDF handed down yesterday. We have received the verdict and our lawyers are studying it so that we issue our legal response and legal remedies soon,” they said following the delivery of the findings by Kasane Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi.
“We will now seek legal recourse and redress from SADC, the AU and the UN where an impartial court will handle this matter independent of Namibia and Botswana. The verdict is a clear indication that Botswana is a country that does not have respect for human rights and the sanctity of life, especially for Namibians. We also take note that the verdict is also a license to BDF to shoot and kill Namibians as they please.”
The pressure group said they were heading to SADC, the African Union, and the United Nations to register a case of espionage, torture and executions of innocent and unarmed Namibians by the ‘trigger happy’ BDF.
“We shall soon call for community meetings to engage our people so as to adopt a long term strategy against Botswana. Be assured that the long arm of justice will ultimately catch up with Botswana. We shall not rest until justice is achieved,” they wrote. The BDF claims they went to the scene with intentions to investigate as opposed to shooting.
They claim there was a gunshot from the direction of the ‘poachers’. The BDF members then retaliated and returned fire, the findings of the inquisition say. “This was done in accordance with Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) within the BDF. According to the SOPs, in case a soldier is being fired at, they fire back and do not have to wait for a command. The gunfire exchange was brief and after it ceased, they used a torch to light where the men were and established that all the four men were motionless, two in one canoe, one in the other and the other man lying on the edge of the river on the Island.”
The evidence of the BDF witnesses is that, when they followed the Intel, the intent was to conduct an investigation. That there was clearly no intent on their part to shoot the deceased, that they did that as an act of retaliation.
“It is acknowledged that no rifle has been produced before court to confirm that indeed the deceased were armed and or that there was indeed a gun shot. The evidence before this court is that search for the rifle(s) that allegedly triggered the gunfire exchange was done by both Namibia and Botswana SCUBA divers and nothing was found. It is common cause that when the said search was done, an area of search was demarcated around the scene area which was partly searched due to water animals viz hippos that launched an attacked at the area during the search. The search was therefore never concluded. This therefore leaves a gap,” Regional Magistrate Mopipi said in her findings.
She said as a result, the area was not extensively searched and the court could not make a finding whether the rifle in issue was there or not. “This is a very crucial piece of evidence. The joint search did not conclude the exercise and I cannot properly make a finding of fact. That the rifle was there as the BDF allege can therefore not be ruled out.”
She also made reference to comments made by Namibian witnesses and protesting against the “unprecedented and unjustified killings” of their fellows and said all that have to fall under judicial scrutiny since they raised sensitive issues, particularly on diplomatic relations of the two countries involved.
“There are allegations that the recovered tusks were planted by BDF members to frame the deceased as poachers. I find these allegations to be very serious allegations that would require evidence to be led in respect thereof. The issue before court resulted from a shooting that took place before any item was discovered from the canoes. It is the shooting that led to the death or killing of the four deceased. On the point that no elephant was identified as killed in the park and that the tusks had no blood stains on them, the view of this court is that poaching by its nature does not require killing of an animal and therefore the basis of the alleged should not necessarily be tied to the tusk as it is evident that they can be found lying around in the park,” Mopipi said.
She said the genesis of the case was founded on retaliate shooting and it is that shooting that resulted in the death of the four deceased persons. That the elephant tusks are not an issue that determines the finding of the court. “If the allegation was credible, one would ask as to why the planting evidence did not extend to the weapon itself which is the most crucial item in these proceedings.”