In the last 6 months, there have been numerous reports in the media relating to the killing of suspected criminals by the Police Service as well as harassment and intimidation by the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DISS). In one instance, the police conceded that they shot and killed an innocent unarmed citizen who they erroneously identified as a fleeing criminal.
This emerging trend of shooting suspects is worrying. While no effort should be spared in reducing or completely eliminating the incidence of crime, kidnapping, torture, arbitrary arrests and extra judicial killings by the security forces should never be condoned as a tool for fighting crime. Suspects must remain suspects until proven guilty by a court of law.
At the time when the DISS was set up, we warned that the proposed structures provided very little room for proper checks against possible abuse. Intelligence bodies the world over are notoriously known for disregarding the rights and liberties of citizens. The conventional practice amongst countries that are regarded as democratic is to establish strong, well-resourced and credible structures to protect the ordinary citizens against any possible harassment by intelligence gathering institutions. In the case of Botswana, the BDP government favours an environment in which the DISS can operate as a law unto itself. The bill that was tabled before Parliament to set up the DISS did not provide for a tribunal.
The executive reluctantly accepted an amendment to the bill in Parliament to establish a tribunal. To demonstrate that the resentment of the tribunal continues to dominate the view of the executive, the tribunal was not set up simultaneously with the DIS. It was only after a Parliamentary question that the nation was informed that the tribunal had been set up but never met and has no independent secretariat.
The BCP was shocked to learn that the DISS Tribunal is chaired by a known BDP activist who also serves in the party structures and constituted by two other persons long associated with the BDP. Under the provisions of the DISS, the Tribunal was set up to receive and investigate complaints from persons aggrieved by the DISS agents. One of the provisions of the spy law was that the President must consult the Leader of the Opposition in setting up the Tribunal. Regrettably, Khama decided to unilaterally establish the Tribunal in contravention of the provisions of the law that require for consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. It is also rather unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition did not seek to assert his position and demand for a proper consultation process when informed about the appointments, as reported by the Botswana Guardian front page story of 23 January 2009.
The BCP rejects the Tribunal in its current form and calls for it to be disbanded immediately. It lacks credibility; it cannot be said to be independent under the chairmanship of a BDP central committee member. Section 31 (2) (a) of the DISS Act states that the tribunal shall consist of “a Chairperson who shall be a High Court Judge, a retired High Court Judge or a legal practitioner who qualifies to be appointed as a High Court Judge.” The purpose for allowing even a serving High Court Judge to take the position of chairperson of the tribunal is to ascertain that the chairperson enjoys a high degree of independence from both the Executive and the Legislature, be acceptable as a credible choice in the eyes of the public and be free of political prejudice. President Khama has reduced the tribunal to a sub-committee of the BDP.
We wish to call on government to appoint an independent team that will thoroughly investigate all the recent murders perpetuated by the police as well as allegations of harassment on the part of the DISS. We are not convinced that the police can be trusted to fully investigate themselves and publicly account for all the recent shootings. If this is not done, the public will, in the long term, lose confidence in the Police and many citizens will fear the very agencies whose mandate is to assure their safety.
The BCP calls for the formation of a strategic alliance of opposition parties, labour unions, civil society, students and youth, as well as the media to speak loudly with one voice against these atrocities and to defend our hard earned democratic values. There is certainly a dark cloud hanging over Botswana.
The Khama government is not committed to the promotion of civil liberties.
With the retired army generals now in full control of government, the military visibly taking over the daily Police duties, more and more Batswana fear for the future of this country. Hope and excitement that engulfed the nation on April 1 2008 when Khama was inaugurated has quickly been replaced by anger, fear and frustration.
*Saleshando is the BCP Information and Publicity Secretary