Botswana officials were at pains this week struggling to explain to the United Nations experts on human rights why the country continues to practice death penalty.
One of the Committee Members Ben Achour told a Botswana delegation led by Presidential Minister Kabo Morwaeng that while the issue of the death penalty was a political issue and that the Government must take public opinion into account to some extent, the issue of the death penalty was too serious and too important to be taken up with a public opinion poll.
He stated that Botswana must ensure that the death penalty should be pronounced only for the most serious cases and should move toward the abolition of this penalty.
The Committee reminded the Botswana delegation that in its 2008 conclusions to Botswana, it had recommended that families should be warned in advance of the date of the execution of their loved ones and be provided the opportunity to bury their relatives. Prison regulations, however stood contrary to this recommendation. All applications for mercy have been unsuccessful, the Committee Experts said, asking about the basis for the denial or approval of clemency applications
Replying to the committee’s concerns, Chief State Council Mogakolodi Segwagwa said, “It is quite true that we are swimming against the tide as you pointed out, it is quite true that a whole lot of other countries are placing a moratorium, others are abolishing where the death penalty is concerned and there have been numerous attempts that have been made by litigants and that have been made by NGOs and other interested parties to try and have the country go towards placing a moratorium or total abolition of the death penalty.”
Segwagwa said, however, Botswana is a country that is founded on certain doctrines and principles adding that one of which is consultation “and it is important in the way our government and our country is run.”
“I do recall that the court of appeal sometime in 2012, was faced with this same question, that human rights are fundamental and cannot be left to populism and cannot be a subject of debates and arguments. But the Court of Appeal applied its mind to this argument that it was necessary to consult the populace before the death penalty is abolished or the manner in which it is being applied currently to some other way,” said Segwagwa.
Segwagwa informed the committee that the court of appeal indicated that section 49 of the constitution provides modalities of trying to change it if there is a burning desire to change so that it reflects the aspirations of the people, it can reflect state of affairs of the society as it currently exists in Botswana and indicated that the issue of amending the constitution and abolishing the death penalty is a political issue and legislative issue as prescribed by the constitution itself.
“ And that if people are so interested in doing that they should do so as they are at liberty do so and achieve that which they would like to achieve,” said Segwagwa.
Achour however insisted that that the death penalty cannot be left to public opinion and there is a time when Botswana should know when to take a decision even if it is against public opinion. But one of the delegates from Botswana, Tebogo Mapodisi said, “ that maybe something that may not be appropriate in our country which is a democratic country where we rule by the people through the people.”
She told the committee that the stance which was taken by Batswana was taken through a 1997 consultation and the people indicated that the death penalty must be maintained.
“At the country’s review in 2013, we are alive to the fact that we accepted that we will do a public opinion survey. There is that recognition that the public has to have a say as to whether the death penalty is abolished or is suspended. In that regard, having accepted that recommendation (to consult the people on whether to abolish death penalty or not) the country is currently developing its first human rights strategy.”
Mapodisi said the strategy would be accompanied by a national action plan and it envisaged that the national action plan would include the debates adding that “so the reason why we have not been able to carry out the survey or the death penalty debates up to now is that we did not have a national coordination office.”
“ One of the positive things that our honourable minister has said noted is that the human rights unit has been established in 2019,” she said.
Morwaeng told the UN committee that Botswana is a country that adheres to the rule of law and that is why it has taken quite sometime to implement some of the recommendations because they touch on consultation and also that Botswana believes in the constitution. “The Government was committed to the rule of law and it could not do anything against the Constitution,” he said.