Botswana hangs 47 since independence

Botswana has since herindependence in 1966 executed 47 prisoners who had been sentenced to death, The Gazette learnt.The recent execution on 27 Maywas of a Letlhakane man, Orelesitse Thokamolelo, 33, who had been condemned to death six times bya Francistown high court in 2010 for the murder of a family of six in Phaephae cattle post in 2008. Attempts by this publication to establish how these executions are carried out, and why this country does not allow any witnesses in the form of relatives and media during the execution process did not bear fruit because, “the informationon execution of prisoners is classified,” according to Botswana Prisons Service, Public Relations officer, Senior Superintendent Wamorena Ramolefhe.“The information is released on the need to know, it is not privilege to the public,” he added. Ditshwanelo public relations officer, Tlatsetso Palime, said they were also, “particularly concerned about the secretive and arbitrary conduct by the Government of Botswana, in its administration of the death penalty.” She said Ditshwanelo together with other human rights organisations around the world, remains opposed to the death penalty, and that they would continue to campaign for its abolition in Botswana.“The focus should be on both the punishment of the offender and the healing of the families of both the victim and the offender. This will ultimately contribute to the healing of the community,” said Palime. Ditshwanelo argues that human freedom is indeed defined as the possibility to change and transcenda given life situation.


In the caseof the criminal justice system, thismeans there must be the redemptiveopportunity for rehabilitationand re-socialisation. The irreversibilityof the death penalty underminesthis fundamental notion offreedom and dignity. Consequently,Ditshwanelo supports a restorativejustice, as opposed to a retributivejustice regime, they argue. Human life should not be judged merely by the numbers. It is a matter of the principle of whether or not the death penalty supports orundermines the fundamental humanrights principle of enablingone to live life with dignity. Everyoneis born free and equal. Thedeath penalty fails to respect theright to life and the right not to be subjected to any form of cruel, in human or degrading punishment and treatment under Article 5 of the African Charter, according to Ditshwanelo. Botswana is one of the few countries in the SADC region thathas not abolished the death penalty.The total numbers of Africancountries which have abolished thedeath penalty to date are 17. Statisticsindicate that 36 African countriesstill retain the death penalty on their statute books, although in 22 of these countries there is a moratoriumon executions while some death sentences are at times commutedto life imprisonment.


Nine African countries have ratified the Second Optional Protocol to theICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/176, which called for a moratorium on the death penalty. The Resolution called on member States to gradually restrict the use of the death penalty and not to impose capital punishment for offenses committed by persons below the age of 18 years and by pregnant women. The Resolution also called on States to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty might be imposed and to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. 23 AfricanStates voted in favour of the Resolution,eight voted against and 22abstained or were absent. The SADC country member votes were as follows: Botswana, Zimbabweand Swaziland voted against there solution. Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Seychelles voted in favour of the resolution.Namibia, The Democratic Republicof the Congo, Malawi, Lesotho,Tanzania and Zambia abstained.Botswana also rejected the recommendations to abolish the death penalty at the 15th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)


Working Group of the United NationsHuman Rights Council in Genevain January 2013. This is notthe fi rst time that Botswana has rejected the recommendation that the death penalty be abolished. It did the same at the 3rd UPRS Session inDecember 2008. Ditshwanelo decry that the refusal to abolish the death penalty does not look good for Botswana internationally, because the retention ofthe death penalty does not reflectsome of the pillars of Botswana’sVision 2016, namely ‘a compassionateand caring nation.’In 2007, Ditshwanelo togetherwith the International Federationfor Human Rights (fi dh) produceda report ‘The Death Penalty inBotswana: Hasty and SecretiveHangings, a fact-fi nding mission,’which was relied upon in September2011, by a South African HighCourt. The South African HighCourt refused the request from theGovernment of Botswana for theextradition from South Africa ofEmmanuel Tsebe and Jerry OfentsePitso Phale for a murder trialin Botswana. In accordance withthe extradition agreement with Botswana,the South Africa governmentcannot surrender a person toa country where she or he may facethe death penalty (capital offence),without fi rst seeking an assurancethat the death penalty would not beimposed. There was no such assuranceprovided by the Governmentof Botswana. The full bench comprisingJudge President PhineasMojapelo, Judge Neels Claassenand Acting Judge George Bizos –described Botswana as a ‘pariah’state given to secret hangings.Ditshwanelo suggests that thegovernment should study whetheralternative forms of justice, suchas restorative justice (as opposed toretributive justice), rehabilitationand conciliation would enhance thecurrent criminal justice system.“We are aware that there is currentwork being done looking intoalternatives for imprisonment underthe auspices of the AttorneyGeneral’s Chambers. This processwas introduced shortly after thecurrent President came into powerin 2008,” said the public relationsoffi cer, adding that, as 2016 fastapproaches, they continue to callon the Government of Botswanato reconsider its stance on capitalpunishment. They believe with lessthan three (3) years left, there isstill time to truly enable the developmentof a Compassionate, Caringand Just Nation, based on thevalues of ‘botho’ and Vision 2016.Procedurally, the execution isonly carried out after the offi cerin charge of the prison where theexecution is to be carried out hasreceived a warrant signed by thePresident in his own hand orderingthat the sentence of death on theprisoner specifi ed in the warrantshall be carried out within the prisonat such time and by such personas are specifi ed in the warrant.According to Prisons Act chapter21:03 section 120; “The executionof a prisoner under sentenceof death shall be attended by theperson charged with the execution,the offi cer in charge of the prison,the medical offi cer or other medicalpractitioner in his place and suchother prison offi cers as the commissioneror the offi cer in chargemay require to attend and may beattended by the minister of religionand such other persons as the Ministermay authorize to attend.”“When sentence of death hasbeen executed on a prisoner, themedical offi cer or other medicalpractitioner who attended the executionin his place shall examinethe body and shall ascertain the factof death and shall sign a certifi catethereof and deliver the certifi cate tothe offi cer in charge who shall alsosign the certifi cate and then transmitit to the Minister.”Immediately after the execution,the body of the executed prisoner isburied in the grounds of the prisonin such manner as the Minister mayrequire.Asked how soon relatives of theprisoner are informed about hisexecution, Ramolefhe would notspecify when but responded that,“people are informed!”