- BDF calls for independent Arbiter in police, BDF public abuse cases
- Army says police, BDF cannot oversee and investigate themselves
- Minister differs, says nothing wrong with police, BDF investigating themselves
The Botswana Police Service (BPS) has registered three cases of excessive force on members of the public by Botswana Police Service (BPS), but the military feels the Police and themselves are too conflicted to handle the investigations, The Botswana Gazette has established.
It emerges that BPS has registered three cases against BDF that were reported by members of the public on claims that excessive and unreasonable force was used upon them during the lockdown period. The BDF plays a supportive role to the Police in operations which have predominantly been declared controversy free.
The BDF, which is enforcing the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions alongside the BPS has called for an independent arbiter to investigate allegations of public abuse arguing that one cannot be Prosecutor, Defense and Jury in his own case.
Amid questions of transparency in the investigations, the BDF has come out clear that a time has come for the authorities to establish an independent authority to look into the transgressions.
“We have taken note of the concerns most of which are allegations of abuse on members of the public. We understand that they are currently under investigations by the Police. However, it is our belief that the best way is to establish an independent arbiter to investigate these allegations and bring the culprits to book. You cannot investigate yourself,” said Colonel Tebo Dikole, the BDF Spokesperson.
Further, Dikole said it would be unfair (to the public) for the Police and the BDF to be investigators and defendants of their own cases.
The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Kagiso Mmusi differs. He said there are no intentions to establish any independent arbiter to investigate public abuse cases by the disciplined forces. “We believe the current arrangement of internal processes serves us well,” he said, when asked on whether there are any plans to establish an arbiter.
A local attorney, Patrick Matlho of Matlho Attorneys agreed with the BDF position that an independent arbiter will instill confidence in the process law enforcement. “Authorities should urgently establish an independent, impartial investigation body to look into the alleged excessive use of force by armed forces.
Our neighbours in South Africa have what we call the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) which ensures independent oversight over the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Municipal Police Services (MPS), and conducts independent and impartial investigations of identified criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the SAPS. They also have a Military Ombudsman,” he said.
A senior member of the BDF confided to this publication that the BDF generally does not prefer the Police to investigate their (BDF) matters and normally invoke their Act to request for waivers to investigate their own cases internally. The provision (BDF Act Section 211 (4) (d)) states that, “military authorities shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction in respect of offences committed in Botswana if the offence arises out of an act or omission in the course of duty.”
On several cases, the Police have waived at this request to allow the BDF to deal with their matters as provided for in the BDF Act Section 211 (4) (d), a recent example being a case in which eight members of the army were charged with poaching and skinning a buffalo. Dikole told The Botswana Gazette in an interview that they; “have not requested for a waiver in the COVID-19 cases.”
The BDF normally requests for waivers if they feel that the outsiders will not do the case a favour like in instances where the punitive actions may be less than what the BDF act may impose. This occurs where they may feel that the fundamental principles of the BDF and the integrity of the army have been brought into disrepute by the offender.
Dikole emphasized that their primary role in the COVID-19 operations is to fulfill their end of the bargain, which is to protect citizens of Botswana.
South Africa’s Military Ombudsman received at least 33 complaints from the public of excessive force, physical abuse and brutality against the military during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which monitors police abuse, has registered 39 cases of complaint against police wrongdoing, with six incidents of “death as a result of police action” during the first week of the lockdown, and an investigation of 13 complaints related to police shootings and 14 of police assault.
In the first few days of the lockdown, more people died from police and military heavy handiness than from the Coronavirus itself.