DITSHWANELO - The Centre for Human Rights has called on the government of Botswana to come up with better forms of restorative justice models which seek alternative effective punishments other than death penalty.

In its message for the global commemoration of the 21st annual World Day against the Death Penalty, Ditshwanelo, in solidarity with other human rights organisations around the world, stated that it opposes the death penalty. The organisation said restorative justice both punishes the offender, while also allowing for the healing of those affected by the crime.

“In September 2000, Botswana ratified the Convention Against Torture, and entered a reservation for Article 11. This meant that Botswana agreed to the contents of the Convention, excluding provisions of Article 1. This has enabled Botswana to retain the death penalty, even though it has ratified the Convention.

“In 2020, Botswana presented its report to the Committee against Torture of the United Nations. The Committee asked the State to ‘clarify whether they intend to withdraw the reservation made upon signing and ratifying the Convention against Torture with regard to Article 1 and 2,” Ditshwanelo said.

According to Ditshwanelo, the State responded that Botswana is not in a position to withdraw the reservation made with regard to Article 1 of the Convention as this will render the provisions of Section 7 (2) of the Constitution of Botswana contrary to the Convention thereby making the provision unenforceable.

Section 7(2) of the Constitution states that ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment’. Upon withdrawing the reservation, Botswana will be required to align its law with international human rights standards, Ditshwanelo said, adding that this would consequently mean that the death penalty would need to be removed from the law.

“We therefore urge the State to make efforts towards withdrawing this reservation. In its 2023 fourth cycle UPR National Report submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolutions 5/1 and 16/21, the government of Botswana reported that ‘The Draft Comprehensive Human Rights Strategy and National Action Plan (CHRSNAP), which will be implemented in 2023 is expected to include the death penalty public debates under the National Action Plan’.

“To date, there is no public information available on progress relating to the death penalty and CHRSNAP. This commitment was first made by our government to the UN Human Rights Council, in 2013.”

Ditshwanelo said it remains steadfast in its belief in the responsibility to protect the right to a dignified life. It reiterated that the loss of life is always deeply regrettable. It urged the government to seriously explore other forms of punishment for capital offences, as a demonstration of its commitment to respect the dignity of all human beings – including that of offenders.

“The theme for this year is ‘The death penalty: An irreversible torture’. The day is dedicated to people who, during the process of being sentenced to death, or following the sentence of their death, have been victims of torture.

“Torture can exist when murder suspects are subjected to physical torture to make forced confessions. While awaiting execution, there may also be a physiological decline in the health of the condemned person,” Ditshwanelo observed.

The organisation explained that every World Day against the Death Penalty provides the opportunity to denounce the application of the death penalty, where it is still practiced; to put pressure on the States, which retain the death penalty, to abolish it; to provide an international dimension to the struggle of those who sometimes fight against the tide of local public opinion to retain the death penalty; to explain to the public, the urgency of abolition;

and to bring together abolitionist actors and activists around a common campaign.

Ditshwanelo stated “the World Coalition against the Death Penalty was created in 2002 in Rome, Italy. Ditshwanelo is a member of the Coalition. The first World Day against the Death Penalty was on 10 October 2003. Botswana remains the only country in Southern Africa which still carries out executions.”