While human rights groups advocate for the total abolition of death penalty, religious groups are divided over it.
To commemorate the 12th annual World Day against death penalty, Ditswanelo; the Botswana Center for Human Rights hosted an inter faith ‘ couch conversation’ to listen to and reflect on the different views on death penalty between and within Islam , Christianity and other faiths.
Christianity was represented by Moruti Joseph Matsheng of the Roman Catholic Church and is a pastor in the Roman Catholic Church. Matsheng said that although the church allows a person to take another’s life in certain circumstances like in self defence, it does not support death penalty. Matsheng was of the view that only God the almighty can judge and claim lives. Matsheng’s view was supported by his brethren in Christ, Pastor Owen Issacs ,who said according to Christian values only God was allowed to take life. “ People must know that know matter what the situation maybe the bible tells us to put everything unto God, only God can kill, he has killed to save his people before and will continue to do so Issacs said.
Islam was represented by Moulana Dawood Dhansay, an Imam at the Gaborone Jaamia Mosque who asserted that his religion supported death penalty for some crimes. Dhansay said capital punishment have proved to be a deterrent against potential criminals in countries like Botswana and was pivotal for peace-keeping however Professor Faried Esack from the South African Muslim Liberation, who is also a professor in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg held a different view from that of Dhansay. Esack’ s view was that dealth penalty was only imposed on selective crimes that those who administer it want, not on all that were prescribed. In his view, death penalty is not fair and he said it should abolished.
Other experts in the field of law and human rights also gave presentations.
The event, themed, ‘the Couch Conversation’ was part of this universal periodic review process, to raise awareness about death penalty that Botswana has since committed to undertake.
During the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Botswana in January 2013, the government of Botswana accepted the recommendation made for it to hold a public debate on death penalty, in which all aspects of the issue should be highlighted in a holistic manner. During the report back on the deferred recommendations in June 2013, the government did not accept the recommendation to abolish death penalty. However it committed itself to undertake educational awareness campaigns before it can consider the abolition of the death penalty.
There has been a call by the United Nations for a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing it.
Botswana has not ratified the second optional Protocol to the international covenant on civil and political rights which abolishes the death penalty. Section 4 (1) of the constitution of Botswana specifically includes an exception to the right to life for the death penalty imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Currently the following crimes are punishable by death under the Penal Code (Chapter 08:01) murder, treason, instigating a foreigner to invade Botswana, committing assault with intent to murder during the commission of piracy.
The Botswana Defence Force Act of 1977 stipulates death penalty for the following crimes; aiding the enemy, communicating with the enemy, cowardly behaviour, mutiny, failing to suppress mutiny if offence is to assist the enemy. The penal code allows death penalty by hanging and the last known execution was of Orelesitse Tlhokamolelo on the 27th of May 2013.
Ditshwanelo reiterates that the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment is retributive and not reconciliatory or rehabilitative. They argue that death penalty goes against the value of botho, a concept enshrined in Botswana’s Vision 2016, which calls upon Botswana to be a compassionate, caring and just nation. Their view is that the focus should include both punishment of the offender and the healing of the families of both the victim and the offender. This comprehensive approach they argue will ultimately contribute to the healing of the community.
Fifty-eight countries retain the death penalty. Only 22 countries carried out executions in 2013. In Africa, 17 countries have abolished the death penalty in law and in practice: 26 countries have abolished death countries only in practice and 12 countries still practice. In Southern Africa, Angola, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa, have abolished the death penalty. Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia have laws which permit its use although they have not carried out executions. Botswana and Zimbabwe still carry out executions.
The World Day against Dealth Penalty is commemorated annually on the 10th of October. The global theme of this year’s world commemoration was ‘Mental Health’.