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Pope Francis’ appeal against death penalty

Publishing Date : 28 September, 2015

Author : TEFO PHEAGE


NEW-YORK: Pope Francis, who is regarded by most leaders as a moral authority and an inspiration to the globe and its leadership, has called for the "global abolition" of the death penalty.


Addressing the United States of America’s joint meeting of Congress, the Pope who is held in high regard by US President, Barrack Obama said, “Every life is sacred, every human is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”


Botswana is one of the proud countries practicing capital punishment and has vowed to never relent, saying it does not agree that they are in violation of Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because Article 6 (2) recognizes that the death sentence may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of commission of the crime.


Botswana Centre for Human Rights or Ditshwanelo has been at the forefront of the campaign against the death penalty, calling on government to reconsider its stance on the issue.


"I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation," the Pope said.


The Pope arrived in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, starting off his six-day East Coast trip. He travelled to New York on Thursday evening and will spend the weekend in Philadelphia.


For many years the death penalty has not been a controversial issue in Botswana according to former University of Botswana law lecturer, Professor Kwame Frimpong who taught at the University of Botswana from 1984 to 2007.  “Two high profile executions in 2001 and 2003 of Marietta Bosch and Lehlohonolo Kobedi, respectively, aroused the current interest in the death penalty debate. It is also partly due to an awareness campaign waged by DITSHWANELO -The Botswana Centre for Human Rights,” he said in his paper on the death penalty.


The death penalty came with the 1964 Penal Code which made a made a provision for capital punishment by hanging. The Constitution of Botswana, which came into force on 30 September 1966, 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:  murder, Treason, Instigating a foreigner to invade Botswana and Committing assault with intent to murder in the course of the commission of piracy.    


Three offences under the Botswana Defence Force Act, tried by a court martial, are also punishable by death and these include aiding the enemy, mutiny and coward behavior. Botswana has already, amidst some quarters’ protests condemned over fifty people to death through the death penalty. Former president, Festus Mogae however is on record expressing concern that the current judicial system is hell-bent on undermining the constitution and shying away from sentencing wrongdoers to death.  

BOTSWANA’S POSITION

In his last presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, in Geneva, Switzerland, former Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Dikgakgamatso Seretse, when presenting the national report said the country had no intentions of abolishing the death penalty.


The United Kingdom, Denmark and Netherlands enquired on the abolition of the death penalty or a moratorium on its application. “We do not agree that we are in violation of Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because Article 6 (2) recognizes that the death sentence may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of commission of the crime. In line with Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR, in Botswana the death sentence is imposed for serious crimes being murder without extenuating circumstances and treason,” he said.


The position of the government of Botswana, he said, is that there were no plans to either abolish capital punishment or impose a moratorium on its application. “In 1997 the Parliamentary Law Reform Committee produced a report on public opinion on the death penalty, which was tabled before Parliament. The findings of the report showed that the public was in favour of retaining the death penalty. Currently public opinion on the death penalty affirms support for its retention,” he told the full house before rejecting  the recommendations after being asked to at least improve the transparency of the clemency process in the death penalty system.


As things stand, the word of the Pope may not carry any weight or have any significance to Botswana except with the change of government. Obama has however said that he welcomes the Pope’s voice and leadership. The main opposition leader, Duma Boko, a strong opponent of the death penalty is on record saying if he was to become President of Botswana, he is committed to seeking a moratorium on executions or outright repeal of the death penalty: "…when I am at the helm of that government, I will not sign anybody's death warrant whether the law says so or not."


Currently a small quarter of African countries practice capital punishment. Mozambique and Namibia abolished it in 1990, followed by South Africa in 197, Ivory Coast in 2000, Liberia in 2005, Rwanda in 2007, Burundi in 2009 and Togo and Gabon in 2010.


Opponents of the death penalty say it is being arbitrarily implemented and doesn't serve a purpose to deter crime.

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