Botswana must account for ‘shoot to kill’ deaths

REVELATIONS that Botswana has for close to three decades been sitting on information suggesting that the Attorney General’s chambers, Botswana police and Chobe district commissioners are part of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) illegal shoot to kill plot warrants corrective action in which those responsible must be held to account.

A damning report which came to light this week and was drafted in 1991 to the then head of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Tymon Katlholo by the then Chobe District Officer Richard White suggested that the Attorney General, Botswana Police and Chobe District Commissioner allowed the BDF to carry out the shoot to kill policy outside Botswana law.

Despite past denials, the report further suggests that for 29 years, the BDF’s shoot to kill was an open secret among former president Lt Gen Ian Khama’s circle of associates.

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While wildlife conservation has widely been regarded as ‘just war’ this use of unreasonable force by Botswana’s security agents in which extrajudicial killings of at least 40 Namibians has occurred over the last decade remains a humanitarian injustice that should never be allowed to go unpunished.

Recently and owing to the same illegal shoot to kill policy, a family of four Namibian fishermen was slaughtered despite the new Botswana administration led by President Mokgweetsi Masisi guaranteeing that the country had withdrawn military grade arms from its anti-poaching units on patrol along the country’s borders in an attempt to right Khama’s wrongs.

The immediate revocation of the controversial ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy can no longer be negotiated and the SADC organ for politics, defence and security should move to engage authorities in Botswana to urgently remedy these unjustified killings that have strained bi-lateral relations and threaten to cause diplomatic tension in the near future.

The right of states to use deadly force against suspected criminals is limited by both domestic criminal procedures and international law.

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Ironically, the right to life is protected in terms of Section 4(1) of the Constitution of Botswana, which provides that no person shall be deprived of his or her life intentionally except in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of an offence under the law in force in Botswana of which he or she has been convicted.

It is hence submitted that death sustained during anti-poaching activities should be reported in terms of Section 3 of the Inquests Act and an investigation should be carried out accordingly to determine whether the shooting was justifiable.

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This same law, that authorities in Botswana have foregone at the expense of regional lives lost under the guise of ‘preventing poaching’ should be strongly enforced as it allows checks and balances to ensure that even suspected poachers who surrender are not killed unjustifiably.

Notably, the provisions of the Inquests Act or any other law do not discriminate on the basis of nationality.

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  Procedures to prosecute trigger-happy soldier patrolling national parks should be followed whether the victims are citizens of Botswana or foreign nationals.

While justice is an imperative for already lost lives, Namibian authorities should engage their counterparts to seek guarantees that scouts or rangers must exercise their authority lawfully and justifiably in the quest to preserve innocent lives as in the case of our fishermen that were a shooting target for rogue game rangers.