The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has challenged President Ian Khama’s government to respect the independence of the judiciary following the suspension and impeachment proceedings initiated against four members of the bench.
The four judges; justices Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Ranier Busang and Mercy Garekwe, were suspended on allegations of misconduct and bringing the name of the judiciary into disrepute. The ICJ, a non-governmental organisation comprises up to 60 lawyers (including senior judges, attorneys and academics) dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law, has expressed deep concern in respect to the suspension of the four judges from office pending disciplinary hearing. It has called on the Executive to respect the principles governing the independence of the judiciary in their conduct in addressing the situation, including their actions throughout the course of any impeachment and disciplinary proceedings.
In a statement penned by its regional director for Africa, Arnold Tsunga, the ICJ said there should be proper procedures for the removal of judges from office. Tsunga stated that judges should be subjected to suspension or removal from office only for reasons of incapacity or misbehaviour that clearly renders them unfit to discharge their duties.
“In addition to providing proper procedures for the removal of judges on grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour that are required to support the principle of independence of the judiciary, any disciplinary procedures should be fairly and objectively administered. Disciplinary proceedings which might lead to the removal of a judicial officer should include appropriate safeguards to ensure fairness,” he said.
ICJ feels that it was a rather selective impeachment against only four judges out of the 12 who were also party to the petition directed to the chief justice in 2015. The petition objected to among other things, alleged poor conditions of service, disparaging comments made by the chief justice Maruping Dibotelo, which were deemed defamatory.
“The selective institution of disciplinary proceedings against only four of the judges who signed the petition raises serious questions about the basis for the actions, including motives of the executive and chief justice, particularly because the latter is chairman of the Judicial Service Commission on whose recommendation the executive acts.”
The ICJ reminded government that its duty is to guarantee the independence, impartiality and accountability of the judiciary under international law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, treaties to which Botswana is a party. It also said that it would follow and monitor the developments to assess whether government is allowing the four judges a fair trial during impeachment proceedings.