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Why Botswana is failing to deal with wildlife crimes


Botswana’s international reputation as a haven for wildlife could be at risk because of the country’s inability to investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes effectively.

Normal practice is such that when investigations of crimes are complete cases are then passed to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which has the mandate to try the cases on behalf of the State before courts. However it has come clear at the recent Joint Law Enforcement Forum that the two parties are fighting a losing battle in the courts due to lack of cooperation.  

A closed joint law enforcement meeting was recently held at Maun Lodge, and the top agenda was to plot out how relevant security agencies could tackle their failures in wildlife crimes court cases. The forum summoned senior officials from security agencies comprising of the Botswana Police Services, Botswana Defence Force, Botswana Prisons Services, Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the Directorate of Intelligence on Security and Services.

Presiding over the forum was Divisional Commander North, Senior Assistant Commissioner, Dinah Marathe who revealed that from the comprehensive analysis of cases they handle indications are that the country is failing to adequately deal with wildlife crimes. Marathe expressed that improved cooperation between law enforcement agencies, prosecution and the courts could contribute immensely in the reduction and possible elimination of wildlife crimes.

Marathe asserted that it was vital for Botswana law enforcement agencies to share information and technical expertise with a view to increasing their knowledge capacity.

It was revealed that the Northern Region is the most affected district.  North Western part of Botswana is rich in biodiversity and home to many endangered species of wild fauna and flora. As a result the region is regarded a hotspot for wildlife crimes and illegal cross border activities.

Marathe explained that there was need for the country’s law enforcers to interrogate their capabilities with a view to investigating and prosecuting cases of wildlife crimes more effectively. The Divisional Commander demonstrated that cooperation among the investigators and prosecutors is not satisfactory.  “Common standards for investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes will be an important step towards improved cooperation among us,” stressed Marathe.

According to Marathe the country needs to come up with strategies to close existing gaps in the country’s investigations and prosecution of wildlife crimes and set the standard as a national bench mark.

Marathe stated that it was time law enforcement agencies started to enlist in their processes of wildlife crimes the use of scientific procedures to examine, identify and compare evidence from crime scenes, and to link the evidence gathered with a suspect and a victim (wild animal). She highlighted that forensic scientists have become more involved in the investigation of wild animals that are protected from hunting by laws.

Divisional Prosecutions Officer North, Omphemetse Mashiqa reiterated that there was weak communication between the investigations team and the prosecutors.

“No communication between the two cause failures, it leads to lack of common understanding of the case during trials.In the end courts fail to link our facts because of the disparities between the investigators and prosecutors,” Mashiqa pointed out.

He further advised that spontaneous prosecutions are solidified by good investigations so the two teams needed to improve to rectify their mistakes.

Mashiqa however took side for his office and charged the investigations team for the numerous errors they make during the process of investigating cases before handing them over to the prosecutions team.

He said that the investigations team normally fails to record case statements at the earliest stage of offences. Mashiqa advised that it was vital for statements to be recorded when facts of the case were still fresh in the minds of investigating officers. He complained that failure to do so lead to investigators mixing statements of different cases, a major contributor to their failures in the courts.

Mashiqa also plotted that the investigation team fails to preserve the scene where wildlife crime incidents took place. The Divisional Prosecutions Officer North warned that various interventions of the events should be avoided adding that investigators’ roles must be clearly defined.  He also stressed that prosecutors are failing to understand the importance of photographing scenes which can be presented as evidence before courts.

Weekend Post can reveal that magistrate Pandliwe Taka of Maun Magistrate Court was drawn in to give her advice on the judicial side. However, when magistrate Taka was about to take the podium an urgent decision was taken to throw out the Press and turn the forum into a closed session.

Wildlife crimes are recognized as one of the largest transnational organized crimes, alongside drugs, arms and human trafficking. At a summit recently held in Kasane on the 25th March 2015, representatives of governments and regional economic integration organizations acknowledged that to successfully tackle the illegal wildlife trade demands a strong and coordinated enforcement response was essential.

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