- Criminal lunatics detained indefinitely at the President’s pleasure
- 37 individuals are in Sbrana and likely more in prisons -UN
- A handful of “long-stay” patients remain in the hospital for the rest of their lives
The United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has expressed deep concerns over the indefinite detention of individuals recognized as unfit to stand trial due to their psychosocial disabilities in Botswana.
This alarming practice has drawn criticism from the international community and raised questions about human rights and legal safeguards.
These individuals, who have not been sentenced to a term of imprisonment due to their psychosocial disabilities, are being detained indefinitely at the President’s pleasure. This detention occurs both at Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital and in various prisons across the country.
Shockingly, the average length of their detention is a staggering 14.7 years, with some individuals having been detained for over two decades.
“Their average length of detention is 14.7 years, although the Working Group encountered persons who had been thus detained for over 20 years,” the report says.
The Mental Health Board assesses the possibility of their release on the basis of their medical condition, their ability to live in the community, their having family support and whether victim reconciliation has occurred. The assessment is sent to the Office of the President, where the release decision is taken.
“However, there are no published guidelines to inform the process and the Working Group was informed of the challenges that individuals faced in seeking to be released, especially in the absence of community-based support and treatment programmes in Botswana,” the report says.
It continues: “There were 37 such persons in Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital and more such persons in prisons. The detention of such individuals is de facto indefinite. A number of such individuals interviewed stated that, after decades detained, already exceeding the maximum time for their offence, they still did not know if and when they might be released.”
According to the report, the release of these individuals is contingent upon an assessment by the Mental Health Board, which takes into account their medical condition, their ability to reintegrate into the community, the presence of family support, and whether victim reconciliation has occurred. The assessment is then forwarded to the Office of the President, which ultimately decides on their release.
However, the UN Working Group found several concerning issues with this process. Most notably, there are no published guidelines to inform this assessment and release procedure, leading to a lack of transparency and accountability. Additionally, individuals seeking release face significant challenges, especially in the absence of community-based support and treatment programs within Botswana.
The report highlights that “there are currently 37 individuals in Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital and likely more in prisons who are subject to this de facto indefinite detention.” It further reveals that some individuals, despite having already exceeded the maximum time for their initial offense, remain uncertain about if and when they might be released.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on the Botswana government to address these issues urgently. They stress the importance of establishing clear guidelines for the assessment and release process, as well as ensuring that individuals with psychosocial disabilities have access to adequate community-based support and treatment programs.
In a call to action, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a set of critical recommendations to the government, aiming to address concerns surrounding the deprivation of liberty for individuals with psychosocial disabilities and those seeking rehabilitation from substance abuse.
Accelerate efforts to enact the Mental Health Bill and ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, in particular those enshrined in article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; prioritize the deinstitutionalization of individuals with psychosocial disabilities and individuals suffering from substance abuse, including by fostering the creation of effective community-based care; increase efforts to provide appropriate medical care to those with psychosocial disabilities, including by raising the numbers and professional capacity of medical professionals; establish and publish clear guidelines to inform the process by which release decisions for individuals held at the President’s pleasure are taken; and seek to create specialized facilities dedicated to providing care to individuals suffering from substance abuse, work towards the release of individuals who have been discharged and ensure effective harm-reduction services in the community