16 June 2017

Lesotho: Amnesty Calls for Justice for Rights Violations

Photo: Premium Times
Amnesty International.

Global human rights watchdog Amnesty International has called on the incoming Thomas Thabane-led coalition government to "act swiftly" to ensure accountability for past human rights violations.

In a report released yesterday, the organisation also urged the incoming four-party government to bring to an end the "spike in abuses recorded in recent years".

Amnesty's call comes amid a commitment by Deputy Prime Minister-designate Monyane Moleleki to establish a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) to "give all those who had erred a chance to come clean".

However, parties from the outgoing government have said the incoming government should tread carefully on the TRC and not make it a "witch-hunt" for the new administration's foes such as outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.

Dr Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC), Mr Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD), the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) last week cobbled up the 63 seats they garnered in the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections to form the next government.

The "four-by-four coalition", as it is affectionately called by its supporters, is expected to be inaugurated tomorrow.

Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, urged the new administration to "demonstrate a clear break from the past" by ensuring accountability for past human rights violations.

"For the past few years, Lesotho has been characterised by a political and security crisis, resulting in a spike in human rights violations," he said.

"Since 2014, we have documented a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition party members, journalists, human rights defenders and members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)."

Mr Muchena added: "The authorities must demonstrate a clear break from the past and urgently initiate a programme of human rights reform, including accountability and justice for the victims of human rights violations and abuses."

Among the measures the organisation has urged the incoming government to take are:

Ending the practice of arbitrary arrests and politically-motivated prosecution;

Taking effective measures to end the practice of torture and other ill-treatment;

Ensuring accountability and justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses, including the killing of Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao;

Ending attacks on the right to freedom of expression;

Complying with Lesotho's international and regional human rights obligations and commitments.

Lesotho has been dogged by bouts of political instability which were characterised by human rights violations and unprosecuted killings. Among the notable killings was of Lt-Gen Mahao in June 2015 by his erstwhile LDF colleagues, prompting Dr Mosisili to request to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help establish the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

SADC then dispatched a 10-member Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana. The commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.

Mr Moleleki committed to a TRC during a press conference held last week to announce formation of the incoming coalition government.

"We set up a commission of truth and reconciliation to give all those who had erred a chance to come clean," he said.

"To ensure that no one feels like the TRC would be targeting them, it will start with us and we will all disclose our wrongdoings freely.

"The expectation is that all those who confess will be restored in line with the teachings of Catechism. We are very serious about this issue and we expect all those who have taken what is not theirs to pay it back."

However, the outgoing government said they feared that the TRC would be used to settle old scores with the incoming regime's enemies.

The outgoing governing coalition consists of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress, Mr Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People's Congress (LPC) and Popular Front for Democracy.

Addressing a press conference the parties held last Friday, LPC Secretary-General Bokang Ramatšella said they were concerned that the TRC would target the incoming government's perceived foes.

"We are aware that they intend to target certain individuals like the DPM (Mr Metsing) and the former army commander Ntate Kamoli. And if that is the case, such a commission will never see the light of day," he said.

"We shall not sit back and watch the DPM being hauled before such a commission. The TRC's scope should start from as way back as the 1970 atrocities if it is established with good intentions."

The outgoing government has repeatedly accused the BNP government led by former premier Leabua Jonathan of burying their opponents alive in places such as Lipeketheng in Hlotse during the 1970s.

However, the BNP has vehemently denied the allegations, saying they were meant to "distort the truth for propaganda purposes".

Mr Ramatšella's sentiments were echoed by Mr Metsing during the same press conference, with the LCD leader saying: "We are very much aware of the 'good' intentions behind the commitment to establish a TRC. But, my appeal is for the commission to be handled with care and not to prejudice anyone.

"We support this initiative and commend it. We believe that if it is handled well, it has the potential of bringing this country much-needed peace and stability, as well as healing to those who were aggrieved in the past."

He added: "However, we would like to advise, and in all earnestness, recommend that those who will be steering this initiative handle it with utmost care.

"It should be a chivalrous exercise of truth and justice; without any malicious intent to degrade or torture only certain individuals. It should be a timeous exercise inclusive of all stakeholders and should reach all those it is intended to reach without any discrimination."

In his speech following his appointment on Monday, National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane said: "Finding a lasting peace for Basotho will undoubtedly be one of the main challenges that the new government will face. Genuine nation building and reconciliation will be a panacea for the many ills that have bedeviled this country."

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