Lesotho: Rogue Police Officers Face the Music As Govt Finally Acts On Brutality

AT LEAST 30 rogue police officers, accused of brutality including killing and injuring suspects in police custody, will soon face criminal charges as government moves to act against police brutality and restore public confidence in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

Another 11 cases are pending before the courts and nine others will be recommended for an inquiry.

This according to a government report presented at the recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state and government summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The upsurge of incidents of torture and deaths of suspects in police custody has firmly focused the international spotlight on Lesotho's human rights records with some key development partners such as the United States government openly warning the government of a looming suspension of critical development assistance if correct measures are not taken.

Lesotho was also on the SADC agenda as regional leaders wanted to gain an understanding on the progress and obstacles that have resulted in delays in implementing multi-sector reforms.

The reforms including security sector reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country were recommended by SADC in 2016 and Lesotho has already missed a May 2019 deadline to have fully implemented constitutional and security reforms.

And over the weekend, the government reiterated its commitment to implementing the multi-sector reforms and also outlined the steps it was taking to bring to book, rogue police officers suspected of crimes against civilians.

"The government of Lesotho has taken practical steps in a quest to address the general concern by members of the public regarding police brutality. These include interdiction of 30 police officers who will appear for criminal prosecution and/or disciplinary hearings," the government stated in its report to SADC leaders.

"There are also 11 criminal cases pending before the courts of law while ten have been recommended for inquest," the government stated.

The government said the 30 police officers will be tried with due consideration to fairness and impartiality of the prosecution process based on the merits on each case.

The government's report to the regional leaders comes barely a month after government officials and victims of police brutality joined the growing local and international calls for Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli to act against rogue officers who have been fingered in acts of brutality against civilians.

In the latest reports of police brutality, rogue officers allegedly tortured 49-year-old Nqosa Mahao of Ha Mabote, Maseru and 31 year-old Kabelo Ratia of Nazareth in the Maseru district. Mr Mahao was abducted from his Mabote home on 18 July on suspicion of hiding firearms on behalf of some rogue soldiers.

While several people have come forward with accusations, it is the alleged torture of Mr Ratia which has grabbed the headlines.

In one of the worst accusations of sordid and sadistic behaviour leveled against the police, Mr Ratia alleges that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces.

Mr Ratia was arrested for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman. During his detention Mr Ratia was allegedly subjected to horrendous torture and forced to implicate others including one Thabo May in the alleged theft of the businessman's money. Mr May was hospitalised and eventually died of the injuries inflicted on him.

Mr Ratia and other suspects did not take their alleged torture lying down and their lawyer, Advocate Mafaesa, of Zwelakhe Mda Chambers have since written to Commissioner Molibeli demanding action against the rogue officers. Adv Mafaesa threatened to sue the officers as well as Commissioner Molibeli in the event that the latter did not act against the rogue officers.

"We act on the instructions of Kabelo Ratia, Thabiso May, Thato Liau, Gerard Leshapa and Thabo May," Adv Mafaesa states in his 18 July 2019 letter to Commissioner Molibeli.

"Our clients instruct us that they were tortured by the following officers: Police Constable (PC) Maanela, PC Lelaka, PC Tšiame, PC Morake and three other officers whose particulars are unknown to our clients. They (police officers) subjected our clients to inhuman and degrading treatment, which in terms of the Lesotho laws and international norms, amount to crimes against humanity."

Adv Mafaesa stated that fellow police officers at Matela Police Station refused to allow the torture victims to press charges against their alleged torturers and therefore Commissioner Molibeli should intervene and ensure the charges are filed.

"In the event of your failure to act, our instructions are to approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis for appropriate relief. In that regard damages and punitive costs will be sought against you and the said rogue police officers in your personal and official capacities," Adv Mafaesa states.

The torture allegations have focused the spotlight on the police for brutality against civilians with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) report expressing concern over the "persistent allegations of police brutality" in Lesotho and called on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

"The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue," the ACHPR report states.

The United States ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, recently warned that Lesotho risks losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about "unacceptable" corruption and police brutality against citizens.

"I am deeply concerned about alarming reports of corruption and police brutality - behaviour that is unacceptable and non-negotiable. The consequences of an interrupted compact development will not be as serious as the negative impact to the people of Lesotho caused by failure to address these critical issues," Ms Gonzales said in February. Ms Gonzales repeated the warning in June 2019 interview with the Lesotho Times.

Meanwhile, the government also told the SADC leaders that relations among the police, army, intelligence and prison services have improved. One of the stated objectives of the SADC standby force to Lesotho from December 2017 to November 2018 was to re-train the security forces to improve civilian-military relations as well as improve relations among the security agencies.

And this weekend the government said relations among the security agencies had significantly improved as shown by the fact that the security bosses now issued joint statements on security matters.

"Notably, there is a significant amount of synergy and complementarity amongst security agencies, epitomised by joint operations. Security agencies have also undertaken psycho-social support programmes in the form of workshops and seminars led by the Christian Council of Lesotho.

"Security agencies have undertaken workshops and seminars and accordingly developed a draft concept note on the development of the National Security Policy and Strategy. The experts on Security Sector Reforms from Malawi, South Africa and Zambia reported in Maseru on the 9th of August 2019 to train and capacitate security sector agencies from 12th of August 2019," the government states in its report.

It further states that joint meetings intended to ensure collaboration and cooperation have eliminated the challenge of overlapping mandates among the security agencies.

At the summit held on 17 and 18 August 2019, SADC leaders also applauded Lesotho for the enactment of legislation to establish the National Reforms Authority (NRA).

The NRA will be an independent body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the multi-sector reforms. Prime Minister Thabane represented Lesotho at the summit.

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