Lesotho 2019
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Lesotho 2019

Human rights violations and impunity continued unabated. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment continued. The right to freedom of expression remained severely restricted. There were unlawful killings.

Background

Lesotho was ranked among Low Human Development countries by the 2019 United Nations Human Development Programme report, at 164, with women accounting for the highest number of people who live in poverty[1]. In July, political parties agreed to constitutional, governance, security and media reforms to ease tensions that continued to mount. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa brokered the agreement. Ramaphosa appointed retired South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to mediate the process that led to the agreement. Ramaphosa was appointed by the Southern Africa Development Community to facilitate dialog between the parties.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment continued against the police, but investigations remained inadequate.

On 16 July 2019, Kabelo Ratea appeared before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court after he was ordered to do so by the Hamatela Police, on charges of robbery. He was taken to the Hamatela police station, where he was allegedly tortured until he soiled himself and police forced him to eat his feces. He was then released. On 1 August police told him to come back to court and the prosecutor informed the magistrate that the charges against Ratea were withdrawn. On 5 August, Ratea appeared before the Maseru Magistrates Court after he was ordered to do so by the Hamatela Police. Ratea was then remanded in custody without summons. He launched an urgent application for relief. On 11 September 2019, the High Court of Lesotho granted the relief application and ordered the release of Ratea.

Poshoane Moloi died on 27 December 2018, after being allegedly tortured by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS). Around 4am on 27 December 2018, approximately 70 uniformed police officers raided two villages, Lilhloahloeng, and Ha-Shishila Kao in the Lesotho Highlands region. The police officers were heavily armed with firearms, chisels and sticks. Their faces were covered with balaclava masks and they broke into houses. The reason for the raid is unclear, but it happened two days after an altercation in a bar between an off-duty police officer and a villager. It also occurred in the context of ongoing community-led protests for the mine to provide infrastructure, including roads and electricity, to the mining-affected community.[2] The LMPS spokesperson confirmed on 20 February 2019 in a telephone conversation with Amnesty International that the National Police Commissioner had opened an investigation following the death of Moloi and that it is ongoing. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Law and Public safety, met with the LMPS and visited Kao village on a fact-finding mission, following the death of Moloi, and was due to present a report on allegations of torture to Parliament.

On 27 December 2018, police allegedly rounded up approximately 45 men and transported them to the Mabunyaneng river running through the Kao village, where they made all of them lie down on their stomachs, kicked them and ordered them to roll on the stones on the riverbank. The police officers also assaulted the men with gun butts, sticks, chisels, wires and stones from the time they were rounded      up from their homes, until they reached the riverside.

On 8 February 2018, one villager, Terene Pitae was killed by police during protests by the community against the Kao mine’s failure to deliver on promises to compensate villagers for losing their homes. The LMPS spokesperson confirmed that the National Police Commissioner had launched an investigation into the death of Pitae in 2018 in a telephone conversation with Amnesty International on 20 February 2019, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had referred the matter of Pitae’s death to the Butha-Buthe magistrate’s court.

Impunity

In July, judges from the South African Development Community (SADC) began hearing the trial of people accused of killing Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao, who died in 2015 allegedly at the hands of members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who claimed he had resisted arrest while leading a mutiny.  The trial had been postponed from February after 16 of the accused appealed first to the High Court and then to the Court of Appeal, asking for the involvement of the SADC judges to be declared unconstitutional.  Both appeals were unsuccessful.  A SADC Commission of Inquiry set up in 2015 found no evidence that Lieutenant-General Mahao had planned a mutiny, concluded that he had been deliberately killed and recommended a criminal investigation.  The trial had not concluded by year’s end.


[1] https://www.ls.undp.org/content/lesotho/en/home/library/Human-Development-Report-2019.html

[2] Amnesty International (AI), Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Public Statement AI INDEX: AFR 33/9896/2019 22 February 2019 Lesotho: Authorities must ensure an independent investigation into torture allegations and death: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR3398962019ENGLISH.pdf