Mosisili’s one year in office marred by rights violations
By Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for the Southern Africa regional office
Exactly a year ago, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili came to power as the leader of the Kingdom of Lesotho. He was nominated by a coalition of seven political parties after elections in February 2015 failed to produce a clear winner.
He pledged to guide Lesotho as a constitutional monarchy...This meant that the human rights of every person in Lesotho would be respected and protected,
Among other things, he pledged to guide Lesotho as a constitutional monarchy, ensuring that the country upholds democracy and the rule of law. This meant that the human rights of every person in Lesotho would be respected and protected, as enshrined in the constitution of 1993. Everyone would be equal before the law, making the Kingdom a place where the new government worked with state institutions to deliver an integrated vision of enhanced human development, human rights, the rule of law and accountability.
However, Lesotho has been nothing like that for the past year. The country has attracted plenty of regional and international attention since Pakalitha Mosisili became prime minister – but it has not been for his lofty declarations.
Tension over the control of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and power struggles in the security sector have undermined the country’s modest human rights...
Instead, human rights violations and abuse of power have become a worrying hallmark of his government’s first year in power. The ubiquitous tension over the control of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and power struggles in the security sector have undermined the country’s modest human rights record.
The killing last June of Maaparankoe Mahau, former LDF Lieutenant-General, illustrates the continuing serious violations of human rights in the country. He was killed by four members of the LDF who had gone to arrest him after he was accused of leading a mutiny. The LDF has maintained that he died resisting arrest.
His alleged killers have been suspended from duty but there has not been a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into his death. Maaparankoe Mahao’s family, his wife and children, are still looking for answers.
The report by the Southern African Development Community Commission of Inquiry found that “on balance of probabilities evidence shows that Brigadier Mahao did not resist arrest” and that “excessive force was used”, resulting in his death. But the findings received a less-than-enthusiastic reception from the authorities and leadership of the country. The handling of this case has further isolated Lesotho, showing it to be unwilling to be part of regional peer-review mechanisms and norms.
Following the reappointment of the LDF Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli last May, 23 soldiers were accused of leading a mutiny because of their perceived loyalty to Mahau.
The soldiers were arrested by masked Special Forces members of the LDF and detained at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison. Disturbingly, there have been allegations that torture was used to extract testimonies of their alleged involvement in the “mutiny”.
While human rights lawyers have been working to secure the release of these soldiers, they have so far only succeeded in seven cases. Despite a court order on 5 October 2015, ordering all the soldiers to be released on “open arrest”, 16 of them remain in detention. The LDF seems determined to keep these soldiers behind bars, in complete disregard of the laws of the country.
Human rights lawyer Khotso Nthontho was also arrested and briefly detained in Maseru on 12 February 2016. He is one of the five lawyers who have consistently stood up to defend soldiers facing a court martial. I could point to many other human rights violations in the country recently. The picture is not looking good.
With that said, respecting the supremacy of the rule of law in Lesotho is the best solution to the ongoing human rights crisis. The government must promote and ensure the independence of the judiciary and that it is empowered and able to function optimally to do justice to all manner of persons, regardless of their political, social or economic status. The country must establish a human rights commission to ensure checks and balances against human rights violations.
The country must establish a human rights commission to ensure checks and balances against human rights violations.
Lesotho is also facing a severe drought, to add to its list of pressing human rights and other problems, which include acute poverty, chronic malnutrition, high rates of drop-out from school, unemployment, inequality and one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world. More than 8% of children die before they are 5 years old and the average life expectancy is just 48. Ranked 161th out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index, Lesotho is in the lowest human development category.
As this government enters its second year in power, Prime Minister Mosisili must show strong leadership and reverse the downward spiral, foster a culture that upholds full respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
The article first appeared in the Sunday Times of South Africa www.timeslive.co.za