For sometime now the state of human rights in Lesotho has been appalling. One only needs to glance through Lesotho High Court records on habeas corpus cases where several detained Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) soldiers have narrated harrowing stories of beatings and torture to understand the magnitude of the problem. Several cases have been heard and judgements made to release detained soldiers, but all those have been ignored. A big challenge to the rule of law. The point here however is that there is an environment of intimidation and threats against the lawyers who have been representing the detained soldiers. Indeed one of the lawyers for the detained soldiers has now fled the country for fear of his live. The arrest of Khotso Nthontho, a lawyer for some of the detained soldiers on an alleged perjury case in a case at the Court of Appeal, spurred Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) to make a statement condemning the arrest and the environment of intimidation that prevails in Lesotho.
In a statement signed by its President Z.Mda (KC), the LLHR condemned the arrest of Nthontho and went further to point out that one of the Colonels in the LDF had told the lawyer’s clients a few days earlier that he was going to be arrested. The statement went further to point out that “..The above facts speak to the low and despicable level to which some elements and handlers within our society have sunk in their relentless pursuit of a project to undermine the rule of law in the misguided belief that the savior of democracy and justice is in the bullet and not the ballot.”
Signing off as Rt. Honourable Lt. General Kamoli Commander LDF, Kamoli could not hold himself. He wrote to LLHR accusing it of disrespecting authority and arguing further that the statement only mentions two lawyers who may have been affected, while there over hundred lawyers in Lesotho. He complained that the statement was meant to besmirch the good name of LDF. Kamoli’s letter was largely one which was meant to intimidate LLHR but that was not to be so.
In a sharp rebuttal, Mda wrote to the Commander LDF on the 10th March 2016 addressing largely two things: the substantive issues raised by LDF; and also the arrogation by Kamoli to himself of the title of Right Honourable which in Lesotho is only used by the Prime. On the substantive issues, Mda points out that LLHR statement was focused on condemning unwarranted attacks on lawyers, and is less concerned on how many have been attacked. Lawyers’ calling he argues is to resist tyranny and fascism. “It is of pivotal significance that, as lawyers we were taught to respect the law, not be afraid of authority and to exact accountability from those who exercise public power. Thus we are respecters of no man but the law. If you feel lawyers have been given license to insult those in authority under the pretext of promoting and protect in Human Rights clearly there is a strong case for the submission that you are not fit to lead an institution whose function includesprotecting democracy and the rule of law”
The letter is a major rebuke to the powerful LDF Commander who is generally feared. It also goes on to address an equally important matter of titles. Kamoli, in his communications refers to himself as Right Honourable, a title which only the Prime Minister uses in Lesotho. For whatever reason he has arrogated that to himself. It is perhaps an indication of the reality of power in Lesotho. The Commander of LDF is practically the one who is in charge of the government. Mda’s letter to Kamoli pointedly expresses dismay that “…you have arrogated the title: THE RIGHT HONOURABLE to yourself and also having the audacity to copy the letter with this venerable title to The Right Honourable The Prime Minister.” The letter points out that LLRH there is no precedent the whole World where a soldier however high in rank is referred to as the Right Honourable. LLHR, Mda argues, does not recognise nor accept Kamoli’s useof that title as it is by convention constitutionally assigned to the Prime Minister.
We in lesothoanalysis subscribe to both the substantive issues raised by LLHR and also the misuse of titles. Titles matter a lot in general and in Lesotho in particular. I’m afraid that this unpreceded rebuke to Kamoli has come late, but it is a welcome move indicating that fear is being put aside by our people. Kamoli had no standing to issue a statement on a non-military issue. The government should have responded to the statement if it was irked by it, not Kamoli.
Professor Mafa M Sejanamane