On Sunday 19th June 2016, under the auspices of #BreakingtheSilence, spouses and children of the detained and exiled soldiers and those of the murdered former Commander of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), staged a march in Maseru to remind the public of their plight stretching for a year. Their suffering is a result of the following circumstances.
1. Early 2015, some soldiers were ambushed and seriously injured by their colleagues close to the Royal Palace. At least two of those were seriously injured and were rushed to South Africa for urgent medical attention. Their lengthy stay in South Africa began their exile.
2. Another batch of soldiers were detained and severely tortured at the Sedibeng Military Facility for up to a week until they were brought to the Lesotho High Court as a result of habeas corpus applications by their families. They showed serious signs of torture. Brought to court in leg shackles by heavily armed soldiers who refused to answer any questions under the guise of military operational commands except that one Captain Sechele declared himself the Operational Commander in rounding up the detained soldiers for mutiny.
3. Another batch of soldiers fled to South Africa between April and June 2015 fearing detention and inhuman treatment like that meted to those of their colleagues held in Setibing.
4. Part of the army crackdown on those soldiers who were targeted was the former Commander of LDF, Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao who was waylaid in broad day light and murdered in Mokema, about 20 KM out of Maseru by the same group which Sechele announced he was leading.
Both the spouses and the children of all the above victims, narrated horrific experiences of brutality meted to the detainees that they observed and were informed by the latter. They also narrated their deprivation of spousal and parental companionship by the continued detention of over one year by their detained husbands/fathers for one group and exile for the same period by another group of soldiers. The children of the murdered former Commander of LDF related their permanent deprivation of their father. But more horrific, the younger of those children of about twelve years related the ultimate torture he experienced, when the killers of his father, who had confiscated the latter’s mobile phone, used the same phone number of his father to call the child. It is absolute horror meted to a young child.
If anything, listening to those children, some younger than ten years, has left in all those who value human life a deep sense of injustice and inhumanity that Lesotho has descended to. That experience has given me a voice to publicize their fate and hope that international voices will prevail and those in detention given their freedom and those in exile be safely brought back to their children. But more importantly, it is hoped that the perpetrators of these horrific crimes will be made to account. That is our expectation, despite the stance of the government, as Prime Minister Mosisili says in his statement to the National Assembly calling for amnesty for those who have been fingered to have committed crimes.
From July 2015 SADC has been so preoccupied with the Lesotho crisis leading to no less than four meetings of the Double Troika and two Summits of Heads of State and Government. With the above developments in mind, SADC established an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the perennial instability in Lesotho and in particular the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lt. General Mahao. Led by Justice Phumaphi from Botswana, and made up of eminent personalities in politics, law, military and police from the SADC region, the Commission completed its work and submitted it to the regional leadership in November 2015. The report was received and endorsed by the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Gaborone in January 2016. The Phumaphi Commission made findings and recommended accountability as one of the key elements of the solution of the Lesotho crisis. This was the first International Commission set up by SADC to investigate issues which would ordinarily be regarded as internal affairs to any of its member states.
Amongst other key decisions emanating from the Phumaphi Report, the Summit decided that Lt. General Kamoli must be fired and that all those implicated in the treasonous activities of August 2014 be brought before the courts; those who have committed murder and other heinous crimes but have been shielded by Kamoli must be suspended and brought to the courts to answer for themselves; exiled Basotho should be brought back to the country securely; and that detained soldiers must be freed under an amnesty. In essence, and without saying so, these decisions by SADC mean that the whole criminal venture whose head office is within the LDF barracks be dismantled. Without a complete dismantling of this group, there can never be peace and security in Lesotho.
At the centre of all the above findings and recommendations by the Commission is the effort to bring an end to impunity. For several years as the table below will indicate, the LDF had flouted the law and denied by force of arms accountability by its members who became a law onto themselves. Most of the cases referred to above were investigated, but the suspects and their weapons were kept out of reach of the investigators. In one of the sittings of the Phumaphi Commission, one Colonel Sechele who declared himself as the Operation Commander in the round up of the soldiers who were detained and the murder of Lt. General Mahao, pointedly told the Commission that no soldiers would be handed to the police.
LDF and Lawlessness
Annexure 9 of the Commission’s Report shows the cases which the LDF members have allegedly committed but have avoided to answer their cases in court. The table below shows a sample of serious crimes which have gone unpunished from 2012 as a result of the stance of the LDF Command that its members cannot be subjected to the law of the land like any other citizen. But more importantly, is the fact that several letters were written to the LDF Commander by two successive Commissioners of Police to release the suspects. Several summons and warrants of arrest have been issued but could not be enforced.
|Police Station||CIR NO||Offence||Suspects Rank||Status of Investigation|
|Morija||673/01/12||Attempted murder||Warrant Officer and three privates||No progress|
|Mohale||03/04/12||Murder, attempted murder, malicious damage to property||Not stated||No progress|
|Mafeteng||30/04/12||Murder||2nd Lieutenant and 4 privates||No progress|
|Mokhotlong||274/06/13||GBH||4 privates||No progress|
|Thamae||146/06/14||Murder, attempted murder and malicious damage to property||Lance Corporal and 2 privates||No progress|
|Maseru Central Police Station||616/10/12||GBH, malicious damage to property, and sexual offenses||3 Lance Corporals||No progress|
|Maseru Police Headquarters||2535/02/15
|Murder||Not shown||No progress
|Maseru Police Headquarters||Bombing of three houses (27/01/2014)||Brigadier, 2 Captains, 3 Second Lieutenants, and a Major||No progress|
|Maseru Police Headquarters||High Treason||Lt. General, 2 majors, Captain, 2 2nd Lieutenants, Corporal and a lance corporal||No progress|
The above table indicates the level of impunity that pervades the LDF. But more importantly, whether by coincidence or otherwise, more than 90% of the suspects in the cases referred to above have now been promoted and with some of them skipping ranks. It is clear that the suspects are well protected and are being rewarded rather than being made to account for their actions. Surprisingly Prime Minister Mosisili in one army pass out parade expressed his gratefulness to the military for ensuring that he regained power. We are thus not surprised by inaction to bring the suspects to the courts of law.
Ahead of the Double Troika Summit in Gaborone on 28/06/2016, Prime Minister addressed the National Assembly on the implementation of SADC decisions. Three issues came to the fore.
1) On relieving Kamoli of his Command, he complained that the Phumaphi Commission’s findings were baseless and not based on international standards. He however conceded that it is impossible to retain him because of domestic and international pressure. He accordingly would negotiate with him on an amicable separation.
2) On the murder of Lt. General Mahao, he indicated that the police have been instructed to investigate the matter and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) would ensure that the matter is handled in line with existing processes. Mosisili did not however indicate how he would ensure that the weapons which were used to kill Mahao and the vehicles which were used to carry his body from the murder scene a year ago were handed over to investigators. Moreover he did not indicate how the apparent collusion and complicity of government structures with the killers would be erased in the minds of the family concerned. Lack of trust in both the police and the DPP’s office are such that it would be virtually impossible for the family of the deceased to believe that the case would be handled in manner that would lead to a fair verdict. The Phumaphi Commission after experiencing the broken nature of the Lesotho criminal justice system recommended that the investigations should be undertaken vigorously and that the police must be resourced. The resource can only be through independent investigators who will be under supervision. Without that justice is likely to be perverted.
3) Prime Minister also addressed the question of detained soldiers who have been languishing in the Maximum Prison for over a year. He indicated that rather than providing an amnesty to those detainees alone, he would explore how to include those who were identified in Annexure 9 of the Phumaphi Report. It must be remembers that one of the key pillars of the report endorsed by the Double Troika was the issue of accountability. It is clear according to Mosisili that the perpetrators of crime must be given equivalent treatment to the victims of crime. It must be remembered that some of those detainees have been tortured over a long period and others have been in exile and not even received their salaries. It is absurd therefore to treat people who have suffered so much with those associated with murder of civilians, a police officer, and a former Commander of the army. The table above shows that crimes have been conducted at all levels of the LDF.
Impunity would set a very serious precedent to serving military officers. It would say to them that if you don’t want a certain civilian administration, you must resist it long enough; kill a number of people as an intimidation mechanism; set bombs in some houses; and kill any policeman or soldier who does not fall in line.
Finally it must be clear to everybody that the whole criminal justice system in Lesotho is broken. In order to ensure that there is no impunity, the investigations and prosecution of the suspects in the cases above, should be under SADC supervision. Any other route will lead to rigged trials. The perpetrators will go free and that will create a fertile ground for revenge in the future.
In addition, we caution against an amnesty for people who have committed these heinous crimes because it will perpetuate instability in the country. Amnesty for crimes like the above would amount to inflicting additional pain on the victims and their families. We hope the Double Troika Summit in Gaborone will exercise caution and refuse to be hoodwinked to condone murders and treason in Lesotho.