THE Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) says the draft Amnesty Bill of 2016 is meant to “promote favouritism and impunity” at the expense of national healing in the country.
The Amnesty Bill, 2016, which is still being drafted by the government, is expected to be tabled in the National Assembly after it reconvenes on 11 November this year.
If tabled in the National Assembly in its current form by Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi and passed into law, the bill would see members of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police, National Security Service, Lesotho Correctional Service, government officials and “any other person” being granted amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.
The amnesty would extend to members of the LDF whom the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability had recommended should face prosecution.
In its “Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Amnesty Act, 2016” the bill states it is meant to bring “lasting peace and tranquillity” in the country and to be a “tool for reconciliation and reconstruction”.
It is also meant to enable members of the disciplined force and services to “undertake their institutions’ constitutional mandate without any fear of persecution and prosecution”.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru this week, TRC’s Democracy Officer ‘Makatleho Mohasi said the draft amnesty bill promoted favouritism by suggesting there were categories of soldiers that would be retired while others were retained.
In the case of the detained soldiers and members of disciplined services, the bill states they would be released upon “coming into operation of this Act” and required to hand over “whatever military property may be in their possession” before being retired and given their terminal benefits. This also applies to members of the LDF and disciplined services exiled in South Africa.
However, for serving members of the LDF and disciplined services facing these charges, they would not only be granted amnesty but continue with their employment.
“As far as the bill is concerned, all the groups covered are deemed to be all liable for criminal offences and if there was an opportunity for ‘fair trial’ they would all be equally charged and prosecuted,” said Ms Mohasi.
“Why not retire all three categories if they are equally guilty? Alternatively, why not retain all in LDF employment?”
She said the TRC’s stance was that those who had committed “crimes against humanity” such as violations of human rights should face the law and not protected by those in power.
Ms Mohasi said government should strengthen amnesty by applying all its provisions equally across the board by “either retiring all soldiers associated with the crimes outlined whether serving or otherwise or retain them all”.
She said this was the only way of removing the perception that the draft amnesty bill was motivated by favouritism and promoting impunity.
Ms Mohasi further said the TRC also recommended that government should make amnesty conditional on full disclosure of crimes, so that those refusing to own up to their crimes could still be prosecuted.
She said such a disclosure would “ensure historical record is retained while forgiving, and would counteract impunity even in limited fashion”.
“Effecting disclosure would ensure ‘evidence’ is available to enable the state to compensate; and full disclosure would open the door to healing, with closure and acknowledgement for those wronged, and therapy and opportunity to be forgiven for wrong-doers,” Ms Mohasi added.
TRC Director Tšoeu Petlane echoed the sentiment, saying even in Christianity, “you are given amnesty or pardon for what you have disclosed publicly”.
Mr Petlane said it was also disingenuous for government to say there were no divisions in the LDF and go on to create a law that was geared towards addressing those divisions.
He also said it was unfortunate that African leaders were moving to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Gambia, South Africa and Burundi have withdrawn from the ICC, accusing the Hague-based tribunal of the “persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.
“In the past two weeks, we have seen three signatories to the Rome Statute withdrawing. We hope that this does not mean Lesotho is also moving in that direction,” said Mr Petlane, adding this undermined the rule of law in on the continent.