IT is time the heads of security agencies moved from condemning and apologising for acts of brutality against citizens by their subordinates to taking concrete action against their rogue juniors.
For a very long time our security agencies, particularly the army and the police have hogged the headlines for torture, assault and other human rights violations (all the wrong reasons). We had hoped that this country had turned the corner with the appointment of Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela as army chief and Holomo Molibeli as police commissioner. We were probably wrong. Impunity by the soldiers and police is increasing with each passing day. The rogue elements in the army and police are now taking advantage of the lockdown to wantonly violate human rights by torturing and assaulting civilians who they accuse of violating regulations to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
We note Lt-Gen Letsoela and Commissioner Molibeli’s apologies over the rights abuses and their exhortations for their subordinates to respect the rights of citizens. However, continuing reports of torture and beatings of citizens suggest their messages are not getting through to their subordinates. They must therefore move from talking to taking action.
They must institute investigations and take disciplinary action against the culprits who appear determined to continue tarnish the already tainted images of the security agencies.
The need for the security forces to enforce compliance with the lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly virus which has infected nearly two million worldwide and continues to claim thousands of lives daily is wholly understandable. But this must all be done within the confines of the law. We accept that some people wilfully violate regulations while others take a chance to try and avoid seclusion in their homes. That still does not justify the excesses we are seeing from the police and the army. Wilful violators must be filtered and charged lawfully.
However, our soldiers and police officers seem to think that the only way of enforcing compliance is by bludgeoning civilians to within an inch of their lives.
Sages speak of people who learn nothing from their previous mistakes and end up repeating the same mistakes with negative consequences to themselves and the rest of the nation.
The army and the police certainly fall into this category. Their recent history is littered with gross human rights violations which stink up to the high heavens.
The courts of law have a huge backlog of criminal cases and lawsuits filed against members of the security agencies. We imagined that the pending murder cases against former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli and former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa would serve as a warning that human rights violations by security forces will never be tolerated no matter the cause.
We also believed that after receiving training on civilian-military relations for more than a year from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces who were stationed in Lesotho from 2017 to 2018, the army and the police would better handle civilians without resorting to barbaric methods to force compliance with the law.
How wrong we were. If anything, some of the soldiers and police officers appear determined to remain on their well-trodden path of abusing civilians. They should however, know that there will be consequences some day in the future. History and what we have seen in this country teaches us the day of reckoning is always unavoidable. They will face the full wrath of the law in their individual capacities when the time comes. Who among us would ever have foretold that Tlali Kamoli himself, who had elevated himself to some self-imagined demi-god, would spend a good three years as a guest at Maseru Maximum prison with a possible death sentence hovering over his head. At the height of his power, Kamoli cared for nobody. Human life mattered little for him and his fellow murderers.
Perhaps and ironically, it is the strength of Lesotho’s democracy that governments collapse and change every two years. It ensures that excesses of the past are rectified and punished sooner by the succeeding government. Unlike elsewhere in Africa where leaders remain in power forever and carry their impunity to their graves.
We call upon the heads of the security agencies to dump their seemingly diplomatic posturing to reports of impunity and get tough with their rogue subordinates. They too must know their inaction is in itself criminal. Their own day of reckoning awaits them on account of their failure to do what is right.
Videos are circulating on social media documenting various acts of brutality against civilians. In one incident, the soldiers besieged a civilian inside his home and left him with broken limbs as punishment for his child whom they found outside fetching water. There is simply no excuse for such continued barbaric behaviour against civilians. We cannot go on like this as a nation.