Mahao family fights on

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National University Lesotho Vice Chancellor Nqosa Mahao
National University Lesotho Vice Chancellor Nqosa Mahao

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

The family of slain former army commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao, is requesting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to be in charge of criminal investigations into their relative’s death at the hands of his military colleagues on 25 June 2015.

Addressing a press conference held in Maseru this week, the family said Lesotho’s criminal justice system did not have the “will and capacity” to “meaningfully and genuinely” investigate the case hence the request for SADC’s assistance.

Lieutenant-General Mahao was fatally shot just outside Maseru, allegedly while resisting arrest on suspicion he was behind a foiled mutiny plot involving several LDF members who are now appearing before a Court Martial.

Following the shooting, government requested SADC to help probe the tragedy, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.

After the probe, the Commission made several recommendations aimed at finding lasting harmony in the Kingdom.

Among the recommendations was the removal of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli to restore Basotho’s trust in the LDF, criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao should be started and lead to prosecution, constitutional reforms, the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceed in line with international best practice, as well as amnesty for the 23 soldiers facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial.

But according to Professor Nqosa Mahao, who was addressing reporters on behalf of the family, SADC should be involved in the investigations as it doubted the local criminal justice system could handle the matter.

Prof Mahao said the family raised its concerns with the regional bloc ahead of its Double Troika Summit on Lesotho held in Gaborone, Botswana, this week.

The concerns, he added, were contained in a letter dated 23 June 2016, which read in part: “As a key stakeholder in the matter that will serve before the Summit, the family finds it fitting to brief Your Excellencies, especially in the aftermath of the government of Lesotho’s statement read by the Right Honourable Prime Minister before Lesotho’s parliament on 20 June 2016. Suffice it to say that our briefing is largely confined to the injunction of the Double Troika Summit of 18 January 2016 in Gaborone amply and better outlined in the Commission of Inquiry, that is the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi report itself setting out that: The government of Lesotho should ensure that criminal investigations on the death of Brigadier Mahao be pursued vigorously and that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service is empowered and resourced accordingly. The investigations should be conducted expeditiously and comprehensively without any hindrance and that all physical evidence be surrendered. A finality of the investigations should lead to a transparent course of justice.

“We want to talk about the family experience with government. Our apprehensions as the family of the late Lt-Gen Mahao are framed by our experience with the conduct of the government of Lesotho and its institutions as hereunder briefly outlined:

“At its Pretoria, South Africa, meeting on 3 July 2015, just about a week after Lt-Gen Mahao was brutally murdered, the Double Troika ordered, as a matter of utmost urgency, the deployment of pathologists along with ballistic experts to examine the body of the deceased and collect all material evidence. However, ballistic experts dispatched from Pretoria were denied access to material evidence on the apparent instruction from Lesotho authorities.”

Prof Mahao said at several of its meetings with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the family was told of the LDF’s “refusal to handover weapons used in the killing, vehicle used to transport the deceased from the scene of crime, his personal belongings such as side firearm, two mobile phones and spectacles.”

It was this missing evidence, he added, “which Justice Phumaphi’s Commission   was unable to lay its hands on and for which it recommended further investigation. In its report, the Commission also observed ‘that the investigation on the death of Mahao has been stopped. The Commission is persuaded to believe that this move was calculated to hide the fact that the LDF hindered the investigations. The facts are that the LDF refused to surrender physical evidence, weapons and vehicles used and the deceased’s mobile phones.”

“Against this flagrant violation of the law, the family appealed in writing on 14 September 2015 to the Right Honourable Prime Minister to invoke his administration and constitutional powers to direct the LDF to abide by the law and handover to the LMPS and the Phumaphi Commission the items specified above. The letter further implored the Right Honourable Prime Minister to cause the LDF to provide the LMPS and the Commission the names of the LDF personnel who carried out the operation that resulted in Lt-Gen Mahao’s assassination.

“It will shock their Excellencies that the Right Honourable Prime Minister did not only find it fit not to respond to the appeal of a distraught family crying out for justice, but he failed to even acknowledge the letter. This nonchalant disposition of the Prime Minister was consistent with the generally hostile attitude of the government of Lesotho as the following examples will show:

  • The statement by Mr Monyane Moleleki, Minister of Police, at a press conference in July 2015 where he declared that the killers of Lt-Gen Mahao would never be prosecuted.
  • Prime Minister Mosisili’s own testimony before the Phumaphi Commission to the effect that the LDF and government would never disclose the names of perpetrators of the killing because they carried out an authorised operation.
  • Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and all officers of the LDF, including Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, in similar vein refused to disclose the names of personnel involved in the operation on the same argument as the Prime Minister above.
  • An instruction to inform Lt-Gen Mahao’s widow that the army will not release his terminal benefits. In consequence of this unlawful intervention, to date Lt-Gen Mahao’s terminal benefits remain illegally withheld by the LDF and government.
  • Threats, harassment and stalking of Mrs ’Mamphanya Mahao, Lt-Gen Mahao’s widow, by elements suspected to belong to military intelligence after she testified before Justice Phumaphi’s Commission. In September 2015, the family wrote the Minister of Police and LMPS Commissioner reporting these threats to the widow and her young children. Your Excellencies would be shocked to know that both authorities never responded to this appeal for the widow to be assured of her safety. As a result, Mrs Mahao, together with her young children have since had to evacuate the comfort of their home to live elsewhere with relatives as some kind of internally displaced persons.
  • In the aftermath of the Gaborone 18 January 2016 decisions, the family through its lawyers wrote to the Commissioner of Police in March requesting to be briefed about progress in the investigations. When almost two months went by without neither a response nor an acknowledgement, we escalated our plea to the Right Honourable Prime Minister by a letter dated 4 May 2016, which to date also goes unanswered.”

Prof Mahao said against this background, the family was “hardly convinced by apparent convention by the government’s hastily prepared announcement that all of a sudden, it has both the will and capacity to investigate meaningfully and genuinely, Lt-Gen Mahao’s death. We deem this as a cynical posturing to mollify and deceive SADC.

“In the light of the conflicted criminal justice system in Lesotho, the family has no confidence whatsoever that it has either the will or the capacity to conduct investigations in accordance with international standards.

“SADC, with the support of the African Union and United Nations, must take over the investigations and set up a tribunal to try those involved in the murder.

“The government of Lesotho must comply with its international obligations and handover all suspects involved in Lt-Gen Mahao’s assassination to the SADC investigators. It is a fervent hope that these constructive suggestions, which in any case are consistent with the January 2016 Double Troika decisions, will find favour with the summit.”

The letter was copied to the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Amnesty International and UN High Commission for Human Rights.

Asked about the Mahaos’ statement, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili yesterday said: “I’m not aware of the Mahao family statement, but if that is their position they are the best people to elaborate on that.

“Our position as the government of Lesotho on the matter of facilitating criminal investigations on the death of Brigadier Mahao is very clear. We put it before SADC that government wholly supports this recommendation, not only because it is recommended by the Commission, but more importantly because it is the right thing to do in pursuance of the rule of law.

“Having said that, I wish to indicate that the issue of investigation in Lesotho is guided by a time-tested international procedure. The police make comprehensive investigations. They pass their findings to the prosecuting authority, which in Lesotho, is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP examines these findings to determine whether or not there is a case. If there is a case, he pursues such a case in the courts of law, and the law follows its course. In this case, government has already submitted the Phumaphi report, together with the report of the pathologist, to the police.

“The police have started with their investigations. It is expected that the procedure described above will be followed to its logical conclusion. The importance of prompt and decisive action on this matter has been duly communicated to both the DPP and the police authorities. That is the position of government. If the family of Mahaos is not satisfied with that then it remains with them to explain to you why.”

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