National Peace and Unity Bill: it’s not about partisan interests

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LIKE the rest of the nation, we have been keenly following the exchanges between the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) over the National Peace and Unity Bill.

The two main governing parties are clearly at loggerheads, having adopted diametrically opposed positions with regards to the controversial Bill. For those who may only be hearing about the issue now, Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s DC is in support of the Bill which proposes the establishment of a National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to grant high-profile criminal suspects amnesty provided they testify truthfully, disclose their alleged crimes in full and show remorse.

Mr Mokhothu says only “haters of peace” would oppose a Bill aimed at helping Basotho “heal and forgive each other for atrocities committed against each other since 1964”.

On the other hand, the ABC- the biggest party in the governing coalition- is having none of it. It says the Bill is only aimed at protecting politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies from accounting for their crimes against ordinary citizens.

Some of those who could benefit from the enactment of the Bill and the consequent establishment of the National Peace and Unity Commission are congress politicians, Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane. The two have been charged with treason and murder in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. They have been charged alongside former army commander Tlali Kamoli and other soldiers. Lieutenant General Kamoli, a close ally of the congress parties, could also benefit from an amnesty from the proposed commission.

No wonder the ABC is raging against what it says is a DC sponsored Bill to get its friends off the hook.

Not only will the enactment of the Bill infringe on the independence of the judiciary to prosecute crimes, it will also create an unequal Animal Farm-style society where the political animals are more equal than everyone else, ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, says.

Mr Masoetsa says the ABC was not even consulted in the drafting of the Bill. The party will fight it in parliament and in court if it loses the parliamentary vote, Mr Masoetsa vows.

Mr Mokhothu is seemingly taken aback by the ABC’s fighting talk. As reported by the Sunday Express in its latest edition, the deputy premier insists the Bill is in line with the April 2020 agreement that founded the ABC and DC’s coalition arrangement a month later.

This publication has seen a copy of the coalition agreement and nowhere does it explicitly speak of the establishment of a truth and reconciliation-style commission to free high-profile criminals and bind the state to compensate victims on their behalf.

The coalition agreement, under the sub-heading Core Coalition Government Objectives, simply calls on the two parties to “restore national peace and stability” among other things. The two parties are supposed to “lead the nation on a path of reconciliation and unity”.

“To accomplish these objectives, the parties to this agreement commit to putting in place a fully authorised implementation, monitoring and evaluation infrastructure to oversee the execution of these objectives,” the agreement states.

Although it does not specify how these objectives are supposed to be attained, Mr Mokhothu believes leading the nation to unity, peace and reconciliation will only be achieved through the enactment of the Bill and the possible pardoning of high-profile criminals.

We have no intention of joining the debate in support of either ABC or DC. We wish to remind both parties that achieving peace, stability, unity and reconciliation is an undertaking much bigger and beyond the scope of two political parties and their supporters.

There is no monopoly of wisdom on the ABC or DC side. The sooner the parties realise this, the better.

Even if it was true that the parties had agreed on the Bill and specifically catered for it in their agreement, it would still not be enough without the input of other stakeholders.

As it is, one of the key stakeholders- the victims of the human rights violations- were not consulted. Their views were not even considered in the drafting of the Bill. We know this for a fact because we have seen minutes of a closed meeting they held back in April this year with then Justice and Law Minister Nqosa Mahao over the issue.

They were unequivocal in their opposition to the Bill.

However, in the event that the government persisted in establishing the Commission, the victims demanded that the Commission should not interfere with trials already in the courts of law. They had also demanded that their tormentors, and not the state, should compensate them for their suffering.

Other demands include the suspension and prosecution of all suspects still serving in the army. The victims also want all implicated politicians to be barred from ever holding political office again.

The minutes of the meeting were compiled and sent to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane; the president of the Senate, Mamonaheng Mokitimi and the head of the SADC facilitation team to Lesotho, retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke. They were also sent to the American and European Union ambassadors to Lesotho; the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; the African Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights as well as local churches and various non-governmental organisations.

All the victims’ demands were ignored and unsurprisingly, one of them, Private Tumelo Maja, has teamed up with 15 other soldiers to file a multi-million maloti damages claim against the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).  The damages claim is in connection with the torture, cruel and degrading punishment Private Maja and others allegedly suffered at the hands of the LDF under the leadership of Lt-Gen Kamoli.

To Mr Mokhothu and all other politicians, our message to you is very simple: the days of top-down approaches where politicians simply sit in air-conditioned rooms and dictate to people what should happen are long gone.

No programme, no matter how good and well-meaning can succeed without the input of those it is meant to serve.

In short, you cannot achieve peace, stability, unity and reconciliation without the inputs of the nation as a whole, victims included.

As politicians and leaders, you need to urgently eat a humble pie and go back to engage the victims and all stakeholders. You need to consider their input over all the contentious issues.

Achieving peace and stability is not a partisan issue, it is something bigger than the egos of politicians and their followers. Do the right thing, engage and consult. Don’t shove exclusively political decisions down people’s throats. As the victims have said the people will not accept any prescriptions from you.

And let’s us remember one cardinal demand of major importance put forward by the victims.  The input of all and sundry is required before the establishment of the proposed Commission and before the Bill is put to a vote. The input cannot only be expected at the actual Commission when it begins its work as intimated by Mr Mokhothu. Its very coming into being must be a result of national consensus.

 

 

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