Over our dead bodies, victims’ families say

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  • livid victims vow to oppose National Peace and Unity Bill
  • Mahao’s widow and other victims berate govt for ignoring their concerns when drafting Bill.

Bereng Mpaki

SLAIN army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao’s widow, ‘Mamphanya Mahao, and other victims of human rights atrocities yesterday slammed the government for crafting the National Peace and Unity Bill without their input.

The victims vowed that they would do everything in their power to oppose the passage of the Bill in its current format as it had ignored their concerns.

The victims, who have previously made known their opposition to the Bill, yesterday took advantage of the National Reforms Authority (NRA)-organised national stakeholders’ consultations forum in Maseru to restate their position.

The three-day forum, which ends tomorrow, is running under the theme: “The path towards Sustainable Peace, National Unity and Reconciliation”. It is a discussion forum of mechanisms for peacebuilding, national unity, national healing and reconciliation as well as how to balance justice and reconciliation.

The forum will also deliberate on transitional justice mechanisms that are suitable to the Lesotho context.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro attended yesterday’s opening ceremony alongside former premiers, Thomas Thabane and Pakalitha Mosisili, former deputy prime ministers, Lesao Lehohla and Mothetjoa Metsing.

Other government officials, members of various political parties, civil society organisations and members of the diplomatic corps also attended yesterday’s event.

There was drama when the victims disrupted proceedings to protest the NRA’s failure to allocate them time on the events programme to air their grievances.  Ms Mahao, whose husband was gunned down in June 2015 by soldiers under former army chief, Tlali Kamoli’s command, rose on a point of order to register her displeasure at the government’s decision to develop the Peace and Unity Bill without seeking hers and fellow victims’ input.

“As a point of order, the victims do not seem to have been allocated a platform to air their views in the forum,” Ms Mahao said.

“Again, we are surprised that the government is represented here when it is supposed to be working on the bill which it decided to develop without seeking our input. The government is very far ahead with the bill. So, the government must leave this forum before we can proceed,” she added.

‘Mamonaheng Ramahloko, the widow of the slain Police Sub- Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko, echoed Ms Mahao’s sentiments, saying they would fight to ensure the Bill is not passed into law.

Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was killed by soldiers who had invaded the police headquarters in Maseru during the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Mr Thabane.

“That Bill will never be passed as long as we are still around,” Ms Ramahloko said before the feed to her microphone was cut off.

Following their complaints, the victims were later given a platform to speak.

Mosebetsi Mapetla, who introduced herself as the “seed” of Edgar Motuba, a journalist who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by security forces in 1981, called for justice for all victims.

“We call for justice to be delivered by charging perpetrators in the courts of law for their crimes.

“Those responsible for the injustices suffered at the hands of perpetrators must also be prosecuted as they are the source,” Ms Mapetla said.

She bemoaned the slow pace of trying suspected human rights abusers, saying, “this lack of progress means the victims of recent injustices will also take 40 years to have their cases addressed”.

She said the government must also consider compensating victims who are currently suffering as a result of the delay in the delivery of justice.

“We also expect the resolutions of this forum to be aligned to the national constitution. We expect all decisions of this forum to be approved by the victims,” Ms Mahao said.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who officially opened the forum after the victims had had their say, called on participants to respectfully raise their issues.

“There is no doubt that this is a long journey that we must all travel together with peace and national unity in mind as we seek to reform the country.

“The reforms process is not a platform to spite one another. It is not a political platform. I appeal for a ceasefire from all of you. Let us be in one spirit to build and not to destroy. Let us agree that we have to start somewhere, and we have started a peace journey which is our collective responsibility.

“Where there are issues let us raise them respectfully with the intention of building not destroying,” Dr Majoro said.

What has particularly incensed the victims is that the Bill proposes the establishment of a National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to grant high-profile criminal suspects like Kamoli amnesty provided they testify truthfully, disclose their alleged crimes in full and show remorse.

The Commission will also consider awarding compensation to victims of the various crimes. However, the compensation will be paid by the state and not the perpetrators.

At an April 2021 forum hosted by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), the victims had made the following demands which have so far been ignored by the government:

  • the proposed Commission should not interfere with prosecutions already in court
  • victims should be awarded reparations within six months
  • soldiers (accused of human rights violations) still at work should be charged
  • all soldiers (accused of human rights violations), should have their assets seized to compensate their victims
  • politicians (accused of human rights violations) should be prohibited from assuming any public office in future
  • all proceedings of the Commission should be transparent and its recommendations gazetted to give them binding force
  • The TRC should be approached by the (Justice and Law) ministry to assist in facilitating a final round of invitations to the victims for their final input into any drafted bill before it heads to parliament.
  • The Minister of Justice and Law should work with the facilitator (Moseneke) to ensure that their (victims’) suggestions are not removed and undermined by the politicians.

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