THE African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has called on government to immediately release all suspects who have exceeded the legal remand time and bring prisons facilities and conditions up to the acceptable international standards.
The ACHPR also condemned the state of the country’s prisons, saying they are not compliant with international standards as there were “issues of overcrowding and unacceptable remand time with some inmates having spent more than seven years on remand”.
Thousands of suspects including high profile personalities like murder-accused former army commander Tlali Kamoli and other members of the security agencies have been languishing in remand prison for more than a year.
The ACHPR made these and other observations in a report that was prepared in the aftermath of its human rights promotion visit to Lesotho from the 8th to the 12th of this month.
Justice and Correctional Services minister Moletsane Mokhele, who met with the ACHPR delegation during its visit, this week told the Lesotho Times that he would only comment after reading the ACHPR report.
The delegation was headed by Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen, the ACHPR’s Commissioner in charge of the promotion and protection of human rights in Lesotho. Commissioner Sik Yuen is also chairperson of the ACHPR’s Working Group on the Rights of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities in Africa.
Besides Mr Mokhele, the ACHPR delegation met with ministers Lebohang Hlaele (Law and Constitutional Affairs), Keketso Sello (Mining), Deputy Ministers Halebonoe Setsabi (Foreign Affairs), Rethabile Marumo (Gender and Youth) as well as senior officials from the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Police and the Commissioner for Refugees.
The ACHPR delegation also met with the Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo and the Commissioner of Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS), Thabang Mothepu.
The delegation also visited and interacted with both the management and inmates at the Maseru Central Prison.
In its preliminary report seen by the Lesotho Times, “the (ACHPR) delegation noted that there were challenges in the administration of justice including inadequate number of judicial personnel, poor conditions of service and a backlog of cases”.
The ACHPR also condemned the state of the country’s prisons, saying they are not compliant with international standards.
“Prisons conditions are yet to be compliant to international standards as the delegation noted issues of overcrowding and unacceptable remand time with some inmates having spent more than seven years on remand.
“The commission will adopt a comprehensive mission report with detailed recommendations which will be forwarded to the State for comments before publication. Meanwhile, the delegation would like to make the following preliminary recommendations:
“The government should immediately release all those under remand who have exceeded the legal remand time and bring prisons facilities and conditions up to the acceptable international standards.”
Lesotho is sitting on a huge backlog of unresolved criminal and other cases, numbering over 3000, amid revelations that the country’s correctional service facilities, which have been swelled by the arrests of soldiers implicated in murder and other incidents of instability, have been stretched beyond their carrying capacities.
So dire is the situation that early this year the then Justice and Correctional Service minister, ‘Mahali Phamotse, told this publication that it was highly likely that some of the cases would only be heard in 2020.
The slow finalisation of cases has seen many people remaining on remand in custody for many years.
Murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General Kamoli, alluded to the backlog, when he pleaded with the High Court to grant him bail last year. He argued that the failure to do so would see him endure a lengthy stay in custody as the backlog was such that his case was not likely to be heard before 2019.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and three LDF members are charged with murdering Sub-Inspector Ramahloko during the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The three LDF members are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane (38), Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane (34) and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa (31) and awaiting trial at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.
Lt-Gen Kamoli separately faces 14 counts of attempted murder over the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane, ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.
His bail application was rejected by the High Court on the grounds that there were no exceptional circumstances to warrant his release, as demanded by the law in serious criminal cases such as murder.
The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) has since said the continued detention of Lt-Gen Kamoli and other soldiers is a gross violation of human rights as they are indirectly serving sentences without being convicted by the courts.
Dr Phamotse said there were an estimated 2300 inmates currently locked up in the country’s correctional service facilities- way beyond the facilities’ holding capacity.
She said the demand for maximum correctional service facilities has since increased following the arrest of soldiers implicated in various crimes committed from 2014 to 2017.
“We have a serious shortage of judges and magistrates, which is why we have a backlog of more than 3000 cases,” Dr Phamotse said, adding, “even now, we are setting out cases to be heard in 2019 and 2020”.
“I can understand the national outcry, with some people complaining that our courts are not efficient, they are not delivering the services they are supposed to on time and yes, justice delayed is justice denied.
Apart from overcrowding, the LCS is battling to contain the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in the prisons.
Early this year, the LCS began distributing condoms in male prisons throughout the country as part of efforts to stem the tide of HIV infections that are said to be on the increase in the correctional facilities.
LCS health officials told the Lesotho Times that 31 percent of the men and 69 percent of the women in the correctional facilities were living with HIV.
They said the high figures highlighted the need for effective and innovative HIV-management programmes, including the strengthening of preventive and treatment strategies.
Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa who is based at the Maseru Central correctional facility, said that even though prisoners were not allowed conjugal rights, they had come up with unconventional decision to distribute 300 condoms on a weekly basis because “a lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers”.
He said the prevalence of sodomy could not be discounted hence the placement of condoms in the correctional facilities.
The need to strengthen prevention and HIV educational programmes became more critical in the early 2000s after the LCS realised that some inmates who had tested HIV-negative on admission, became positive at a later stage.
Lesotho is one of the countries battling a high HIV prevalence rate which currently stands at 25 percent, the second-highest in the world after Swaziland.