Reports of army torture unnerving

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army-bootsWHILE we are averse to commenting on matters that are sub judice, the continuing allegations of torture levelled against the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) cannot go unmentioned.

In this edition, we report that Colonel Posa Alphoncy Stemmere, who was arrested by the army on Tuesday last week, bled through the nose in the High Court as he narrated his ordeal at the hands of his LDF captors.

Colonel Stemmere told High Court judge, Justice Teboho Moiloa, this week that he had been tortured by his captors since his arrest and was in pain as a result.

Another soldier, Corporal Khosi Leuta also told the High Court he was feeling “unbearable pain” in his genitals after being tortured during his detention by his colleagues.

Top officer, Brigadier Thoso Mareka, who is also in custody, alleged he was suffocated by a tube during his incarceration. Lance Corporal Motaung Lipholo and Private Molefi Kapoko also said they felt pain in their hands, feet and chest ostensibly as a result of torture by their colleagues during their detention.

As if that was not enough, in another recent story, LDF Director of Legal Services Colonel Naha Kolisang pleaded with the Court to order his army abductors to stop assaulting him.

While it may very well be true that the soldiers are fabricating these stories to elicit sympathy, their chilling accounts send a shiver down one’s spine. The continuing reports do not leave Lesotho’s reputation still in good stead in the international community as evidenced by the concerns raised by the United States and European Union.

This is not to belittle the soldiers’ alleged offence. They are accused of plotting to overthrow the army command as stated by Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi.

According to Mr Mokhosi, when such a plot is uncovered, military laws the world over dictate that soldiers implicated are court-martialled.

However, the way they have gone about it has left a lot to be desired. The army has been orchestrating what amounts to abduction of the suspects under a veil of secrecy. More often than not, the LDF has been compelled to reveal the whereabouts of their captives when after a loved one has filed an urgent application in the High Court seeking an order to make him available in court.

The army has also been accused of denying the prisoners their medication despite the fact that some of them are on anti-retroviral treatment which needs to be taken on a regular basis.

While the army has its own laws which must be respected, there are international conventions which apply across the board. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

If the army has a watertight case against the accused, as we have been led to believe, there surely is no need to subject them to any form of torture. The legal process must take its course and if found guilty by a competent court, the suspects must face justice.

However, if the allegations of torture are true, the LDF would have contravened the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture).

Article II of the convention is unequivocal about the use of torture. It states that: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The LDF in particular, and Lesotho in general, can ill-afford being tagged as pariahs in the community of nations. With this negative publicity, the LDF unwittingly gives ammunition to its critics who accuse the agency of subverting tenets of the law.

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