There should be zero tolerance to police brutality, GBV: Amadei

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IN September 2021, the European Union (EU) appointed Paola Amadei as its new ambassador to Lesotho. She replaced Christian Manahl, who left the country after spending four years in Maseru. Ambassador Amadei is the 12th EU ambassador to Lesotho and the first woman to serve in this role.

The Lesotho Times (LT) editor, Herbert Moyo and Deputy Editor, Silence Charumbira, recently caught up with Ambassador Amadei for her first media interview since her appointment. She shared her views on “the enduring partnership between the EU and Lesotho, based on a legacy of shared values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and multilateralism”. She also shared her views on the multi-sector reforms and the thorny issues of gender-based violence and police brutality. Below are excerpts of the interview:

 

LT: What projects/ programmes are the EU currently supporting in Lesotho?

Amadei: We recently published the new Multi-Annual Indicative Programme (MIP) 2021 – 2027 with Lesotho. The MIP offers support to Lesotho’s developmental needs in line with the Lesotho government’s Strategic National Development Plan (SNDPI and II).

The MIP was prepared in consultation with the government, the private sector and civil society. It has a strong focus on the promotion of sustainable access and use of natural resources particularly water and energy. Under this programme, we are looking at supporting Lesotho going green. That means notably developing environmentally friendly energy sources. We will support the existing programmes to develop hydropower as well as the use of other natural resources like wind and sun.

The objective is not just about producing more energy or more clean water but also making them accessible to all. As things stand, 62 percent of the population have no access to electricity. Only 20 percent of the rural population have access to electricity. Less than half of Lesotho’s electricity needs are covered by local hydropower but the rest is imported and this is not ideal. Lesotho’s dependency on other countries for power is not good for its balance of payments, it also generates risk in case of electricity cuts, and has a negative impact on climate change as it is energy mostly produced by burning coal.

The country has the potential to produce enough power for its population and this can be achieved if we develop other sources of renewable energy.

For instance, 11 solar-power mini-grids will soon be installed by OnePower with investment from the EU and other partners. The project will facilitate the creation of 100 jobs. On completion, it will benefit 20 000 people and 7 clinics. It will enable these people and institutions to stop relying exclusively on fuel-based generators which are not only expensive but harmful to the environment.

We are also supporting an integrated catchment management programme, part of the broader Renoka movement encouraged by the government of Lesotho. Renoka is an inclusive and holistic movement to protecting and conserving the natural resources of Lesotho and the Orange-Senqu River Basin as a whole.

Under this programme, we are working on reducing soil erosion and improving the conservation of water and soil. The programme will also assist in creating complementary sources of income to rural communities.  We are developing the programme in collaboration with communities in the whole catchment area. There have been several programmes in the past but the shortcoming was that these programmes were developed in the capital- in a top-down process without involvement of the communities. Therefore, the programmes failed to achieve their intended outcomes due to the lack of buy-in by the communities for whom they were intended.

We are also supporting the Lesotho government’s social protection programme to offer support and assistance to children in vulnerable households. The social protection programme is based on the NISSA, a national database of households which has been developed jointly by the government of Lesotho, UNICEF and the EU over ten years ago and has been progressively expanded and updated. More people have become eligible for support due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, hence the EU increased last year the funds available to this programme

The programme will continue under the MIP as long as there are segments of the population that are chronically insecure and cannot make ends meet. In addition, the humanitarian aid department of the European Commission (ECHO) works in Lesotho and the region with international organisations like UNICEF, FAO, WFP and IOM, and with NGOs like World Vision, where there have been natural disasters or emergencies. For instance, ECHO has funded World Vision programmes in Lesotho to support Covid-19 vaccination awareness campaigns and the logistics of administering the vaccines in rural areas. ECHO also supports the cash voucher programmes for vulnerable people which are administered by the World Food Programme (WFP) during the lean season. This means that between the months of November and March, there are programmes to support families that are food insecure.

With the new MIP we will continue supporting governance, as we have done so far most notably as part of the ongoing national reforms process, but also, we will continue investing in civil society organisations notably in the prevention of human rights violations and of gender-based violence.

 

LT: What is the value of trade between the EU and Lesotho?

Amadei: As far as trade is concerned, there is a lot of potential for growth. The main export item from Lesotho are diamonds and their destination is Belgium, the centre of diamond processing and trading. There are a few other exports from Lesotho including textiles and vegetables. The newest export item is medical cannabis.

The balance of trade is clearly in favour of Lesotho, with its exports far exceeding imports from the EU. In 2020, Lesotho’s exports to the EU amounted to €270 million while imports amounted only to €12 million.

In 2016, the EU signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the SADC countries including Lesotho. The agreement offers duty and quota-free access to products originating from Lesotho, opening more opportunities for Lesotho.

This month, we plan to hold a meeting of the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce, the trade counsellors of EU member states based in Pretoria and the EU- Southern African Chamber of Commerce.  The aim is to explore further trade opportunities.

 

LT: The implementation of the reforms is way behind schedule given that SADC had initially set a May 2019 deadline. What is your take on the progress of the reforms process?

Amadei: We had hoped that the reforms process would have been in the final stages by now. But then again, it was always going to take time because it’s a complex exercise. The aim is to reform all aspects of government, all aspects of administration. The reforms imply a rebirth of Lesotho. Therefore, it is not something that can be rushed. I understand that part of the time was devoted to a very inclusive process of consultation, which was indeed necessary, to build the foundation of the work of the National Reforms Authority (NRA). The reforms will transform the political sphere and curtail the powers of political parties. It will limit the capacity of individual representatives of political parties to cross the floor to join other parties. The reforms will change the way public administration functions, they will introduce more checks and balances among the state institutions. The reforms imply a complete overhaul of the state and so it is understandable that the process would take time. But it is encouraging to note that parliament has opened earlier than usual to discuss the reforms. Hopefully, the reform bills currently before parliament, such as those related to media, and the draft omnibus bill of constitutional reforms, will be adopted by April latest. This would allow the implementation of some of the reforms ahead of the elections. Other reforms may take even longer to finalize and implement such as the ones related to peace and reconciliation and the introduction of transitional justice mechanism. Patience is therefore required because some of these issues are delicate and complex.

LT: The EU currently supports the judiciary in relation to the recruitment of foreign judges for the ongoing high-profile trials. Are you satisfied with the progress of the trials?

Amadei: The EU has been supporting the judiciary in relation to the high-profile trials first via SADC and now through the UNDP that is managing the programme. Our involvement was based on a request by the government of Lesotho. We didn’t just impose ourselves. The support was necessitated by the Lesotho government’s desire to ensure a transparent process. The government felt there may be pressure on the local judges. The government wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be any suspicions of bias either in favour of the suspects or against them. So, for that reason, international judges were recruited. Currently, only one of the international judges, Charles Hungwe, is still in place. But we are willing to support the recruitment of another international judge.

Our support will always be available depending on whether the government needs it. We are prepared to continue assisting for as long as it takes to finalise the high-profile trials

 

LT: In recent years, Lesotho has witnessed rampant killings which have turned the country into Africa’s murder capital. What is your take on this and what needs to be done to stop the killings?

Amadei: There are several factors behind the rampant murders. There is domestic violence and gender-based violence which all contribute to the high murder rates. Another factor is the gang rivalries that have links to illegal mining operations across the border. There is also the issue of the dysfunctional judiciary where cases take forever to be tried. The dysfunctional justice system has created the perception that offenders can get away with crime because the cases are often delayed or not even tried at all. This might lead people to take justice in their own hands, thereby responding to violence with more violence and even murders. I welcome the current process of recruiting more judges to speed up the trials and clearing the huge backlog of cases. All this would help reduce murders and other crimes.

Another issue is the public’s lack of trust in the police force. If the public doesn’t trust the police because the law enforcement agent is corrupt, this can also perpetuate crime. The police are also brutal when dealing with the public. The public will not be inclined to cooperate with brutal officers because they fear victimisation. They might feel that a brutal and corrupt police force will not offer them any protection from criminals. As a result, the people will not step forward to provide testimonies that will help nail criminals. In the absence of such testimonies, the police may not be able to solve some crimes resulting in more impunity

More training programmes for police to solve crimes, but also in dealing with the public and avoid brutality, are needed.

 

LT: Some of the politicians have called for the imposition of the death penalty to punish convicted murderers and deter would-be criminals. Do you support this call?

Amadei: The call for the death penalty tends to be very popular whenever elections are approaching; politicians use it as a campaign tool. But voters and citizens should know and understand that the death penalty has not been proven to work anywhere.

The EU has a long-standing policy against the death penalty. It does not help in reducing or deterring crime. We have not seen any evidence of the reduction of murders in countries where the death penalty is implemented.

Besides, there could be errors in the justice system, where innocent people, often vulnerable ones, are wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Now if you have death penalty and execute people, there will be no way of correcting this in the event that it is later found that the person was wrongly convicted in the first place.

LT: What is your take on the scourge of domestic violence in Lesotho?

Amadei: There should be zero-tolerance towards gender-based violence and it should be everyone’s responsibility to fight it.

Gender-based violence has been proven to cost the country 5,5 percent of GDP annually. Gender based violence becomes an economic burden in that a battered woman cannot go to work. The health system incurs additional costs because she has to go to hospital for medical attention. The children will be exposed to violence directly or indirectly, affecting their healthy development and education.

But gender-based violence is much more than just an economic issue. Women need to be treated as equals with men and not be subjected to discrimination and violence, not just because it is the right thing for the sake of the economy but because it’s the right thing to do morally. There should be training in every school to sensitise learners on the importance of valuing women. We need also to change the narrative; women are to be respected because they are human beings not just because as some say, they’re the creators of life. If we follow this narrative (that women are only creators of life) does that mean a childless woman shouldn’t be respected?

So today we can say the (gender) violence costs the GDP 5.5 percent but what about the impact it has on the children and generations to come? That is immeasurable.

Endemic violence and discrimination are some of the reasons why women are not more active in society and politics. We need to eliminate violence against women and create favourable conditions for them to be able to participate in politics.

 

LT: You alluded to the issue of police brutality. Only last week, there was a high-profile case wherein the police allegedly tortured prominent human rights lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, and  his client Liteboho Makhakhe. The police allegedly threatened another lawyer, Kabelo Letuka. What’s your view on that?

 

Amadei: The prohibition of torture is one of the most fundamental individual rights protected under the Human Rights Act. Section 11 (1) of Lesotho’s Human Rights Act of 1983 states that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment”. Even the constitution of Lesotho is against it. Section 8 of the constitution states that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment”. Besides its own laws, Lesotho subscribes to the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Prohibition of torture is absolute, with no exceptions. It is never justifiable to torture anyone, whatever the circumstances. The police or anyone else cannot use torture to obtain information from suspects. There is no justification whatsoever for torturing people. If one obtains a confession through torture, that evidence has no value at all because it would have been obtained through illegal means. I’ve also seen recent images and videos of brutality by police recruits on civilians. The recruits must shun such behaviour. The behaviour of police officers and recruits in public and in private should be exemplary to the public.

 

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