A LEADING human rights organisation has partnered with the European Union (EU) and the security agencies to launch a project aimed at fostering the observance of human rights by the security agencies.
Dubbed “Fostering Security Institutions Compliance with Human Rights Standards”, the project was launched at the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) offices in Maseru yesterday.
The launch ceremony was attended by the EU ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, Defence and National Security Minister Halebonoe Setšabi and members of the various security agencies.
Speaking at the ceremony, TRC director, Tsikoane Peshoane, said the project was necessitated by decades of instability in the country characterised by human rights violations by the security agencies. He said the collaborative effort aimed to share ideas that could be incorporated into draft legislation to strengthen the observance of human rights in the country.
“This programme of fostering security institutions’ compliance with human rights standards came about as a result of different experiences that we have had over the decades as a country,” Mr Peshoane said.
“As most of you are aware, our country has been rocked by political instability. These tragedies have resulted in the loss of lives for more than 50 years since independence.
“We have had the issue of police brutality which some of you know about better than us. Police brutality and other security issues remain critical challenges that we have to contend with in this country.
“Another problem we have faced is that of the army torturing civilians. However, I must recognise a remarkable transformation in terms of how the army has started to appreciate human rights issues. It has even begun collaborations with communities to prevent crime,” Mr Peshoane added.
He said another challenge was that of suspects being subjected to lengthy pre-trial detentions as their cases took too long to be heard in violation of their rights.
“We are still working on how best we to come up with new laws to plug the gaps in terms of human rights observance.
“Our objectives are to build and improve relations between civilians and security institutions.
“We want to strengthen the accountability of these (security) institutions. While we appreciate that there are some small efforts that are already being made, these can’t be sustainable unless we devise strategies on how best to foster long-lasting respect for human dignity and the adherence to human rights standards,” Mr Peshoane said.
On his part, Minister Setšabi said, “as government, we appreciate that as we enforce the rule of law, we should also comply with human rights standards.
“Therefore, this initiative is highly appreciated and welcome,” he said.
Lesotho Defence Force representative, Colonel Senatla Damane, praised the TRC for the initiative.
“The TRC and its partners deserve praise for this momentous effort because the issue of human rights and how best they can be respected and enjoyed is a very important one.
“Limitations on individual human rights should be done in a manner that is not offensive to the universally accepted human rights standards and this launch is happening in the context of the national reforms process. It is therefore important for the security agencies to respect and observe the rights of civilians.
“This will enable civilians and the nation to trust such institutions. The respect of human rights by the security agencies is an indication of a country that generally respects the rule of law and constitutional order,” Col Damane said.
Dr Manahl said the project was part of a bigger process of reforming the nation and fostering reconciliation.