TRC takes concerns to AU body

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Bereng Mpaki

THE Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) has called on the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to urge the government to investigate and prosecute all cases of human rights abuses.

The civil society group made the call while issuing an oral statement at the 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, the Gambia. The session began on 21 October 2016 and is scheduled to end on Friday.

The statement, which TRC made in conjunction with the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), was meant to appraise the commission on the human rights situation in Lesotho.

The two organisations touched on the “lengthy” detention of soldiers facing mutiny charges, alleged torture and violations of the right to freedom of expression and opinion in Lesotho.

On the issue of soldiers suspected of mutiny, the TRC and SALC called on the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to urge the government to address allegations of ill-treatment and torture as well as to investigate the killers of former army chief Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June last year.

The soldiers are part of 23 LDF members who were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command. Eight of the soldiers have since been released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison and placed under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military. The other 16 remain in detention.

“We ask the African Commission to call upon the government of Lesotho to take action to address concerns relating to the ongoing detention without trial of the detainees and the ongoing failure to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable for the death of Lt-Gen Mahao,” they said.

“After their arrest on allegations of involvement in planning to commit mutiny, some of the members of the LDF were subjected to serious ill-treatment and torture.”

The TRC and SALC further state the government of Lesotho refuted the allegations claiming they were based on unreliable media sources adding they had not received any complaint by the alleged victims.

“We submit that by refusing these allegations, the government of Lesotho breached its obligation under the Robben Island Guidelines on Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa which compel States to investigate the matter ‘whenever a persons who claimed to have been or who appears to have been tortured or ill-treated’ makes such allegations.

“We hold the view that the government was more than just aware about the allegations of torture as evidenced by the fact that there were media reports on the issue and information was shared through communications by civil society organisations such as TRC who raised concerned regarding torture against the LDF detainees on 21 May and 22 June 2015.”

The TRC and SALC stated that in June 2016, the victims wrote a letter to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asking for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into their arrest, torture and “degrading treatment” at the hands of the LDF. Dr Mosisili “rejected this call”.

“The relatively recent report by the SADC Commission of Inquiry on the situation of Lesotho, explicitly mentions that some of the accused said that they were tortured by security forces who tried to obtain evidence and were forced to make statements implicating other soldiers.

“It is our submission to this Commission that acts of torture by the LDF violate Article 5 of the African Charter known to all as a peremptory provision.”

In light of the allegations, the bodies ask the commission to urge the government of Lesotho to investigate and punish all perpetrators involved in ill-treating military detainees.

“We also request the Commission to carry out a visit mission to the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho with view to interview the detainees and assert that their human rights are protected, fully.”

They also call for an end to intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders and violation of the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

“We are concerned and condemn the government of Lesotho over the recent threats to and attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders and media.

“In July 2016, the editor of the Lesotho Times newspaper Mr Lloyd Mutungamiri was shot and left with serious injuries. The shooting took place after Mr Mutungamiri allegedly published a story speaking to General Kamoli’s exit strategy. About the same time, another journalist who wrote the article, namely Ms Keiso Mohloboli, was forced into exile.”

The two civic groups call on the Lesotho government to ensure journalists are enabled to operate in a safe environment, and that those responsible for the attack on Mr Mutungamiri are brought to justice.

“Further, we are concerned about a purported hit-list circulating on social media which contains names of opposition politicians, journalists, and lawyers to be killed. On 29 October 2015, a story containing a hit-list circulating on social media featured on the front page of the Lesotho Times newspaper. The names of former LDF Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao and businessmen Thabiso Tšosane reportedly featured in the hit-list. These men were subsequently killed.

“More recently, in August 2016, a hit-list including names of civil society actors was, again, released. Notwithstanding these developments, however, the government is silent about its obligation to investigate the allegations and there is no clue into whether it will take any steps to verify the facts, and, if confirmed, punish perpetrators.”

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