WE are glad that the government has finally decided to investigate the troubling issue of police brutality.
This was revealed last week by Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu who said the cabinet was considering setting up a commission of inquiry to investigate widespread allegations of police brutality.
Mr Mokhothu said the cabinet had already ordered ministers in charge of the security agencies to investigate the allegations and their findings will determine if a commission of inquiry is necessary.
The two ministers who have been tasked with probing the issue and reporting to cabinet are ‘Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security).
While it is heartening to hear the deputy prime minister speak of bringing rogue police officers to justice, we will not pop the champagne just yet.
We will only bring out the glasses for a toast when we see the actual results of the government’s probe.
Seeing is believing and like the Biblical Thomas, we will only believe and give due credit when we see the results.
No one can fault us for being sceptical because we have travelled this road before. Last year we prematurely congratulated the previous government when then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane announced that he had tasked then Police and Public Safety Minister ‘Mampho Mokhele and Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli to probe allegations of police brutality and furnish him with a report.
We also rejoiced when the then government told Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders that at least 30 rogue police officers, accused of brutality including killing and injuring suspects in police custody, would soon face criminal charges.
“The government of Lesotho has taken practical steps in a quest to address the general concern by members of the public regarding police brutality.
“These include interdiction of 30 police officers who will appear for criminal prosecution and/or disciplinary hearings. There are also 11 criminal cases pending before the courts of law while ten have been recommended for inquest,” the Thabane government said in its August 2019 report to SADC leaders.
A year has passed since the then government made that undertaking but we have not heard of any progress on the trial of the rogue police officers.
It appears no inquiry ever took place hence the latest remarks by Mr Mokhothu that they will only set up a commission of inquiry if Ms Senauoane and Mr Maliehe’s reports show that it is required.
Police brutality is an acceptable cancer in any democratic dispensation. We need a competent and highly disciplined force that enjoys the confidence of the nation as well as our development partners.
Despite a seemingly bright start in fighting crime after his August 2018 appointment by then Prime Minister Thabane, Commissioner Molibeli appears to have gone off the rails.
Some of the worst cases of brutality against citizens have been recorded under his watch.
Even the junior police officers are complaining about Commissioner Molibeli and his management team’s failure to rein in on rogue officers. The Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA) has even petitioned Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to act against the police boss.
Thus far, Dr Majoro has maintained a stoic silence. We appeal to him to act. He must say something and do something to reassure the nation that the government does not condone the violation of citizens’ rights by the very state institutions that are supposed to be upholding those same rights.
The prime minister must speak and act, not only to reassure the nation but our international development partners who have expressed their displeasure over the systematic violations of human rights by the police.
Last year the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) produced a report expressing concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho. Its plea to the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations has so far fallen on deaf ears.
The United States government has also warned that it could freeze development assistance to Lesotho if the government did not rein in rogue police officers.
We certainly don’t need to first lose out on crucial development assistance for the government to act.
We therefore call on the new coalition to move beyond words and make good on its promise to deal with the scourge of police brutality.
It must do so without further delay for the sake of Basotho who have suffered enough at the hands of rogue officers.