MASERU – Families of victims of security forces’ atrocities could go to court to challenge the legality of this week’s deal between government and opposition parties which shields those accused of criminal conduct from prosecution, while putting stalled national reforms back on track. The deal, struck under the tutelage of Sadc envoy retired justice Dikgang Moseneke, crucially insulates exiled Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing from prosecution “until after the reforms”.
Signed at a local hotel by Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki on behalf of government and Official Leader Mathibeli Mokhothu, clause 10 of the agreement enjoins the government to ensure “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”. Speaking to Public Eye yesterday on behalf of the family of slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Lt. Gen. Maaparankoe Mahao, and other victims’ families, Lehloenya Mahao said they were incensed by the agreement.
According to Mahao, the agreement had left them in limbo as they had not been invited to air their views before the deal was struck although “when politicians fall out and fight, there are always victims who get caught up in the middle and die as a result”. As the fallout from the Tuesday deal widened, Minister of Law, Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs Lebohang Hlaele, yesterday moved to calm its detractors, saying government was aware of the public outcry over some clauses in the agreement.
However, Hlaele said he could not immediately comment, adding he had been in a series of meetings where they were trying to come up with government’s comprehensive response to the dissent. “I can only tell you that government will clearly articulate its position on the matter tomorrow (today). “We are now trying to lobby all media platforms so that our position can be communicated clearly. I can’t divulge contents of the meetings I have had as yet. Wait for tomorrow,” Hlaele said.
Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Director Tsikoane Peshoane, whose organisation has worked with victims’ families for a couple of years now, confirmed to this paper that they had a meeting recently with the families and that “they expressed shocked at the agreement”. “But we are yet to engage in further consultations in pursuit of a consolidated view. Hence, as TRC we have not yet taken a position. But the families are determined to question the validity of the moratorium arrived at,” Peshoane said.
“But there are signs that there’s discontent among these families and we will have an in-depth discussion soon, which will inform our stance. Only then can we declare our position and how we plan to go forward. But it should be noted that our stance will be based on the wishes and desires of the families,” Peshoane said. Mahao, however, said they had problems with clause 10 of the memorandum of understanding, which singled out Metsing, saying that it was wrong for the exiled LCD leader to be granted immunity for the duration of the national dialogue and implementation of reforms.
“Now, let’s come to clause 10 of the memorandum of understanding signed by both government and the opposition, addressing the issue of the return of LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing to Lesotho. “You will remember that we already have a lawsuit pending in the High Court, where we are suing former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, in their individual capacities for our brother Maaparankoe’s death. “Now, his unconditional return to Lesotho affects us in that he is being singled out for immunity from any charges until after the reforms. “It directly says we can no longer sue him because he has been granted this immunity from charges while reforms are being implemented.”
Mahao said it was unfair that politicians had unilaterally decided to frustrate their pursuit of justice because of political expediency. “What is of utmost importance here is that there are so many families involved, yet only one individual (Metsing) and/or a few others are being spared charges and allowed to return to Lesotho, without first informing the affected persons.
“At the same time, if you say that Metsing will be spared charges until after the reforms, what about others who had already been charged? “Here I am talking about former Premier Mosisili and others who did not flee the country when Metsing fled to exile.“Does it mean their cases will proceed when Metsing’s are on hold? How do you hope to do so when in some cases he has been cited as a co-accomplice? That decision is very unfair, whichever way you look at it.
“It’s even more unfair to those people who have been sued with Metsing but for some reason, he is not going to face any charges until after the reforms.” Mahao noted that if Metsing’s accomplices were to be tried while the LCD leader was left to go scot-free throughout the reforms “then that’s unjust whichever way you look at it”. “There’s no justification for Metsing to be granted immunity from charges while his accomplices face the music. But then again, how do they face the music when their co-accomplice has been spared the same? This is a very bad and inconsiderate decision made by politicians,” Mahao said.
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