Mahao’s widow bemoans delayed justice

KANANELO BOLOETSE

WINDHOEK – The family of slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, who was ambushed and killed by soldiers three years ago, is growing fidgety owing to official lethargy in his murder case. Mahao’s widow, ’Mamphanya, told delegates drawn from grassroots social movements from across the Southern Africa region at the Sadc People Summit convened by the Southern African People Solidarity Network (SAPSN) in Windhoek, Namibia last week that “justice delayed is justice denied”.

’Mamphanya indicated that delayed justice was as much injustice to the accused as it is to the victims and the community. She told the gathering that public interest demanded that criminal justice should be swift and sure and a criminal trial should be concluded expeditiously before witnesses’ memories fade.

“Even Brigadier Bulane Sechele, who declared in court in 2015 that he commanded the military operation that killed Lieutenant General Mahao, was also killed last year, more than two years after Lt. Gen. Mahao was killed.“He died with information that could have been useful in prosecuting the suspects in this case. He died while we were still waiting for suspects to be arrested. His death is going to affect the case,” she said.

She further indicated that the drama caused by the delayed disposal of the criminal case did not limit itself to the suspects but extended to the victims’ families. The people’s summit runs along Sadc summits of heads of state and government because “ordinary citizens want to remind leaders that a shift from SADCC with two “Cs” to SADC with one “C” from “Coordinating Conference” to “Community” was for the people of the region not only their leaders as it now appears.

According a Lesotho’s Development for Peace Education (DPE) statement announcing the dates of the people’s summit, through this initiative, people reclaim Sadc “from being a club of leaders to be a real liberation platform for the people of the region”. The summit’s deliberations in the different sessions and thematic groups are converted into a communiqué at the end of the summit, taken through a march and handed over to the Sadc heads of state summit.

Mahao was allegedly shot while resisting arrest by soldiers sent to arrest him on June 25, 2015 for supposed complicity in the mutiny plot. His family has rejected this account citing the version of his nephews who were with him and witnessed the tragic incident. A Commission of Inquiry initiated by the Sadc, at the invitation of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, found that there were a series of previous attempts on Mahao’s life by members of the army manifesting “a desire to have him dead” and dispelled efforts of soldiers implicated in his death to cast the shooting as having occurred in the course of arrest.

The commission found that the alleged mutiny plot was highly suspect and recommended stern action against Mahao’s killers. In December last year, eight soldiers were arrested and charged with Mahao’s murder. The suspects were: Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleeo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.

The suspects are in jail awaiting trial. Transformation Resource Centre (TRC)’s Human Rights Advocacy Officer,  Lepeli Moeketsi, told the SAPSN summit that while arresting and subsequent charging of the soldiers suspected of killing Mahao and other soldiers implicated in other criminal cases were highly welcomed developments, the TRC wished to raise concern over the prolonged pre-trial detention of suspects.

Moeketsi called upon the government of Lesotho to speed up prosecution processes of the suspects. He indicated further that lengthy detention of unsentenced prisoners not only violated fundamental human rights norms but also constituted a grievous affront to justice. He also explained how human rights protection mechanisms in Lesotho remained ineffective and failed to adequately address human rights violations.

Moeketsi further said while other institutions like the Ombudsman and Police Complaints Authority (PCA) were creatures of the constitution, their independence remain compromised. “Human rights institutions in Lesotho do not have powers to enforce their findings, their decisions remain mere recommendations. Their jurisdiction is limited as they are restricted to deal specifically with certain rights to the exclusion of other rights. We call upon the government of Lesotho to include human rights institutions in the reforms agenda,” he said.

“We commend the government of Lesotho for enacting the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016, however, the Act does not comply with the Paris principles. We therefore call upon the government of Lesotho to ensure the amendment of the Act in line with the Paris Principles,” he added.

In January this year, the Mahao family wrote to government asking for the appointment of a special tribunal comprising judges from Commonwealth countries to expedite the case in the face of a backlog of criminal cases at the courts. The family said this would also save the Lesotho courts from acting with prejudice, either actual or perceived.

In April, the lawyers - Advocate Motiea Teele, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Letuka Molati - threatened to file a constitutional application to oppose recruitment of foreign judges to preside over cases involving members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

They said this amounted to interference with the independence of the judiciary. However, it was reported in June that government and the European Union (EU) were in talks over possible EU assistance to enable Lesotho to engage foreign judges by September this year.

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