Police excesses: ombudsman asked to step in

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Amid growing concerns over mounting cases of police brutality and lingering perceptions of impunity that continue to erode public confi dence in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), some opposition parties have petitioned the Ombudsman to step in. This follows futile talks with government over a litany of issues including police inaction when their own are suspected of committing crimes, especially murder.

The Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the National Union of Manufacturing and Allied Workers (NUMAW) have written to the Ombudsman asking for an investigation into police brutality. The letter by the Maputsoe constituency committees of the DC, LCD and NUMAW handed to the Ombudsman on April 5, with regard to baffling murder cases in which police are suspects, revealed the untrustworthiness of the police commissioner’s professed efforts to end police brutality so far.

It pointed out several cases of slaughter of unarmed civilians by members of the police service and accused government of failure to effect criminal justice. These, the letter indicated, included the murders of Teboho Shea , Bethuel Monyane, Habofanoe Tumo and Mosiuoa Raleaba. “The people of Maputsoe have engaged the government of Lesotho but to date there is no solution and it is common knowledge that your office has a constitutional mandate to investigate the said matters and make or decide an appropriate remedy which will ensure criminal justice,” the letter read.

Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli has on several occasions publicly vowed that all disturbing cold cases of murder will eventually be solved and has also pledged to halt brutality by his forces. Molibeli told Public Eye last night that he had not seen the letter sent to the ombudsman but said it was “very unfortunate” that it has lately become common for people to falsely accuse police of dragging their feet when investigating cases that implicate their colleagues.

He said the society was now, more than ever, monitoring police in an effort to force police to become accountable for their actions and for inactions and therefore police would not risk jeopardising the public’s trust in the service. “Police nowadays use partnerships with different sections of the society to develop methods to police our communities. If we are perceived by the communities to be unprofessional and public trust in the institution wanes, community-oriented policing will not be possible,” he said.

To emphasise that police impartially investigated their own and brought them before courts, Molibeli referred to a 2009 case in which Matšeliso Thulo, a 30-year-old National University of Lesotho (NUL) first-year student was shot and killed during a students’ protest at the Roma campus. An autopsy report confi rmed that Thulo had died of wounds inflicted by pellets, the ammunition used by the police to disperse students.

“Police investigated that case to a logical conclusion and brought the perpetrator to book. He was charged with murder and consequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. “He was a police officer who committed the crime while on duty. You can just imagine what we do if the crime was committed by the officer who was technically off-duty,” he said. The office of the ombudsman was also contacted yesterday for comment but the office phone rang unanswered.

The office examines complaints from members of the public who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain public bodies. Section 135 of the constitution states that the ombudsman “may investigate action taken by any officer or authority in the exercise of the administrative functions of that officer or authority in cases where it is alleged that a person has suffered injustice in consequence of that action”. LMPS spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli yesterday said his office was neither aware of the three organisations’ letter nor the grievances contained in the document.

The alarming state of police brutality was also exposed in a statement delivered yesterday by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) to the 62nd ordinary session of the African commission on human and people’s rights. TRC’s Human Rights Advocacy Officer, Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi told the summit that although the constitution and the LMPS Act of 1998 expressly prohibited torture and inhuman practices, Lesotho still experienced torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by members of the police force.

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