SERIALONG LELUMA RAMPO
MASERU – Uncertainty on the status of acting Zimbabwean judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, in the High Court of Lesotho has been cleared following the extension of his contract until February 2023. This was revealed by the European Union’s (EU) Head of Delegation to Lesotho, Paola Amadei, last week.
Justice Hungwe came to Lesotho along with two other judges from Botswana as part of recommendations by SADC to bring peace and stability to troubled Lesotho. The idea was foreign judges are more likely to serve justice better by being more impartial than local judges in complex high profile cases.
In November 2021, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) extended Justice Hungwe’s contract until the end of February this year. Due to that, he could not appear before the court, a move which prompted the cases he is presiding over to be postponed awaiting his contract renewal.
“The European Union in collaboration with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), has secured funding to extend the current project until the end of February 2023 to allow Hungwe, the last remaining foreign judge, to continue presiding the cases before him,” Amadei said. The EU shoulders the responsibility of paying his salary.
This clears the way for him to continue presiding over the high profile trials of politicians, as well as serving and former members of the security agencies. The Zimbabwean judge is the only foreign judicial officer remaining in the local bench following the resignations of the two other judges, Justices Kabelo Lebotse and Onkemetse Tshosa, both from Botswana.
Hungwe’s engagement to hear the ongoing “high profile” cases in the high court. Some of the cases he is hearing include that of the murder of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao and the murder of Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng.
The “high profile” cases are the outcome of the findings and recommendations of the report published by SADC following its investigations in 2015 which sought to establish the circumstances leading to the death of the former LDF Lt Gen Mahao who was allegedly killed by his juniors on June 25, 2015.
Retired army commander, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli is accused of the June 2015 murder of Mahao. His co-accused are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ’Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former Director of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, is also an accused in the Mahao murder case but he has never appeared in court after he fled the country in 2017.
The government recruitment of the foreign judges’ intention is to bring partiality to the “high profile” cases which were borne out of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) sponsored Commission, resulting in prosecution of highly placed individuals.
In the same perspective, the EU Delegation has expressed support for the consideration of mechanisms of transitional justice, to guarantee also compensation to the victims and closure for the communities affected.