‘PM afraid of an independent rights body’

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has scuttled a civil society plan vesting power to appoint human rights commissioners in parliament, as he moved to tighten his grip on civil liberty protection institutions.

The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) on Tuesday charged Thabane cajoled his first cabinet to reject proposed amendments to the controversial Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 to champion a parochial agenda.

This, Lesotho’s premier rights body said in a statement to Public Eye, was intended to consolidate the premier’s control of key pillars of the democratic society with the potential to check governmental excesses.

Constitutionally, the prime minister appoints members of the Judicial Service Commission, which nominates judges and the Chief Justice.

Constitutional experts say this clause gives sitting premiers overarching powers to pack the upper echelons of the judiciary with their sympathisers, giving them the edge over competitors in legal disputes that end up in court.

TRC director Tsikoane Peshoane last week issued a stinging rebuke on government, accusing it of interfering in judicial matters. This could only be stemmed if the executive was stripped of its appointing powers.

“The TRC calls upon the government to amend Judicial Service Commission and establish an Act of parliament that will preserve the Judicial Service Commission from undue political influence of executive branch particularly the Prime Minister.

“The Act should stipulate the commission mandate to include recruitment and hiring of all judicial officers from the Magistrate Court up to the Appeal Court,” he said.

On Wednesday, TRC Human Rights Officer Lepeli Moeketsi bemoaned Cabinet’s April 9 rejection of the proposed amendments, which he said would have aligned with international standards.

The TRC apparently tried in vain to solicit cabinet’s approval for the amendments so that they could be tabled in parliament, and this has put government at loggerheads with TRC, an ecumenical centre established in 1979 that advocates justice, peace and participatory development.

“The proposed amendments were submitted by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Mokhele Moletsane before the Cabinet for approval and subsequent tabling before parliament.

“They were however dismissed by Prime Minister Thabane and other cabinet members,” Moeketsi said.

Moletsane is also acting minister of law, and human rights, who assumed office in February when Lebohang Hlaele, Thabane’s son-in law, was jettisoned for siding with Nqosa Mahao in the raging tussle for control of the ABC.

Moeketsi told this paper that TRC had been at the forefront in advocating the establishment of a Human Rights Commission in Lesotho.

The law establishing the Commission was enacted in 2006.

“(But this) law does not comply with the Paris Principles. This resulted in TRC engaging the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to ensure compliance.

“The then Minister Hlaele who was recently dismissed from office fully understood TRC’s concerns and his ministry collaborated with TRC to produce amendments to the act which shall ensure compliance to the Paris Principles,” said Moeketsi.

Moletsane on Wednesday denied the amendments had been rejected by “Thabane and other cabinet ministers”.

“This is a cabinet decision. In fact, cabinet did not reject the amendments but it said the issue should be referred to the general constitutional reform process which, as we all know, is in progress,” he said.

Cabinet subscribes to the principle of collective responsibility for any advice given to the King by or under the general authority of cabinet and for all things done by or under the authority of any minister in the execution of his office.

Moletsane further explained that establishment of the Human Rights Commission to promote, respect and protect human rights for everyone was provided for in the Constitution.

“Cabinet has resolved that any issue which comes before it (cabinet) and has anything to do with the Constitution should be referred to the reform process where Basotho in general can have their input,” he said.

The TRC said cabinet’s “draconian decision” not to pass a proposal to amend the human rights commission Act “under pretext of the ongoing reform project whilst in fact Prime Minister Thabane does not like the proposal”, was disingenuous.

Further, this was also “a huge setback in the efforts to ensure respect and promotion of human rights”.

The statement read: “This particular cabinet decision is nothing but perpetuation of premierships’ hegemony of insatiable alarming desires and power obsession which hitherto brought nothing but dysfunction and paralysis of state institutions.”

It stated that the Human Rights Commission was designed to “be independent and free from interference and subject only to this Constitution and any other law”.

“The commission shall consist of the chairman and two other members who shall be appointed by the King acting in accordance with the advice of the prime minister.”

But Moletsane told this paper the TRC wanted the human rights commission Act to be amended so that, “for example, the National Assembly establishes a special committee to select and unanimously recommend the appointment” of the Human Rights Commissioners.

“The Act cannot be amended without first amending the constitution. If it is amended without amending the constitution, it will be contrary to the constitution and therefore void,” he said.

He queried: “Why should cabinet deal with the human rights commission separately when the nation is in the process of reforming the constitution?”

On Wednesday, the TRC said despite a public outcry over the unregulated powers the prime minister exercises over institutions such as the judiciary and the Ombudsman, “Prime Minister Thabane regrettably decided that the amendment of the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 to grant it independence is tantamount to trimming or totally depriving him of powers”.

It alleged that Thabane argued such amendments to grant the Human Rights Commission independence to promote and protect human rights should be subject of reforms.

TRC statement read: “This position raises serious concerns on the government’s commitment under regional and international human rights obligations of promoting and protecting human rights in Lesotho.

“If indeed the government is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in Lesotho, why would the prime minister perceive independence of the Human Rights Commission as trimming his powers?

“What is it in the mandate of the Human Rights Commission which irritates or makes the prime minister uncomfortable that he rather compromises its independence?”

It called on the government and “indeed the prime minister” to fulfil Lesotho’s obligations under the human rights law by ensuring that the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 complies with the international benchmarks “as stipulated in the Paris Principles”.

“The first and most important being ensuring the independence of the Human Rights Commission by amending the law establishing it in line with the Paris Principles.

“There are the guidelines to be followed by the United Nations state parties when establishing National Human Rights Institutions to protect them from political and any other interferences,” concluded the statement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.