Unity Bill draws criticism, likely lawsuits

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Critics of the controversial National Peace and Unity Bill (NPUB) of 2021 have vowed to persuade political parties in parliament to vote against the piece of legislation scheduled to be presented before parliament in two weeks.

The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), with support from a chunk of the national civic movement, is assembling a force to torpedo the SADC-backed Bill.

This week civic bodies spoke out more forcefully against the proposed law. A possible lawsuit by advocacy organisations challenging Bill is on the cards should government continue with tabling it before parliament.

Parliament is currently on winter recess but is projected to be called for a special sitting in two weeks’ time to work on the Bill. The NPUB will pave way for the establishment of the transitional justice commission.

TRC’s position has been confirmed to Public Eye by director Tsikoane Peshoane, following a recommendation by author of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy document, Dr Khabele Matlosa, that the rights body should engage political parties and sensitise them about the Bill with a view to persuading them to vote against it.

Dr Matlosa is the Director for the Department of Political Affairs at the African Union Commission and his policy document was launched in 2019.

 

He has also recommended that the TRC takes this mobilisation beyond the country’s borders, noting that there is need for public education and a signed petition opposing the government’s steps. All victims of acts likely to be affected by the Bill will become the centre of the process.

Tsikoane said they have made numerous attempts in trying to stop government from publishing the Bill without consulting victims and incorporating their views in the proposed legislation.

He said the TRC has written to Minister of Law articulating the victims’ views that they want reflected in the Bill, but their letter has to date not been answered.

He said the victims, among other things, want court processes not to be compromised.

They want finalisation of the full court processes that will not be interfered with by the arrangement in terms of the mulled commission “because for the past five years government has failed to meet them half way, or even consult them on the formation of the commission.”

They also want to be given reparations in six months’ time as victims have for years not been compensated in any way.

Tsikoane said victims have demanded that politicians found as perpetrators must be banned from participating or contesting any public office to show their remorse; they also want a full public discloser.

According to Tsikoane, NPUB violates the constitution and was made without consulting victims and was submitted before parliament without enclosing their views.

He said the ironic part of the Bill is that while it is supposed to be recognised as an important instrument that has to unite Basotho, it has created disunity among Basotho.

“The same instrument that is supposed to unite us and help us come to common discussions based on consensus is one that has created division among us.

“The Bill has been brought before parliament prematurely; it has not been polished enough. Unfortunately, if the executive arm of the government does not do its job to consult, to apply the mind and technical expertise in terms of how the Bill should be structured, it will bring negative impacts to the public,” he said.

Speaking on the Bill, Dr Khabele Matlosa, noted that if the National Assembly passes the Bill and turns it into a law, “which is highly unlikely”, that will be an early Christmas gift for perpetrators.

“When dealing with reconciliations, we are dealing with two competing interests; that of perpetrators and that of the victims, therefore we call for balance. The two interests have to be balanced without compromising the other.

“However, the state seems to want to forgive perpetrators through the Bill on behalf of the victims without due regard to victims’ views,” he said

He noted that reconciliation can only take place between two or more people, mainly the victims and perpetrators, and the state has no power or right to forgive perpetrators on behalf of the victims, but it is victims that can forgive perpetrators on their own accord without any pressure.

He said the Bill is unlikely to achieve national unity and will neither foster unity, reconciliation and healing nor promote social harmony.

Matlosa said it also not only violates the constitution but also manipulates the legal system. He said it is a tool meant to fight battles of perpetrators against victims.

He further noted that the fact that the formation of the commission emanates from SADC recommendations as part of the security reforms makes the National Reforms Authority (NRA) responsible for the establishment the commission and the Bill.

He said what is also not understandable is why the commission has to fall under security reforms while it is actually a justice issue and has to be under the justice sector.

Matlosa noted that the report on the recommendation to establish transitional justice clearly stipulates that the establishment of the transitional justice commission should be suitable to Lesotho’s context to address instances of human right violations and injustice with the focus on reconciliation, peace building, revelation, compensation without compromising justice.

He continued, with the Bill in question, there has been lack of coordination and proper working arrangement between the government and the NRA.

Matlosa contends that if the country really desired the establishment of the commission, NPUB should have been done mindful of fundamental rights of victims and ensured that they are not jeopardised and should have protected the constitution to ensure that nothing comes against it.

He said they should also have consulted civil society to get their views on the Bill and ensure that victims’ views are incorporated in the draft, which was not the case with steps taken towards its enactment.

Matlosa said the government should also look at international norms and see how Lesotho fits in the establishment of the commission.

He further noted that to improve the Bill, the government should align itself with human rights frameworks on transitional justice from countries that Lesotho is a signatory to – whether at African or SADC level – and be informed by other instruments that Lesotho is a signatory to.

On his part the NRA CEO, Advocate Mafiroane Motanyane, distanced the institution from the Bill indicating that “it is not the product of the NRA.”

He pointed out that NRA is not in any way seeking public opinion on the Bill and that it does not even have the moral authority to do so as the instrument has been generated by the government.

“The NRA has a mandate; in terms of Section 3 and 8 to promote consensus on national reforms for long-term national stability, unity and reconciliation.

“The Act goes on to provide that NRA has to formulate structures for dialogue for national reforms for purposes of national peace building and reconciliation and suggests mechanisms to help achieve peace, national unity and reconciliation.

“Moreover, the Plenary 2 report under constitutional reforms mandates the NRA to create a structure that will address conflicts that normally arise in Lesotho from time to time. The report specifically speaks to NRA creating structures of this peace architecture that should be legislated,” he said.

He, however, emphasised that he was not contesting the powers or authority that government has but was merely stating what NRA has been mandated to do.

Speaking to this publication, Qamako Mahao, brother to the deceased army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao revealed that the establishment of the commission was proposed to them by Judge Dikgang Moseneke on his first meeting with the deceased’s families but they rejected the suggestion on the spot.

He said together with other concerned families they later learnt with dismay that the government was continuing with the said commission, which he charges will serve them no justice but, instead, invite revenge.

“We heard about the commission and we do not want anything to do with it; we want justice and nothing else. We rejected this transitional justice on the spot, our decision is not debatable, the establishment of this commission is not acceptable at all.

“We want justice, and we can only get it in the courts of law, not in the commission of inquiry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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