MASERU – Firebrand politician of Lesotho People’s Congress Bokang Ramats’ella has accused the US Embassy in Lesotho of being lenient on Prime Minister Thabane’s government despite its violation of the rule of law and human rights.
Ramats’ella contends that while Thabane’s administration undermines judicial independence and democratic principles, the US embassy threatened former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government with economic sanctions for the same “because they were pursuing regime change”.
According to Ramats’ella, the US Embassy during the tenure of former Ambassador Matthew Harrington, exerted pressure on Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government and threatened to withdraw aid for a litany of accusations.
But he says Harrington’s successor, Rebecca E. Gonzales has not moved a finger to reprimand Thabane’s government for not complying with principles “that Americans hold to heart”.
In a letter dated April 29 and addressed to Gonzales and copied to the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) leader who is also the official leader of opposition in parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, Ramats’ella said the note served to express his indignation with regard to the US’ application of different standards for situations which are generally the same in Lesotho.
In response to an e-mail from this publication, the office of the US embassy spokesperson through Rets’elisitsoe Nkhahle noted that Gonzales had spoken out “consistently and unequivocally” many times about the need for accountability and strengthening of institutions together with a comprehensive, transparent, and inclusive national reforms process.
“There is still potential for delay or derailment if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability. If we stray from the path of reforms and political stability, it will be even more difficult to find our way again.
“I am deeply concerned about alarming reports of corruption and police brutality – behaviour that is unacceptable and non-negotiable. The consequences of an interrupted compact development will not be as serious as the negative impact to the people of Lesotho caused by failure to make progress on these issues,” the email read in part.
In his letter, Ramats’ella reminded Gonzales that during the tenure of Mosisili’s government between 2015 and 2017, the US government, through Harrington, threatened their government with economic sanctions, including the withdrawal of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and disqualification from developing the second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, citing a litany of incidents which the embassy claimed touched on the foundations of good governance and the rule of law.
“Your government, among others, purported human rights violations, killings and subsequent collapse of the rule of law which were perpetrated by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as primary reasons for discontent,” Ramats’ella said.
The US government has since qualified Lesotho as eligible for the second MCC development compact.
Ramats’ella added, as a result of the discontent, the US embassy called upon Mosisili’s government to dismiss the former army boss Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who has been in detention for 18 months so far.
Kamoli is prison awaiting trial for crimes allegedly committed during his tenure as army chief.
“I should also mention that as part of punitive measures, your government went an extra mile to suspend all bilateral courses and training offered to members of the LDF,” Ramats’ella said.
He told Gonzales that he was perturbed by the fact that while Mosisili’s government was punished for the deaths of “fewer than five people” alleged to have been murdered by the LDF, under Thabane’s current administration over 40 people had been killed “by marauding police and torture squads” while hundreds more had been severely tortured “and some have been left with permanent disability”.
“However, for all intents and purposes, I am perturbed by your government’s lack of consistency in dealing with the same situation in the same country.
“Up until now, not a single police officer has been brought to book to answer for these heinous crimes committed by police in the police cells,” Ramats’ella said.
“What is more surprising is that these double standard and lopsided approach by the US government, is that it is in direct violation of section 8 (1) of the Constitution of Lesotho, read with Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Prime Minister Thabane has ordered the LMPS to torture suspects.”
Ramats’ella further told Gonzales that there was no denying the fact that LMPS continued to commit atrocities and barbaric acts that were a gross violation of human rights, characterised by severe torture and extra-judicial killings “under the direct orders”.
Ramats’ella accused the US embassy of turning a blind eye to the plight of soldiers, including Kamoli, languishing in jail for over 18 months without trial and denied their right to bail, despite the Americans being self-proclaimed defenders of human rights.
Ramats’ella also noted that when former LDF commander Lt. Gen. Maaparankoe Mahao was shot and killed by his colleagues for allegedly resisting arrest in June 2015, Mosisili set up a commission of inquiry with the help of SADC, to investigate circumstances surrounding the death.
He, however, showed that Thabane’s government failed to do the same when former commander Lt. Gen. Khoantle Mots’omots’o, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi were killed in a shooting incident that took place at the Ratjomose Military Barracks.
“Astonishingly, there is indeed a deafening silence on the part of your government with regard to all these. Nothing has been done about it. It is business as usual.
“Considering the stance of the US during the tenure of the previous government, it has become abundantly clear that this time around the same US government backtracked on its previous position to endorse criminality and tyranny in Lesotho,” Ramats’ella said.
“This is exemplified by the fact that the same US government which was most vocal during the tenure of the previous government, has not threatened this brutal regime with any economic sanctions, including withdrawal of AGOA and MCC. Neither has it called for the dismissal of Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli. It is business as usual.”
Ramats’ella also reminded Gonzales of the suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, saying she was unceremoniously dismissed and “replaced by a puppet Judge” and that “this has subsequently paralysed the Judiciary”.
Ramats’ella must have been referring to Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase, who was appointed to the post following Justice Majara’s suspension and has been accused by and large of being a Thabane stooge, primarily by the opposition.
He also lamented that despite government suspending the April 2018 session of the Court of Appeal due to the alleged lack of funds, magistrates’ strike and subsequent downing of tools by legal practitioners as a result of the situation in the judiciary, the adjournment of parliament indefinitely, the US embassy had maintained its silence.
In a follow-up interview with this publication on Wednesday this week, Ramats’ella said the letter to Gonzales was motivated by the bias displayed by the Americans in their treatment of Mosisili’s and Thabane’s governments respectively.
“I must admit that indeed I wrote a letter to Ambassador Gonzales in which I raised many pertinent issues, borne of my concern regarding the way Americans operate.
“What we need to understand is that Americans have portrayed themselves as pioneers of democracy and protectors of the same democracy, human rights and the rule of law wherever they go.
“Lesotho is now under the rule of a new government which has been in office for just under two years, but within which a lot of atrocities have happened, despite their condemning us for more or less similar offences while we were in government between 2015 and 2017 under former Prime Minister Mosisili.”
He reiterated that he was worried by the US embassy’s silence despite the shockingly high rate at which “atrocities are being committed by Thabane’s coalition government”.
“Our government was threatened with sanctions, the withdrawal of AGOA and disqualification from developing the second development compact under the MCA, and even went as far as lobbying the international community not to support our government due to our alleged endorsement of murders,” he said.
“The irony here is that compared to our government where less than five people had died, over 40 people have died since this government took over.”
Unlike Ramats’ella, Mokhothu’s approach was mild, noting that the opposition continued to engage with not just Americans but all development partners, adding he hoped they would soon reprimand Thabane’s government.
“We have been engaging development partners in meetings that we hold with them from time to time. The media is also awash with reports of human rights violations and disregard for the rule of law.
“They also have their own ways of investigating issues on the ground, such as MCC. They further interview us to better assess the situation,” Mokhothu said.
“So, they are aware that good governance is deteriorating and that the judiciary is under siege, while parliament has also been captured. But they must find a way to make sure that this government toes the line of good governance.”
Mokhothu said unlike those who lobbied for the withdrawal of US aid when he was still in government, the current opposition held in high regard the interests of marginalised Basotho, hence would never support any call for sanctions against Thabane’s administration.
“Unlike Thabane and his current coalition partners, who were adamant that Americans and other development partners should withdraw aid from Lesotho, all we ask is for donors to engage the government and bring to their attention that Lesotho risks being disqualified from receiving aid if it does not respect democracy, rule of law and human rights,” Mokhothu said.
“We need clean water, roads and schools for our people, not for parties in government. This government does not have an ear and unfortunately it’s the people who suffer.”