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US accuses army, police of rights abuses

Faults government for official corruption

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – United States of America has accused members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) of committing numerous abuses which include among others, unlawful and arbitrary killings, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The US Department of State’s 2020 Human Rights report, unveiled on Tuesday by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also accused members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) of committing “some human rights abuses”.

The report also listed harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, serious problems with the independence of the judiciary, serious acts of official corruption, lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women, as some of the significant human rights issues in Lesotho.

“There were several reports members of the LMPS committed arbitrary or unlawful arrests. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse, the PCA, however, was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate,” read the report.

It added that: “The constitution states that no person shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment and the penal code lists torture as one of the crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, there are credible reports police tortured suspects and subjected them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

LMPS has a notorious reputation for violence, brutality and misconduct. In September 2019, LMPS was likened to Gestapo and the South African apartheid police by then High Court Judge Sakoane Sakoane, now Chief Justice.

Gestapo was Nazi Germany’s infamous political police force. It ruthlessly, according to reports, eliminated opposition to the Nazis within Germany and its occupied territories and, in partnership with the Sicherheitsdienst, was responsible for the roundup of Jews throughout Europe for deportation to extermination camps.

“It is a matter of shame that the applicant (Kabelo Ratia) had been tortured and forced to eat his faeces by the Matela police and nothing was done to bring them to book, this type of conduct bespeaks of the most despicable, sadistic behaviour and savagery to which men and women in uniform have stooped, contrary to their oath under the Police Service Act no 7 of 1998,” Justice Sakoane said in 2019.

Ratia was allegedly tortured in police cells until he soiled himself and then was reportedly forced to eat his own faeces by police. He had been arrested for alleged theft.

“The police have reached the worst of police brutality even surpassing the Gestapo and apartheid police, this record must not be allowed to remain in the annals of the history of the Lesotho Police Service,” said Justice Sakoane in a judgment which criticized prosecution and magistrate ‘Makopano Rantšo for the manner in which they handled Ratia’s case when they remanded him in custody despite reports that he was tortured.

Sakoane suggested that the officers implicated in Ratia’s torture should be removed from the police service. He said: “This despicable conduct completely destroys the image of the police as a service and constitutes a negation of humanity and a spit in the face of the values of our constitution.”

He added: “It is not a mere disciplinary offence but a serious crime, a police officer who engages in such conduct is nothing but a criminal in uniform. He/she must be rooted out without much ado and face the full might of the law.”

In November last year, police were accused of shooting journalist Ntsoaki Motaung during a youth protest. Motaung was treated for minor wounds and discharged from hospital in the aftermath of the shooting. Police said they were dispersing an illegal march but were accused by the youth of using excessive force. Protests have been banned since the beginning of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown in March last year.

“MISA Lesotho notes with disappointment in observance of growing rate of police brutality characterized with journalists being treated like criminals LMPS,” Media Institute of Southern African (MISA) Lesotho Chapter said in a statement on November 12, 2020.

MISA Zimbabwe said on November 16, 2020: “It is worrying that the police had to use firearms, and in the process injuring a journalist who was carrying her duties.”

The youth were protesting against skyrocketing unemployment rate in the country, nepotism and corruption. The US human rights report did not mention this incident. It mentioned that the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, has stated that “torture and inhuman treatment is intolerable within the LMPS”.

It said Molibeli took disciplinary action against 50 police officers and two military members accused of committing human rights abuses. “They were charged, appeared before the High Court and released on bail. They had yet to be tried by the year’s end,” read the report.

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