AMNESTY International has branded the recent suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara as “a grave threat to judicial independence” and called on the Thomas Thabane administration to immediately reinstate her to her position.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane indefinitely suspended Justice Majara from office with effect from 11 September 2018.
The suspension paves way for a three-member tribunal to try Justice Majara over a litany of misconduct charges including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice.
His Majesty King Letsie III, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thabane, has since appointed High Court judge, Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, as the acting Chief Justice. King Letsie III has also appointed three experienced judges from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to the tribunal to hear the misconduct charges against Justice Majara.
But in a statement on Friday, Amnesty International said Justice Majara’s suspension undermines rule of law and judicial independence in Lesotho as the decision was made despite court orders that interdicted the government from recommending Justice Majara’s suspension and the appointment of a tribunal to impeach her.
“The suspension of Majara by King Letsie III is considered to be politically motivated by civil society organisations in the country,” Amnesty said, adding, “The Prime Minister’s advice to suspend Majara goes against two High Court orders”.
“On 17 May 2018, the court ruled that “the respondents (Dr Thabane, the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs and others) are interdicted and prevented from taking any or whatsoever measures against the applicant (Chief Justice Majara) in accordance with the constitution. The first respondent (Dr Thabane) is prevented and interdicted from recommending to His Majesty the King the suspension of the applicant (Chief Justice Majara)…and respondents are interdicted and prevented from taking any or whatsoever action against any judges of the High Court”.
“On 23 May 2018, the court issued another injunction prohibiting the government from removing Judge Majara pending the determination of a suit on the matter, which is set for hearing on 26 September 2018. The suspension of Majara comes after persistent attacks on the judiciary and the office of the Chief Justice…by the authorities.”
Amnesty further said that it was concerned that the government actions “set a deeply worrying precedent in Lesotho”.
“An independent judiciary is important to ensure a functioning administration of justice for everyone, and respect for human rights.
“The suspension of the Chief Justice is a grave threat to judicial independence in Lesotho. The authorities must show restraint and respect human rights and the rule of law by immediately lifting Majara’s suspension and reinstating her as Chief Justice.
“We urge the authorities to respect Lesotho’s international, regional and national obligations relating to the independence and security of tenure of judges,” Amnesty International said.
Meanwhile, the Hands off Mosito campaigners have welcomed the suspension of Justice Majara and the appointment of High Court judge Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase as Acting Chief Justice.
The Hands off Mosito campaigners describe themselves as a “team of patriotic Basotho men and women who are increasingly irked by the deliberate delayed swearing in of Judge Kananelo Mosito as President of Court of Appeal after his appointment by a government gazette in terms of Section (98) sub section (1) of the constitution”.
In April this year, they wrote to Dr Thabane imploring him to immediately dismiss Justice Majara and three senior High Court judges for allegedly plotting with the opposition to topple the government.
And in the aftermath of Justice Majara’s suspension on Tuesday, they stated that they “welcome with open arms the decisions of the government to suspend Justice Majara to pave way for the tribunal to investigate her alleged misconducts”.
“We are not apologetic in celebrating the suspension of the Chief Justice because her conduct drastically changed during the seven-party coalition government’s tenure from 2015 to 2017. The majority of Basotho were not happy with her conduct,” the campaigners said on Friday.