AMNESTY International, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) have issued a joint plea to the government to ensure an impartial and independent investigation into allegations of police brutality.
The three organisations want the police officers to be investigated for allegedly torturing villagers in that resulting in the death of one man and injuries to 45 other villagers in the Kao area in the Butha-Buthe district on 27 December 2018.
Members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), which has faced mounting criticism over its alleged brutality against civilians, are said to have summoned and tortured villagers killing one and injuring many others after accusing them of assaulting one of their officers at Kao over a love triangle.
The violence started on 25 December 2018 when an LMPS officer stationed at Kao clashed with a villager, Mabilikoane Leoma, over a woman identified as Rethabile Makhethe. She had allegedly been dating both men.
Mr Leoma allegedly attacked Ms Makhethe who was in the company of her unidentified police officer boyfriend at a bar at Ha-Shishila Village on Christmas Day.
An irate Mr Leoma is said to have confronted Ms Makhethe, accusing her of double crossing him with the police officer.
The police officer then intervened in an attempt to protect the woman prompting Mr Leoma to floor him with a heavy punch.
Other revellers allegedly started assaulting the police officer who sustained serious injuries and was taken to ‘Mamohau Hospital.
Mr Leoma was then arrested the following day but was forcibly released by fellow villagers who had besieged the police post demanding his release.
In an apparent revenge mission, armed police officers raided the Ha-Shishila Village in Butha-Buthe on 27 December 2018 and allegedly summoned all the village men to a nearby valley where they were allegedly tortured. The torture claimed the life of Poshoane Moloi, who was announced dead on arrival at ‘Mamohau Hospital in the Leribe District while scores of other villagers sustained injuries, according those who narrated their ordeal.
Some of the villagers told the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication that they had fled the village for fear of enduring more beatings from the police.
And the Amnesty International and its fellow human rights organisations have added their voices to calls for an independent inquiry into the alleged police brutality.
“Lesotho authorities must ensure an impartial, independent and effective investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment committed by police officers against dozens of villagers, from the Lesotho Highlands region that resulting in the death of one man and injuries to at least 45 others, on 27 December 2018,” the three organisations jointly stated in a letter dated 22 February 2019.
“Considering the pattern of failures by the police to ensure accountability for its own members, it will not be sufficient for the police to investigate themselves. Amnesty International, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) call on the Lesotho authorities to ensure that police officers reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility are held accountable in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty.
“They further urge that victims of torture and other ill-treatment are provided with effective remedies, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation. The authorities must ensure that victims of these violations have access to medical care and access to psychological support for as long as needed. Amnesty International, SAHRDN and TRC call on the Lesotho authorities to expedite the passing of specific legislation to criminalize torture and other ill-treatment and to establish effective, independent oversight bodies with powers to review and investigate complaints of torture and other ill-treatment during detention and to monitor conditions in all prisons and detention facilities, in line with Lesotho’s international human rights law obligations.
“As Lesotho has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 2001, it is duty bound to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture and other ill-treatment.”
The three organisations are not the only ones that have expressed concern over alleged police brutality.
A recent African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report seen by this publication expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and calls on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
“The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue,” the ACHPR report states.