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Thabane condemns police brutality

Pascalinah Kabi

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane recently came out guns blazing, accusing police officers of intentionally killing criminal suspects in their custody because they know they are untouchable and nothing will be done to them.

But at the same time the premier suggested that the country had been forced by western countries and United Nations conventions on torture to abandon its own traditional ways of enforcing good behaviour by administering corporal punishment.

He said the country had deviated from the physical punishment in fear of losing the much-needed development aid which was tied to strict adherence to accepted norms of human rights observance.

Dr Thabane said this while contributing to recent motion in parliament aimed at ensuring that the government, in particular, the Ministry of Police and Public Safety, addressed the issue of police brutality and took punitive action against people officers responsible for the deaths of suspects in their custody.

The issues of police brutality have continued to be a blot on the government’s quest to improve the country’s human rights situation and despite calls for strong action by Dr Thabane himself, the international community and the opposition, it appears very little has been done to bring perpetrators to book.

Last month, Dr Thabane condemned police brutality and ordered the Minister of Police, ‘Mampho Mokhele, to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.

“I condemn in the strongest terms possible the brutality perpetrated against innocent men and women by some members of the police and I demand full criminal accountability with respect to such officers,” Dr Thabane said while officiating at the recent official opening of a police station at the Letšeng village in Mokhotlong. The station was built by diamond miner, Letšeng Diamonds as part of its corporate social initiative.

“The government will not tolerate criminality within the law enforcement agencies. I have requested the ministry of police to provide me with the reports of the crimes committed by police officers and how those cases were handled,” he said adding that the report would be made public.

“In the same vein, and within the context of the comprehensive national reforms, I have directed the Minister of Police (Ms Mokhele) to come up with a comprehensive strategy that will ensure that police brutality ceases with immediate effect.”

Dr Thabane said the strategy should include, among other things, capacity building of police in various fields such as forensics, criminal investigations and sensitivity to human rights issues in the course of police work.

And during the recent debate on the motion on police brutality in parliament which was introduced by opposition Democratic Congress (DC) legislator Serialong Qoo of the Malingoaneng constituency, Dr Thabane said there was nothing as embarrassing as the fact that “an over (two) million population which speaks one language, eats the same food and underwent the same school curriculum was discussing issues of unwarranted deaths”.

He said the police officers intentionally killed people fully aware that nothing would be done to them.

“I must say it today that we cannot continue like this. We cannot go on lying to ourselves and say we are leading this country to prosperity as long as there are unwarranted deaths with perpetrators walking freely and knowing that they are untouchable.

“This is not the first time I am speaking to the issue of increasing crime reports in this country and what the police can do to address it. I remember very well that I once stood before parliament while it was still operating from the old parliament building. At that time there was horse belonging to the police which was called Leloabe.”

He said the horse was trained to cause pain by stepping on the heels of a suspected offender while the police officer riding it was taking a suspect, with hands tied behind, to the police station. He said the horse would be made to continuously step on the heels of the suspects until they arrived at the police station.

Upon arrival at the police station, Dr Thabane said the suspect would be treated to ease the swelling on their feet before they were interrogated.

“But that has changed because the Europeans and Americans who have advanced ways of dealing of crimes have imposed certain conditions on us. They want us to meet certain conditions in order to qualify for their assistance as though we lead the same lifestyles they lead in their countries. They tell us what we should and should not do forgetting that we are still struggling here, things are this difficult this side,” Dr Thabane said.

Although he condemned police brutality, Dr Thabane suggested that physical punishment was a culturally acceptable way of dealing with errant behaviour. He however, said Lesotho had been forced to abandon its own traditional ways of enforcing good behaviour by administering corporal punishment.

He said the country had deviated from the physical punishment in fear of losing the much-needed development aid which was tied to strict adherence to accepted norms of human rights observance.

“In my time as a Minister of Police, I told a Commissioner of Police and other officers to look around and see if there are people watching them and if not, they should beat up the suspects. I told them that while in the full view of the people, they should be friendly to the suspects, walk around with them and chat with them. I told them that when they were at a bar, they should also give the suspects alcohol so that people can see that they are being nice to the suspects but as soon as they are away from the prying eyes, they remind them what they have done”.

He said life was not easy for the developing countries like Lesotho and that Basotho were struggling to survive to the age of 50 because of ways that had been introduced by the Europeans.

Dr Thabane said Basotho used to use the stick to discipline their children and ensure that they worked hard at school but that had been abandoned because of the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dr Thabane said the international community continued to impose conditions for Lesotho to qualify for foreign funding and in the process, Lesotho was forced to do away with its ways of addressing societal ills like crime.

“Growing up, if any of my siblings would get something wrong at school, my mother…would whip …us. But these days whipping a child is regarded as child abuse. We are told that that is violation of their rights,” Dr Thabane said. He however, said he was not advocating for the abuse of children but that they be disciplined in line with the traditional Sesotho way.

“I suggest that we hold our own conference as Basotho to thoroughly discuss this issue. While we are busy with the national reforms agenda, let us sit down, and trace the root causes of our problems and see which are those that are being inflicted on us by other people and those that we are responsible for as Basotho.

“It is very important for us to discuss this issue and come up with a home-brewed solution for our own problems. I don’t believe that they (international development partners) will get to the point of denying us money if we explained what we want to do for this country,” Dr Thabane said.

Two months ago, the United States (US) ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, warned that Lesotho risked losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about “unacceptable” corruption and police brutality against citizens.

Ms Gonzales also warned of a “delay or derailment (of the second compact) if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability”.

She issued the warning during a ceremony to mark the signing of a US$5, 78 million (about M82 million) grant to assist Lesotho in the processes towards the development of the second MCC compact. The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.

In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362, 6 million (more than M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.

In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the compact programme over rampant human rights abuses perpetrated under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s regime.

Lesotho’s eligibility for the second compact was first confirmed by the MCC Board in December 2017 after the ouster of the Mosisili regime in the June 2017 elections and the advent of the Thomas Thabane-led coalition.

However, there have been increasing reports of police brutality against citizens and graft in government in recent times.

 

 

 

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One Comment

  1. MA AMERIKA A RE MAKATSA. BLACK PEOPLE ARE BEING BUTCHERED IN THE US ALMOST ON A DAILY BASIS BY THE POLICE. YET THEY HAVE THE AUDACITY TO GIVE US MANDATES AS PER THE MCC COMPACT.HYPOCRISY HAS NO BOUNDARIES.

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