THE issue of alleged police brutality took centre stage when the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) made its presentation at the recent 63rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, Gambia.
In the damning presentation, the TRC said it was worried about the safety of Lesotho’s citizens, their wellbeing and the preservation of their human rights.
The TRC report said that the torture and killings of civilians had reached alarming levels in Lesotho.
“Lesotho has been faced with challenges where police torture and kill civilians when executing their duties,” the TRC said in its report to the African Commission.
“We are worried that police brutality in Lesotho is getting out of hand. The TRC received and documented from January 2018 several complaints of human rights violations by police to the victims when arresting and keeping them in custody.
“The TRC has exhausted internal remedies where it engaged with the government on these issues. Nothing has changed. The TRC engaged police authorities on these issues and up until now, police continue to torture and kill civilians and enjoy the protection of the authorities in furtherance of impunity.”
What was frustrating, the report said, was that the police authorities were fully aware of the perpetrators of the torture and killings but no legal action has been taken against them.
The TRC report said it appeared that instead the perpetrators were the ones getting the protection of the law.
“The TRC reported to the African Commission during its 62nd Ordinary Session in Mauritania in April 2018 on harrowing incidents of torture and arbitrary killings by members of the police force. The TRC put it before the Commission that police officers involved in such barbaric acts are known.
“However, they enjoy the protection of government contrary to Lesotho Mounted Police Service (Admin) Regulations of 2004 as amended in 2004 which requires managers to ensure that necessary disciplinary and criminal measures are taken to discipline rogue police officers.”
The report said the police were acting against the provisions of the Constitution and the LMPS ACT of 1996 which prohibit torture and inhuman practices.
The TRC gave examples of civilians that were allegedly tortured by the police when they brought in for interrogation over crimes they were suspected to have committed.
“Lesotho is currently experiencing rampant incidents of torture and killings by members of the police service. This is evidenced by some recent tortures on the 28th June 2018 of Mr Mpho Makhele, Mojalefa Kolisang and Lebohang Molefe who were severely tortured at the Vehicles Theft Department and Counter Robbery Crime Unit Police at Moshoeshoe II by police in custody.
“Mr Kolisang endured torture from Maseru to Maputsoe where upon arrival he was locked in a dirty pit latrine toilet for the whole night. The torture was aimed at forcing them to incriminate themselves to a crime committed in 2013.”
The report also referred to the killing Thelingoane ‘Mota by the Ha-Mofoka police officers in August 2017.
In another incident on 8th February 2018, the Butha-Buthe Police shot and killed one Terene Pitae during a protest at the Kao village.
The TRC said it blamed some of the incidents of police brutality on the government leaders who allegedly made public statements which incited the police to disregard human rights.
“TRC is concerned that prior to the advent of these unfortunate incidents of torture and killings of civilians by police, reckless statements were uttered by the government officials inciting the police to disregard the rule of law and human rights.
“While condemning heinous crimes such as murder and rape of the elderly, the Prime Minister of Lesotho (Thomas Thabane) has been recorded on several occasions in his public presentations or speeches issuing statements that seemed to incite or perpetuate infliction by police on suspects.
“The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office has also said on record that police must shoot criminals and the government will collect corpses. The Minister of Police was also quoted by the media telling a public gathering in Ribaneng in Mafeteng that people behaving like animals are social misfits and “should be weeded out”,” the TRC stated in its report.
The report said it would seem that police officers were “perpetuating these barbaric actions” with the belief that they had blessing of the Prime Minister and some of his cabinet ministers.
“The TRC wishes to univocally state that there is no law, regional or international, directly or indirectly, permitting use of torture or to kill suspects who are under the custody and control of the police.”
The TRC therefore called on the government to take effective measures to end the practice of torture and other forms of abuse by speedily enacting a law which criminalises torture and which will ensure that perpetrators of torture are held accountable.
The government, the TRC report said, should ensure the independence and efficacy of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to handle civilian complaints about police officers who violate human rights. The PCA’s decisions must be binding on government.
The TRC’s submission comes against the background of growing international and local calls for the government to act against police brutality.
A recent 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.
The police have been under fire for torturing suspects to extract confessions, a practice that has allegedly led to deaths and subsequent lawsuits against the force.
Three weeks ago, Dr Thabane said the Minister of Police, Ms ‘Mampho Mokhele and the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, must “do the right thing” by investigating the deaths of suspects in police custody.
Dr Thabane said this in the wake of a pledge by the government to investigate the deaths of suspects at the hands of the police.
In the National Reforms Declaration signed with the opposition last month, the government undertook to “investigate and report to the coalition of opposition parties in due course” the circumstances surrounding the deaths of several people in police custody.
Early this year, the Minister of Police, retired Senior Superintendent ‘Mampho Mokhele, publicly admitted that the police used illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.
Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment which was donated by the Algerian government.
She however, said she hoped the donation would go a long way in removing the need for torture as the police could now use it to determine whether or not a suspect had been involved in the commission of a crime.
“We, as the police, are often forced to use violence to get information out of people because at times we would be sure that the suspect committed the crime but due to lack of tangible evidence we have to use force,” Ms Mokhele said.
However, in a recent interview with this publication, Commissioner Molibeli, said the police took the issues of alleged police brutality seriously.
“It is my responsibility to ensure that we keep a clean image of the police force. Our duty is to protect the people and not hurt them. We investigate cases where people are tortured while in police custody and take legal action on officers who are found on the wrong side of the law. There are several cases where officers have been brought before the court.
“Officers who are being investigated are transferred to other areas to move them from where they offended people while their cases are being addressed. It is not to protect such officers but to allow smooth processes.
“We are not quiet about this issue and I have been on radio to talk about police brutality which is of great concern to us,” Commissioner Molibeli said.