News Analysis


This report covered the period January-December 1994

At least 10 people were shot dead by security personnel in circumstances suggesting unlawful killings. Prison warders ill-treated prisoners during a prison protest.

Two prisoners remained under sentence of death.

In the first half of the year the government of Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle, which took office in April 1993 following Lesotho’s first nationwide elections since 1970, faced repeated mutinies by the security forces.

Disagreements over army pay and attempts by the government to promote one particular army unit were the ostensible causes of the conflict, but an underlying tension was the government’s fear that most members of the security forces remained loyal to Lesotho’s former military rulers.

In April 1994, in an attempt to force the government to address their grievances, disaffected soldiers took hostage four government ministers for several hours. They shot dead the Deputy Prime Minister, Selometsi Baholo, apparently while trying to capture him.

Government ministers were again held hostage in May by officers of the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police who were on strike over pay demands.

On August 17 1994, King Letsie III issued Order No. 1 of 1994, which dissolved the government and parliament, suspended certain provisions of the Constitution, and appointed a Council of Ministers to govern the country.

Order No. 2 of 1994 granted immunity from prosecution to the security forces for a broad range of acts committed “in the public interest” on or after 17 August. A nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed.

These actions provoked mass popular demonstrations of support for the ousted government. The High Court issued a preliminary ruling declaring the King’s actions null and void, but the Chief Justice went ahead and swore in the Council of Ministers.
After diplomatic pressure from neighbouring Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, King Letsie restored the ousted government on 14 September and both parties agreed to participate in a broad national dialogue to resolve areas of conflict between the monarchy, the security forces and the government.

Soldiers and police officers shot dead at least 10 people in circumstances suggesting unlawful killings.

In the worst single incident, on 17 August 1994, soldiers on guard outside the King’s palace in Maseru, the capital, fired on unarmed demonstrators gathered outside the palace to petition the King in support of the ousted Mokhehle government.

Eye-witnesses said the demonstration had already begun to disperse when an army vehicle tried to force its way through the crowd.

Soldiers on the vehicle hit people in the crowd with rifle butts, whereupon members of the crowd threw empty drinks cans at the vehicle. Soldiers at the palace gates then fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

Four people were killed and at least 16 injured, one of whom died later in hospital. Other people were shot dead during August and September 1994 by police enforcing the curfew.

The 14 September agreement which ended the constitutional crisis provided immunity from prosecution for the King, his appointed council, public servants and security personnel for their actions between 17 August and 14 September.

This was confirmed by the international guarantors of the agreement Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Late in the year it was still unclear what the legal consequences would be, in particular for any investigation into the killings of demonstrators and curfew-breakers.

Prison warders on strike assaulted prisoners at Maseru Central Prison on 11 May 1994 and reportedly shot at some who had fled on to the prison roof. Prisoners were protesting against the suspension of court hearings and visiting rights as a result of the strike.

A number of prisoners required hospital treatment for their injuries, including two former officials of the Lesotho Union of Bank Employees (LUBE) who were awaiting trial and who appear to have been singled out for ill-treatment.

There were also further reports during the year of police ill-treatment of suspects in criminal investigations.

In a rare exception to the virtual impunity enjoyed by security personnel in Lesotho, a police officer was brought to trial in May for fatally shooting 17-year-old Bathobakae Mokhuthu in Maseru in 1990. The police officer was acquitted in October.

Two prisoners remained under sentence of death. One, a soldier, was convicted in 1991 of the 1986 murders of two government ministers and their wives. The other was also convicted of murder.

Both had their sentences confirmed on appeal in July and were awaiting the decision of the Pardons Committee on Prerogative of Mercy. There were no reports of new death sentences.

Amnesty International continued to call on the authorities to investigate human rights abuses and provide safeguards in law and practice against further abuses. The organization expressed concern in May about the safety of government ministers taken hostage by the police.

At a September meeting of European Union and Southern African Development Community member states, it also raised its concerns about the shooting of unarmed demonstrators on 17 August and the granting of immunity from prosecution to the security forces.

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