Writes Lepeli Moeketsi

In the midst of progressive public calls to curtail excessive powers of prime minister and desperate plea demanding immunisation of state institutions like the Human Rights Commission (HRC) from endemic political and maneuvering monopolies, we have recently learned another draconian cabinet decision which stifle urgent amendment of the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 (HRC Act).

The cabinet decision not to pass a proposal to amend the HRC Act under pretext of ongoing reform project whilst in fact Prime Minister Thabane does not like the Bill, it is not just a blow that unprogressively undermine partnerships of Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and state human rights department.

It is a huge setback in an efforts ensuring respect and promotion of human rights.

Notwithstanding that, this particular cabinet decision is nothing but perpetuation of premierships’ hegemony of insatiable alarming desires and power obsession which hitherto brought nothing but dysfunction and paralysis of state institutions.

TRC would like to remind Basotho of harrowing incidents of human rights violations happened during the period of 2012 and 2017 perpetrated by the government of Lesotho under the former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili through security institutions, namely; the army and police.

This period saw the government determined in undermining the rule of law, democracy and human rights by using security agencies to commit atrocities and arbitrarily trampling on the citizens right to life. It was only in June 2017 when Basotho voted with a view to change the status quo.

However, their hopes were shattered when the new government under the current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane repeated similar atrocities to undermine civil and political rights, socio-economic rights, and independence of democracy supporting institutions as well as the National Human Rights Institutions.

Lesotho has experienced under Prime Minister Thabane’s regime horrendous arbitrary killings of citizens by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS). These killings happened during arrests, detention, interrogations, peaceful protests, traffic offences and due to police negligence when executing their duties.

Basotho would further recall incidents of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment suffered at the hands of police.

In particular, police raids in Kao village in Butha-Bothe on the December 27, 2018 and Bokhoasa, Manemaneng in Thaba-Tseka on the February 28, 2019 where villagers were subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

This police behaviour was reported to TRC by victims and those affected in different incidents.

Under the current regime which campaigned prosperity to voters, Basotho are experiencing violation of their socio-economic rights as evidenced by poor service delivery, high unemployment rate, rampant corruption, lack of policies and legal frameworks protecting citizens’ socio-economic rights and other violations.

It is on this basis that TRC advocated for the establishment of the Human Rights Commission to address these human rights violations and keep the government under check.

To our dismay, the prime minister rejected efforts by the TRC and the Ministry of Law, Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs aimed at ensuring that the Human Rights Commission is established and granted independence which it needs in order to effectively carry-out its mandate.

Despite a public out-cry on the unregulated powers of the prime minister on the institutions such as the judiciary and the Ombudsman, Prime Minister Thabane regrettably decided that the amendment of the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 to grant it independence is tantamount to trimming or totally depriving him powers.

He argued such amendments to grant the Human Rights Commission independence to promote and protect human rights should be subject of reforms.

This position raises serious concerns on the government’s commitment under regional and international human rights obligations of promoting and protecting human rights in Lesotho.

If indeed the government is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in Lesotho, why would the prime minister perceive independence of the Human Rights Commission as trimming his powers?

What is it in the mandate of the Human Rights Commission which irritates or makes the prime minister uncomfortable that he rather compromises its independence?

TRC calls on the government of Lesotho and indeed the prime minister to fulfil Lesotho’s obligations under the human rights law by ensuring that the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 complies with the international benchmarks as stipulated in the Paris Principles.

The first and most important being ensuring the independence of the Human Rights Commission by amending the law establishing it in line with the Paris Principles. There are the guidelines to be followed by the United Nations state parties when establishing National Human Rights Institutions to protect them from political and any other interferences. NW

Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi is the Human Rights Advocacy Officer at the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC).

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