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Submission To The ICC For Investigation of Crime Against Humanity in Lesotho

Writes Bokang Ramats’ella

The Prime Minister of the kingdom of Lesotho Dr Thomas Motsoahae Thabane made toxic pronouncements in the Lesotho National Assembly immediately after his assumption of power to the effect that police should torture suspects when people are not in sight. From then on, the Lesotho police went on a killing spree and rampant torture of suspects.

We feel obliged make this submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to express our grave concerns in respect of the appalling state-sponsored crimes against humanity which are taking place in the Kingdom of Lesotho. The submission relates to our humble call to the Court to investigate and prosecute the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho Dr Thomas Motsoahae Thabane, his Minister of Police Ms Mampho Mokhele and the Commissioner of Police Mr Holomo Molibeli and all those who are allegedly involved in these monstrous crimes.

The call for investigation and prosecution relates to their individual criminal responsibility and culpability in the commission of crimes against humanity in the Kingdom of Lesotho which appear under clause 1 (a) and (f) of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of 2002. We make this submission in recognition of the fact that the ICC prosecutes individuals not states including government officials and heads of state and government.

We have a strong believe that our call for investigation and subsequent prosecution of these individuals falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC under Article 5 of the Rome Statute. Our considered view is that crimes which are being committed in the Kingdom of Lesotho are state-sponsored and therefore transcend the boundaries of ordinary criminality.

It is our conviction that these crimes constitute “serious crimes of concern to the international community”. The public condemnation of police brutality and culture of impunity in the Kingdom of Lesotho by local and international human rights organizations, the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa and American Embassy in Lesotho bear a testimony to the magnitude of these state-sponsored crimes.

Our confidence with the ICC is inspired by the fact that in its preamble, the ICC affirms that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at national level…determined to put an end to impunity for perpetrators of these crimes…”.

We should state without hesitation that at national level, the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho is unwilling to carry out investigations even though perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes are well-known police officers. In the absence of local remedies, we therefore call for the ICC’s intervention because we strongly believe that the commission of crimes against humanity in all its forms is not only an antithesis to the rule of law in the Kingdom of Lesotho, but it is also an abominable act to the entire civilized world.

Additionally, it is pertinent to mention that the reason for commission of these crimes is not hard to fathom as perpetrators are acting under direct orders from their superiors more in particular, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho Dr Thomas Motsoahae Thabane.

Prime Minister Thomas Motsoahae Thabane 
The Prime Minister of the kingdom of Lesotho Dr Thomas Motsoahae Thabane made toxic pronouncements in the Lesotho National Assembly immediately after his assumption of power to the effect that police should torture suspects when people are not in sight. From then on, the Lesotho police went on a killing spree and rampant torture of suspects.

Thabane reiterated these inciteful pronouncements in many public fora including public rallies and the Lesotho Television. In an interview with the Lesotho Television Thabane had this to say, “the police must beat up people [suspects] of this character when people are not in sight. They should beat them up I am not joking; I am adamant on this…there are people who need to be beaten up…”.

In effect, from then on, the Prime Minister Thabane had given the police a blank cheque to operate without judicial review thus effectively putting them above the law. To put it in blunt terms, Thabane had effectively glorified and institutionalized the use of torture by the police as a key instrument and a means to extract confessions from suspects. These have had far-reaching consequences to ordinary citizens who happen to fall in the hands of the police.

As a consequence, our submission is that the police have religiously heeded and carried out Thabane’s orders and interrogated suspects to the point where some have lost their lives while some have been left with permanent disability6. Suffice it to say that Thabane had inculcated the culture of impunity within the police service.

Minister of Police Mampho Mokhele 
The Police Minister Mampho Mokhele complied with the Prime Minister’s Thabane’s orders and visited many police stations around the country to that effect. She ordered the police to follow the orders to the letter and promised to protect them against any criminal liability in execution of these orders thereby sending message to perpetrators that their crimes would go unchecked. We firmly believe that by offering to protect murderers and torturers, Ms Mokhele squarely promoted the culture of impunity in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS). This explains why no one has been held accountable for commission of these heinous crimes to date.

Later on, Ms Mokhele made a public admission to the effect that the police are using illegal means including torture to extract information from the suspects. As the local weekly newspaper Sunday Express issue of 27 February 2018, noted, “CABINET Minister (Mampho Mokhele) has for the first time admitted that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) uses illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects…Ms Mokhele who served as a police officer for 37 years, admitted the police sometimes resorted to torture in order to extract information from the suspects”. In the face of this public admission, Ms Mokhele has not taken any action whatsoever to bring perpetrators to book.

Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli 
The Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli carried out Prime Minister Thabane’s orders and assembled torture squad under the pretext of dealing with unresolved crimes which were committed during the previous coalition government. This squad earned its notoriety for becoming a law unto themselves, severely torturing suspects thereby transforming the Police Headquarters into torture camp.

It is pertinent to mention that persons even who were perceived to be political opponents of the government were framed by these torture squad, summoned to the police headquarters and subjected to infliction of severe pain and degrading treatment and released without being charged. A classic example is that of one opposition political activist Zele Mpheshea who was targeted and arrested after being framed by the police on 24 August 2017, subjected to a severe torture and released without being charged.

We sincerely believe that in terms of Article 28 (a) (i) of the Rome Statute, the Commissioner of Police must be held criminally responsible for these crimes as a superior authority of the perpetrators. According to Article 28 (b) (i) “a superior shall be criminally responsible within the jurisdiction of the Court for crimes committed by subordinates under his or her effective authority and control as a result of his or her failure to exercise control properly over such subordinates”.

We are mindful of the fact that the Commissioner of Police knew and consciously disregarded information reported to him which clearly indicated that his subordinates were committing horrendous crimes including torture and senseless killings. His Police spokesperson Mpiti Mopeli made several vehement denials over the print and electronic media to cover up the well-calculated and glaring police brutality. Molibeli therefore “dismally failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission”.

The local rights group Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) through its head Tsikoane Peshoane attest to the rampant police brutality in the Kingdom of Lesotho. As quoted in the weekly local newspaper, Public Eye issue of 16 March 18, Peshoane had this to say, “in all the above incidents of torture, ill-treatment and deprivations of life, perpetrators are well known but had not been held accountable either through prosecution or internal police disciplinary mechanisms”.

Similarly, the former Minister of Trade Tefo Mapesela had also lambasted the police brutality. In an interview with radio Harvest FM as quoted in the Post Newspaper issue of 15 March 2018, Mapesela had this to say, “It is uncalled for that these police to kill people whom they are supposed to protect and no action is taken against them”.

In all conscience, there is a deep-rooted malaise that exist in the law enforcement and prosecution environment in the Kingdom of Lesotho. Law enforcement system is politically contaminated, murder and torture have become part of the state policy where perpetrators enjoy full protection of the government.

As a case in point thirty-four (34) people have been murdered by the police and hundreds more severely tortured. Most victims of torture are afraid to relate their ordeals openly when they were in the hands of the police or institute legal action against them for fear of being victimized again. These seriously escalating atrocious crimes do not only constitute a serious indictment on the part of the Commissioner of Police, but to the entire government of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Consequently, we are of a view that the ICC can help offer these victims and their relatives a real alternative to hold the perpetrators accountable, to finally end the impunity and stop them from getting away with the most heartless crimes. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Notwithstanding these international prohibition of torture, the situation in Lesotho is in the reverse.

Because of the failure of the government to and take action to investigate widespread torture and deaths in police detentions or extra-judicial executions by the police, dozens of people are continuing to die in their hands.

Our view is that if the vast majority of incidents listed in this submission are properly investigated and proven in a judicial process they would point to the prohibited acts of crimes against humanity.

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