By Khopolo Mokone

Maseru, Jan 24 (The Night’s Watch) – The United Kingdom (UK) on Thursday spoke out against allegations of police brutality and corruption in Lesotho which undermine the basic tenets of a just and democratic society, expressing both outrage and condemnation, and highlighting the need for more to be done to strengthen good governance.

The UK, an island nation in north western Europe made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, also urged the government of Lesotho to address the lengthy delays in the judicial system and the politicization of judicial appointments.

“We remain seriously concerned that torture and police brutality continue to be reported, yet perpetrators are rarely prosecuted,” UK Mission to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva said in its 35th Universal periodic Review statement on Lesotho.

The Universal Periodic Review – a unique instrument which involves a review of the human rights records of all United Nations (UN) Member States – takes place at UN Geneva every five years.

“We urge the government to address the lengthy delays in the judicial system and politicization of judicial appointment. We also note with concern repeated allegations of corruption that undermine the basic tenets of a just and democratic society,” the statement added.

Findings from the 2018 Afrobarometer survey revealed that most Basotho are perturbed by police brutality which they perceived as a major problem in the country.

The survey found that a remarkable two-thirds of Basotho said police routinely abuse or torture people in their custody. This was an increase of five percentage points from 2014.

The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Shadow Report on Human Rights in Lesotho published in October last year, documented latest incidences of use of excessive force by police on a significant number of people.

The report exposed brutality as a commonplace in the police service and revealed the gross lack of leadership and accountability that make it so.

It showed a pattern of tolerance for and tacit approval of unnecessary aggression.

TRC said no investigations and criminal proceedings were taken against perpetrators.

Also, the UK is not the first of Lesotho’s development partners to speak out against allegations of corruption in the country.

In an op-ed to observe the international day against corruption in 2018, the United States (U.S.) Ambassador to Lesotho Rebecca E. Gonzales took a tough stance against corruption, saying it was imperative to understand that good governance also meant fighting to eliminate corruption – “not just with words, but with actions”.

Gonzales said “these actions should not be finger-pointing”, but rather should be a focus on equipping corruption watchdogs like the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) with resources and independence needed to do their jobs.

She further indicated that Lesotho’s legibility for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MMC) compact hinged on the government’s anti-corruption fight.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2019 Lesotho ranks 85 out of 180 countries and has a score of 40 out of the possible 100.

In 2017, Lesotho ranked 74 out of 180 countries and had a score of 42 out of 100. This is an indication that Lesotho is showing no improvement in tackling corruption.

The Corruption Perception Index for 2019, released worldwide on Thursday, scores and ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.

It draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption giving each country a score from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

CPI 2019 focuses on political integrity and highlights the relationship between politics, money and corruption.

By political integrity, Transparency International means the quality of (a) contesting and exercising power consistently acting in the public interest, and (b) providing equal, open and meaningful access to the affected stakeholders before arriving at decisions.

The UK, in its Universal Periodic Review Statement, said it “welcomes Lesotho’s ongoing National Reform process” and encouraged “rapid implementation” of the reform recommendations, which could significantly improve many areas of human rights.

It said: “We welcome recent collaboration between the government and civil society organisations on the reforms and the process to establish a human rights commission.”

The UK recommended that Lesotho “fully implement” the Human Trafficking Act 2011, including taking measures to ensure the investigation, prosecution and conviction of human traffickers in fair trials, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes.

It also recommended that Lesotho “adopt an open, merit based process when  when selecting national candidates for UN treaty body elections.

“We recommend that Lesotho take urgent action to promote open and transparent government, ensuring access to information by promulgating a freedom of information law and honouring information requests,” UK Mission in Geneva said.

This UK’s statement condemning allegations of police brutality in Lesotho might come in handy for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who is desperate to remove Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli.

According to Thabane, police brutality which leads to deaths and extra judicial killings in detention, is at its highest under Molibeli’s command. “There is a public outcry that the police are now law unto themselves,” Thabane said in a letter suspending Molibeli from office on January 3.

He said Molibeli’s attempts to address the situation “leaves much to be desired, as it is characterized by selective and discriminatory interdiction and these affects the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization”.

It is worth mentioning that the issue of police brutality came to the forefront in 2017, months after Thabane was inaugurated prime minister when he ordered police to assault suspected thieves.

Thabane brazenly harangued his detractors who said his utterances contradicted the rule of law and incited extrajudicial killings.

In August that year, Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) said the first and most jarring reason that incidences of torture by police were increasing in the country was that it was tacitly encouraged by the Prime Minister.

The lawyers said they were concerned by Thabane’s order instructing police to torture alleged thieves and the castration of rapists.

The group said immediately after Thabane’s order, there was “a chorus of complaints by members of the public about police brutality and savagery”.

“It is clear that the police are acting with the blessing and on the instructions of the Prime Minister,” they said.

The lawyers said Thabane must “withdraw or retract his unlawful order to the police” or they would be compelled to launch a constitutional motion before the Constitutional Court for an appropriate relief.

To date, the prime minister has not withdrawn the statement but has reiterated that he stands by his words.

Molibeli is challenging his “purported suspension” in the High Court and he has been granted an interim relief.

He has asked court for an order declaring that his suspension from office by Thabane, with immediate effect, is “irregular, unlawful, illegal, and null and void ab initio”.

He said the decision to suspend him was made “mala fide” (in bad faith) and to achieve ulterior motives harboured by Thabane against him.

In an explosive affidavit, Molibeli claimed that: “I wish to take this Honourable Court into my confidence and disclose that in the investigation of the murder of one Lipolelo Thabane, the 1st Respondent (Thabane) is implicated. I have sought expert evidence in the matter both from RSA (Republic of South Africa) and the US (United States of America).”

Lipolelo, Thabane’s second wife, was shot dead by unknown assailants as she was about to drive into her Ha ‘Masana home on 14 June 2017. The incident occurred just two days before Thabane’s inauguration as prime minister.

Police on Wednesday interrogated Thabane over the murder. NW

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