Minister hails Ramodibedi
Justice Mathealira Michael Ramodibedi has refused to surrender to swazi law-enforcement authorities despite the country’s High court issuing a warrant for his arrest on 17 April 2015.
Mr Ramodibedi was swaziland’s chief Justice at the time and had travelled to south Africa when the court ordered his arrest, allegedly for abuse of power and defeating the ends of justice.
After returning to swaziland the day the Anti-corruption tion commission obtained the warrant, rrant, Justice Ramodibedi subsequently ntly barricaded himself in his mansion nsion and has continued to ignore requests equests for his surrender.
the swazi government ment last week suspended the Lesotho otho national from his post, and alsoo withheld the arrest warrant while also announcing a special tribunal l by the Judicial service commission ssion (Jsc)( Jsc) would hear his side of the story.
Justice Ramodibedi was Lesotho’s court of Appeal president from July 2008 until his resignation in April 2014 after losing a case in which he sought to stop impeachment proceedings against him.
the litigation had been instituted by then Prime Minister thomas thabane, who wanted him investigated for possible misconduct.
in this wide-ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with Foreign Affairs and international Relations Minister tlohang sekhamane about government’s position on Mr Ramodibedi following accusations by some sections of society that it should intervene in the matter as the continued siege — in which the police have been keeping a 24-hour vigil on his residence since 17 April and even after the arrest warrant was put on hold on 6 May — amounted to human rights abuse.
LT: Swaziland has issued a warrant of arrest against a Mosotho, Justice Ramodibedi, and today, 11 May 2015, marks 17 days since the now suspended Chief Justice locked himself in his house to avoid detention. It is now common knowledge that Lesotho’s High Commissioner to Swaziland, ’Malejaka Letooane, recently visited Mbabane to find out what was going on regarding Mr Ramodibedi. Could you tell us what government’s position is regarding this issue?
Sekhamane: Justice Ramodibedi is one of the best lawyers this country has ever produced; he has managed to put Lesotho on the world map. He is one Mosotho who has excelled in his career both as a legal practitioner and judge.
if Justice Ramodibedi is facing problems in swaziland, we should not turn a blind eye to who exactly this man is. if you are to read all his judgments, you will notice how special this man is.
We are talking about a hero when it comes to legal issues. He started very well as a young lawyer and worked his way up to become President of the court of Appeal of Lesotho.
He was then appointed chief Justice of the seychelles, and then a High court judge in Botswana until he became chief Justice in swaziland. this is a man of outstanding character.
Lesotho should be very proud of Justice Ramodibedi. if, as Basotho, we are asked to assign someone with special legal skills outside the country, it should definitely be Justice Ramodibedi. LT: But if he is so knowledgeable about the law as you say, why is he defying a clear legal requirement in Swaziland by refusing to surrender to the relevant authorities?
Sekhamane: the swazi government, through its law-enforcement and investigation agencies, believes Justice Ramodibedi should stand trial for certain charges. As Lesotho, we do not have any argument with that.
We cannot stop swaziland from doing so because we don’t know anything about those charges. Justice Ramodibedi tells us while he is willing to be procedurally taken to court and stand trial, he is against being arrested.
And that is where the resistance comes in. He says i do not deserve this. He says i am still the chief Justice and that status, on its own, does not allow that he should be treated like this.
He feels he is being harassed and embarrassed for a man of his status. Justice Ramodibedi was not sent or assigned by Lesotho to swaziland. He found a job there by himself as an individual.
there is no way that we can interfere by way of trying to dismiss the purported charges against him. so now when it became obvious that the decision was to have him arrested, he persistently refused to come out of his home.
LT: The Swazi authorities approached the Lesotho government over Justice Ramodibedi, and wrote a letter to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili seeking his intervention in the standoff. What became of that request?
Sekhamane: As a matter of fact, swazi authorities had not had a chance to officially inform us about Justice Ramodibedi’s issue. As government, we received information about what was happening with Justice Ramodibedi through other channels and we took the initiative to communicate with swaziland and asked what was going on.
We informed the swazi government that we had heard that the chief Justice was in trouble and requested official confirmation on this.
This very office of mine (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) is the one which communicated with swaziland on behalf of the government of Lesotho.
Indeed, they confirmed what we had heard and accepted they were supposed to have officially informed us about it. it was then that we were officially informed that Justice Ramodibedi had locked himself in his house to avoid arrest.
Now, the swazi authorities believe that it is not acceptable for them to break into Justice Ramodibedi’s residence and arrest him.
And as we speak, swaziland has decided not to arrest Justice Ramodibedi but let him go to court over the charges — the same way he wanted things to happen. Remember he maintains that he is not refusing to go to court, but refuses to be arrested.
He is not sure what will happen to him if he is arrested. He could be handcuffed. He could be thrown into the back of a police pick-up truck.
He could be thrown into a police holding cell. And he feels that it is unacceptable for him to go through all that.
LT: So where does the govern- ment of Lesotho feature in all this, since you say Justice Ramodibedi went to Swaziland in his individual capacity?
Sekhamane: As we communicated with Justice Ramodibedi, he told us how he understands this whole saga. My interest in this issue was not so much about his status in swaziland, but because he is a Mosotho; it is my office’s concern if he is having problems in another country.
that’s why last month, we sent the Lesotho High commissioner to swaziland, Mrs ’ Malejaka Letooane, who is based in Pretoria, to that country.
i instructed her to go and check his condition, and also hear his side of the story and opinion. the commissioner was also supposed to find out if Justice Ramodibedi’s wife, Mrs ’ Manapo, and their children, were safe.
this was after i had been told that electricity and water to their house, had been cut-off.
My feeling was it was unfortunate and unacceptable if it was true. Justice Ramodibedi has to be prosecuted by the courts of law, not the police.
i instructed Mrs Letooane to make a request to the swazi authorities to unlock the water and electricity for him. i further told the commissioner that she should tell Justice Ramodibedi that the government of Lesotho was behind him.
We will assist him wherever it is possible to do so, just the way we would if any other Mosotho was stranded elsewhere. But at the same time, i made it clear that we were not going to interfere with the case and the charges he faces.
However, we would also not allow his fundamental human rights to be violated. i also communicated this with my Foreign Affairs counterpart in swaziland.
i asked them to respect this man’s rights and those of his family. they should remember they are not charging Mrs ’Manapo and the children, but Justice Ramodibedi only. so the family should not be directly affected by this.
Not only that, but they should also respect his dignity in relation to the high position the they gave him in swaziland.
LT: How did the SwaziSwa authorities take these reque requests?
Sekhamane: they list listened to us. the people of swazil swaziland respect us a lot, and they have shown their respect in dealing with the issue. i don’t have any doubt that swaziland tried to deal with Justice Ramodibedi’s issue withwit dignity. Right now, i am praying to God to assi assist and have Justice Ramodibedi taken to c court for justice to p prevail once and for a all.
LT: The opposition is accu accusing government of siding with Ju Justice Ramodibed modibedi in this case, wit with a view of bringing him home without f facing trial in Swaziland.Swazil Speculation is also rife that you w want to replace the cur current President of the CourtCo of Appeal, Dr Kanan Kananelo Mosito, with Justice Ra Ramodibedi. What is your responser to these claims?
Sekhamane: i will put it this way; i am right in the centre of the government of Lesotho and what this means is every decision taken at any level, i am in a position to know.
it is not true that the government intends to put Justice Ramodibedi in any position, including that of the President of the court of Appeal.
that has never been discussed at any level by the government of Lesotho. that allegation is a blatant lie. And i will repeat this: the stance of the government of Lesotho concerning Justice Ramodibedi is that he is a Mosotho who found himself a job in swaziland.
He is not a Lesotho diplomat. He holds the position of chief Justice in that country and we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that being in that position, he cannot be treated like somebody employed as a cleaner in swaziland.
it bothers the government of Lesotho if a Mosotho who holds such a noble position in swaziland can be harassed. the status of being chief Justice calls for the two countries to work together on this matter.
Justice Ramodibedi did not only hold such a high office in Swaziland; he was also the President of the court of Appeal here.
We went to swaziland to verify that the person we had been talking to on the telephone was indeed Justice Ramodibedi, and secondly, to check whether he was still in good health, like i have previously mentioned.
And we are satisfied on that area. We are convinced he was not tortured. What we are expecting from swaziland is to place Justice Ramodibedi before courts and let the law take its course.
And if he is guilty, he should be punished based on the provisions of the law. it is not that we want to give him support outside the perimetres of the law.
even today, we maintain that his rights should not be violated. We will not steal Justice Ramodibedi from swaziland.
We cannot make him or help him run away from the cases he faces. And like i said, we are not saying we have a job for him here in Lesotho.
Foreign Affairs and international relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane Former Court of Appeal President Justice ramodibedi