Soldiers de­mand tor­ture in­quiry

Lesotho Times - - News - Keiso Mohloboli

TWENTY-THREE Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) fac­ing mutiny charges be­fore the Court Mar­tial want Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into their ar­rest, tor­ture and “de­grad­ing treat­ment” al­legedly at the hands of their mil­i­tary col­leagues.

In a let­ter to Dr Mo­sisili penned by their lawyers, the soldiers also say they have “lost all con­fi­dence” in gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate the al­leged in­frac­tions, and would con­sider “ex­trater­ri­to­rial means to get jus­tice” if the premier does not agree to their de­mand.

The mis­sive, dated 20 June 2016, was copied to South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) fa­cil­i­ta­tor to Le­sotho Cyril Ramaphosa, SADC Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary Dr Ster­gom­ena Lawrence Tax, United States Am­bas­sador to Le­sotho Matthew Har­ring­ton, Euro­pean Union Am­bas­sador to Le­sotho Dr Michael Doyle and At­tor­ney-gen­eral (AG) Tšokolo Makhethe (King’s Coun­sel).

The soldiers were ar­rested be­tween May and June 2015 for al­legedly plot­ting to vi­o­lently remove the LDF com­mand.

Seven of the soldiers have since been re­leased from Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison and placed un­der open ar­rest, which is a form of bail in the mil­i­tary. The other 16 re­main in de­ten­tion.

The ac­cused soldiers are Bri­gadier Mareka, Bri­gadier Poqa Mo­toa, Colonel Ste­mere, Colonel Kolisang, Ma­jor Makhetha, Cap­tain Chaka, Se­cond-lieu­tenant Mo­hasi, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Se­makale, Sergeant Lekhabun­yane, Cor­po­ral Mokhoro, Cor­po­ral Let­si­lane, Cor­po­ral Lipoto, Cor­po­ral Manaka, Cor­po­ral Mo­hat­lane, Cor­po­ral Chele, Cor­po­ral Mot­seko, Lance-cor­po­ral Jobo, Lance-cor­po­ral Molefi, Lance-cor­po­ral Makhooane, Pri­vate Pama, Pri­vate Bolofo and Pri­vate Ral­itlemo.

Through their lawyers — At­tor­neys Tu­misang Mosotho and Khotso nthon­tho as well as Ad­vo­cates Koili Nde­bele, Mole Kumalo, Molefi Rasekoai and Christo­pher Le­phut­ing — the soldiers al­lege they were “ab­ducted by heav­ily armed and masked mem­bers of the LDF” and taken to Setib­ing army base.

“Though the LDF later claimed that our clients were un­der ar­rest, we find the man­ner of the al­leged ar­rest to fit the def­i­ni­tion of en­forced dis­ap­pear­ance un­der Ar­ti­cle 2 of the In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion for the Pro­tec­tion of All Per­sons from En­forced Dis­ap­pear­ance,” the soldiers’ let­ter reads.

“Our clients were only charged sev­eral weeks/days af­ter the ar­rests were car­ried out. The ini­tial con­ceal­ment of the de­ten­tion lo­ca­tion and rea­sons for ar­rests are of con­cern.”

The lawyers ar­gue the soldiers and their fam­i­lies were not in­formed of the rea­sons for the ar­rests. There were also al­le­ga­tions, the so­lic­i­tors state, that the soldiers were kept in soli­tary con­fine­ment and sub­jected to var­i­ous forms of tor­ture and in­hu­mane treat­ment at Setib­ing.

Among the forms of tor­ture al­legedly meted out on the soldiers in­clude be­ing blind­folded and kept in shack­les (both wrists and an­kles); sub­merged in be­low-freez­ing wa­ter; tied naked on a pole at sub-zero tem­per­a­tures; phys­i­cally as­saulted, in­clud­ing kicks in the di­aphragm, ribcage and scro­tum and suf­fo­cat­ing with a tube; beaten with ri­fle butts and metal bars; de­nied ac­cess to food, wa­ter and med­i­ca­tion; sus­pended by hang­ing their hand­cuffed wrists tied be­hind the backs on the roof and be­ing sub­jected to elec­tric shocks.

The soldiers al­lege they were ac­cused of be­ing mem­bers of the “op- po­si­tion bloc” and “fur­ther­ing the man­date of the op­po­si­tion to desta­bilise the De­fence Force and the coun­try as a whole” while be­ing tor­tured by their col­leagues.

“Our clients in­form us that tor­ture was used as a co­er­cive in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­nique to force them and other soldiers who are now ac­com­plice-wit­nesses to con­fess to par­tak­ing in the al­leged mutiny plot and to also im­pli­cate other mem­bers of the LDF and civil­ians,” say the lawyers.

“There are fur­ther al­le­ga­tions that some of the said ac­com­plice-wit­nesses were com­pelled to sign con­fes­sion forms un­der the tor­ture”.

The lawyers also point to the soldiers’ court ap­pear­ance fol­low­ing their ar­rest in June 2015.

“Your Ex­cel­lency will be aware that the fam­i­lies of the above­men­tioned mem­bers of the LDF in­sti­tuted writs habeas cor­pus in the High Court of Le­sotho and it was dur­ing their pro­duc­tion be­fore the court that the de­tainees dis­played vis­i­ble signs of tor­ture and even tes­ti­fied in open court about be­ing tor­tured,” reads the let­ter.

Sev­eral High Court judge­ments, the lawyers say, also make ref­er­ence to the soldiers hav­ing been tor­tured at Setib­ing, ad­ding the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry also makes “de­tailed ref­er­ence” to the al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture and in­hu­mane treat­ment.

They em­pha­sise that the Con­sti­tu­tion of Le­sotho and other le­gal in­stru­ments pro­hibit all forms of tor­ture, in­hu­mane or de­grad­ing pun­ish­ment or treat­ment.

“Your Ex­cel­lency will know well that un­der Ar­ti­cle 5 of the African Char­ter on Hu­man and Peo­ple’s Rights, ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is guar­an­teed the right to the re­spect of the dig­nity in­her­ent in a hu­man be­ing and all forms of ex­ploita­tion and degra­da­tion of man, in­clud­ing tor­ture, cruel, in­hu­mane or de­grad­ing pun­ish­ment and treat­ment are pro­hib­ited.”

The lawyers also ar­gue that in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and no­tions such as ne­ces­sity and pub­lic or­der could not be in­voked as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for tor­ture and in­hu­mane treat­ment.

The gov­ern­ment, the lawyers posit, had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to carry out in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the al­leged tor­ture.

“. . . the Con­ven­tion against Tor­ture and Other Cruel, In­hu­mane or De­grad­ing Treat­ment or Pun­ish­ment re­quires state par­ties, of their own ini­tia­tive, to carry out in­ves­ti­ga­tions of tor­ture even if there has been no for­mal com­plaint,” reads the cor­re­spon­dence.

“We note with con­cern that de­spite the above­men­tioned al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture and de­grad­ing treat­ment be­ing in the pub­lic do­main, the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho, through all rel­e­vant state in­sti­tu­tions, has failed to up­hold its obli­ga­tions to con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions into tor­ture and other ill-treat­ment, and to bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice.

“We note fur­ther that to date, the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho has not in­ves­ti­gated, pros­e­cuted or dis­ci­plined any mem­bers of the LDF for their role in the tor­ture and abuse of our clients herein.”

The soldiers could no longer trust gov­ern­ment agen­cies to carry out the probe, the lawyers ar­gue.

“In the cir­cum­stances, Your Ex­cel­lency, we re­gret to ad­vise you that our clients have lost all con­fi­dence in the state ma­chin­ery to ever in­ves­ti­gate these se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture and abuse and to bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice.”

The soldiers ac­cuse the of­fices of the LDF com­man­der, Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice, Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Prose­cu­tions and AG of be­ing com­plicit in the in­ac­tion, de­mand­ing that they not be in­volved in the pro­posed in­quiry.

“. . . tor­ture is a heinous crime and should never go un­pun­ished. We thus call upon your Ex­cel­lency to con­sider es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­quiry to con­duct prompt, in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture, cruel, in­hu­mane and de­grad­ing treat­ment of all mem­bers of the LDF who were ar­rested and de­tained dur­ing May - June 2015,” states the let­ter.

“Your Ex­cel­lency will be aware that the crime of tor­ture at­tracts univer­sal ju­ris­dic­tion, and should such a Com­mis­sion of In­quiry not be es­tab­lished, our clients re­serve the right to con­sider ex­trater­ri­to­rial means to get jus­tice.

“Kindly re­spond to us on or be­fore 4 July 2016, fail­ing which our clients re­serve their right to con­sider al­ter­na­tive av­enues of re­dress.”

Con­tacted for com­ment yes­ter­day, Dr Mo­sisili’s Se­nior Pri­vate Sec­re­tary, Mamello Mor­ri­son, said she was in a meet­ing and would re­spond af­ter 3pm. How­ever, re­peated attempts to get in touch with her later were fruit­less as her phone rang unan­swered.

The premier’s spokesper­son, Mo­tumi Rale­joe, was also not reach­able yes­ter­day.

CHIL­DREN and rel­a­tives of the de­tained soldiers match on sun­day dur­ing a ‘fun-walk’ to com­mem­o­rate Fa­ther’s Day.

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