A victim of clashes that erupted between police and community of Kao has related how, after losing his job fighting for his community, his family is now suffering after he was forced to go into hiding, fearing for his life after three fellow villagers lost their lives.
Tseko Ratiea is a 43-year old man who was rescued by Transformation Resource Centre on December 31 2018 after police raided the village on December 27, brutally assaulting people and breaking house windows following an altercation involving a police officer at a pub the previous day.
“On December 26 2018 in the morning hours we saw a man from a distance being assaulted by cops. We rushed to the scene and demanded to know the cops were violating the man’s rights by molesting him if they had apprehended him.
“We followed the cops and the man to the Police station. On our arrival three policemen came out brandishing rifles and tried to intimidate us, specifically calling my name.
“Since the people knew the police had previously shot at villagers, community member quickly gathered and demanded that the police release the man they had assaulted. They also threatened to burn down the police station if that did not happen,” Ratia told the human rights stakeholders meeting in Maseru on Monday.
Already branded an inciter of riots, he pleaded with his community members not to do anything irresponsible. The arrested man was freed and they all went home.
“The following morning, around 3.00am, my wife was having a running stomach and went to the toilet but just after she left the house she came back and alerted me that the police were in the neighbourhood breaking windows and assaulting people. I immediately fled, half naked.
“I later heard that all the men in the village were rounded up collected and brutally assaulted. One of them, Poshoane Moloi, who was a member of the community liaison committee lost his life in the incident.
“I spent three days in hiding and was told by my informant that the police were still looking for me; I then called TRC to let them know that I was in hiding and needed help. TRC had to hire a taxi to go and fetch me in the middle of the night to rescue me,” he indicated.
According to TRC’s Tsikoane Peshoane, when Ratia arrived in Maseru they tried talking to the commissioner of the police about the man’s predicament but the commissioner was unshaken and angrily told them police were looking for Ratia and would stop at nothing to find him.
“We then realised that Ratia’s life was in danger and we took him somewhere in the far south of the country where he would lie low while we were still working on reuniting him with his family. This, in microcosm, is a vivid picture of how grossly police disrespect human rights.
He added that with the Recommendations that countries and Universal Periodic Working Group have raise against Police brutality, the NGO’s together will work hard to make sure that the rights of the people are respected.
The Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, established in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, held its 35th session from 20 to 31 January2020 and recommended that Lesotho should adopt an anti-torture legislation which will help to give justice to people who have been brutally tortured by the police, and submit outstanding state party reports under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT),
In just two years since the present government came to power, 54 people have – according to TRC – died at the hands of the police. Some were gunned down under the pretext that they were resisting arrest while others have been tortured to death while in police custody.
TRC’s Local governance and community empowerment officer Rapelang Mosae, meanwhile, lamented that such cases are not usually effectively dealt with because they drag on for a long time; also, the compensation ordered by courts of law in the event of litigations, is not enough to deter the police from continuing to abuse civilians.
“If it is the Lesotho Mounted Police Service that pays compensation after a ruling, this emboldens the police to continue abusing people. But if the money was paid from the pockets on individual perpetrators, they would surely refrain from these dastardly acts.”
“We have noted that only a few police officers who are suspected to be involved in the 54 cases have been suspended – with full pay – while other have simply been transferred to other postings,” he said.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has previously condemned police brutality and ordered the minister of police to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with all cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.
Thabane said it was unacceptable that some police officers continued to tarnish the image of the force through acts of brutality against civilians.
“I condemn in the strongest terms possible the brutality perpetrated against innocent men and women by some members of the police and I demand full criminal accountability with respect to such officers,” Dr Thabane said.
“The government will not tolerate criminality within the law enforcement agencies.
“I have requested the ministry of police to provide me with the reports of the crimes committed by police officers and how those cases were handled,” he said adding that the report would be made public.
Paradoxically enough, it is the self-same Thabane who has gone on record not once but numerous time, encouraging the police to deal heavy-handedly with suspect of crime in their custody.
“I instruct you to assault these thieves and rapists behind the scenes, and pretend nothing has happened when in view of the public. When anyone complains to me I will tell them I don’t micro-manage cops.”
While Lesotho is busy signing conventions to fight human rights, countries and non-governmental organisations are worried that Lesotho seems to be agreeing to all ratifications but not domesticating or even showing that they are agreeing to the terms of respecting human rights.
Some of the protocols that Lesotho has signed but has not domesticated or used include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Agreement for the Establishment of the African Rehabilitation Institute (ARI).
Not surprisingly, the United States (at the UPR dialogue session) recommended that Lesotho undertake impartial investigations into allegations of police brutality, corruption, and human rights violations and abuses, including reported extrajudicial killings and torture by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, and continue to operationalize the Police Complaints Authority.