Onerous  task for judge

Onerous task for judge

THE long-awaited trial of soldiers who are accused of murdering former Lesotho army commander Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao is set to kick off in the High Court on April 1. The trial will run until April 8.
A respected Zimbabwean High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, has been roped in to hear the case, the first of many involving members of the Lesotho Defence Force.

Mahao was murdered by his fellow soldiers on June 25, 2015 triggering howls of protest from the international community.
The army said Mahao’s killing was accidental as they only sought to arrest him for allegedly leading a mutiny against the army command, a charge that was dismissed by a SADC commission of inquiry.

Mahao was probably the most high profile individual to have died during a tumultuous period between August 30, 2014 when the army raided the State House and chased Prime Minister Thomas Thabane into exile.
Mahao’s nemesis, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, remains locked up in the Maseru Maximum Prison awaiting trial. He faces charges ranging from murder to treason.

It is critical that the soldiers’ cases are heard by foreign judges who are not contaminated by local politics. The general expectation is that Justice Hungwe will be a fair-minded judge. He has no dog in this fight.
It would be fair to argue that none of our local judges remains free from political contamination. None among them has remained untouched by decades of political strife.

The nature of our society means every judge, no matter how fair they may try to be, have their roots either in the Basotho National Party (BNP) or the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and all its splinters. That is the reality.
No matter what judgment they were to deliver in this highly charged matter, charges of intrinsic bias would dog them.
Justice Hungwe comes with none of that baggage.
It is for this reason that the international community’s eyes will be squarely on Lesotho to ensure that justice is done.
As a country guided by the rule of law, the soldiers must receive a fair trial.
Of course a lot has been said even before they stood before the courts.
These soldiers have effectively been tried and condemned in the court of public opinion.

But justice will require that they be heard and that they be given a platform to defend themselves. Those that are innocent and had nothing to do with the killing of Mahao must be acquitted.
Justice Hungwe thus faces an onerous task – to dispense judgment in a fair way. That also includes Lt Gen Kamoli who has been accused of orchestrating a reign of terror when he was at the helm of the army.

Lt Gen Kamoli, who was described as a divisive figure by the Phumaphi Commission, must also receive a fair hearing, unpalatable as that might sound. Lt Gen Kamoli must have his day in court.
The cases against the soldiers are critical if Lesotho is to bury its violent past and chart a new path towards peace and prosperity.

These cases must give us a chance to draw a line in the sand and say never again shall we allow impunity in our politics.
Those that are guilty must face the music while those that are innocent must be allowed to walk.

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