Respect  human rights

Respect human rights

AT a recent rally Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said the police should beat thieves or crime suspects.
That he has repeated the same in an interview with the national television and in parliament is worrying.
The statement could be an indication of his frustration with the scourge of crime that has gripped the country in the past few years.
There has been concern that the previous government was not firm enough in dealing with crime.
Curbing crime was one of Thabane’s main campaign promises.

And there are some who see his tacit instruction to the police as a sign that he is now delivering on his promises.
Yet in his haste to deal with this legitimate problem the prime minister runs the risk of giving the police what might amount to a blank cheque when it comes to dealing with crime suspects.
There is a danger that his statements could perpetuate the culture of torture many have come to associate with our police.
Henceforth we could have an open season in which every suspect is subjected to inhumane interrogation techniques.
We note the Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights’ forceful statement this week criticising Thabane’s call.

The organisation said the impact of the prime minister’s statement on the psyche of the “police —already prone to such excesses — is unfathomable”.
The words of those in power do not necessarily constitute policy but do have significant influence on how bureaucrats conduct themselves.
The prime minister might be saying those words for political expedience but the police might see them as an endorsement of their crude methods.
That is why it is critical for those in authority to choose their words carefully when they talk about matters of policy.

There is already an indication that some police officers have taken Thabane’s words to heart and upped the ante in the use of brutal interrogation methods.
It would seem human rights have now been thrown out of the window in the zest to solve criminal cases.
The police’s reputation and rapport with the public have suffered further damage.

At stake now is the reputation of the new coalition government which came into office with emphatic promises to restore human rights and respect for the rule of law.
In fighting crime the government should be cautious not to abet lawlessness within the police force. Police officers who beat suspects are as culpable as the criminals they seek to lock up. As other police forces around the world have learnt, there are more humane ways to fight crime.

Dealing with suspects within the confines of the law should not be construed to be a sign of weakness. Thabane has come into office with considerable goodwill. He must not squander that goodwill by coming across as heavy-handed in his approach to crime. His aversion to crime is well understood but he must go easy on populist rhetoric.

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