Take Amnesty criticism on the chin

Take Amnesty criticism on the chin

WE are not surprised that the government has reacted angrily to a damning statement by Amnesty International on the human rights situation in Lesotho. The human rights watchdog said Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government had “missed an opportunity in the last 100 days to demonstrate a clear break from the past to ensure accountability for past human rights violations”.

The rights group said Thabane must “live up to the promise he made at his inauguration to create a more stable and lawful country”.
The government has obviously been peeved by the criticism. It has since dismissed the criticism as grossly unfair, arguing it is doing all it can to address the issue of human rights violations.

It has indeed been a roller coaster three months since Thabane was inaugurated in June with huge expectations from Basotho that his government would address rights violations and in the process mark a sharp break with the past.
The challenge for the government, however, has been how to pursue justice while at the same time ensuring that the basic rights of suspects are respected.

That requires a delicate balancing act. In practice, this has obviously not been easy. In enforcing the law, the government might have overstepped the line, in the process bringing censure from rights groups such as Amnesty International. Take for instance allegations by former defence minister Tšeliso Mokhosi that he was brutally tortured by the police while in custody.

While the government has denied the allegations that Mokhosi was tortured, the mere allegation that the government resorts to torture to extract confessions from suspects have the potential to damage Lesotho’s standing in the eyes of the international community.
Of course, it would be folly to dismiss the reality that certain terrible things were done under the watch of the previous government. There is a widespread perception that the Pakalitha Mosisili administration slept on the job in matters of pursuing justice for all.

There is an overbearing sense that the Mosisili government was not eager to pursue with vigour those who were accused of human rights violations. That obviously infuriated a large cross-section of Basotho. The result was that the Mosisili-led coalition was given a bloody nose at the polls last June.
In its effort to right the wrongs committed by the previous administration, the Thabane government must be careful that it upholds the human rights of those accused of breaking the law.

A heavy-handed approach by the police and other security agencies would only serve to bring unnecessary spotlight on Lesotho. It must keep over-zealous police officers on the leash.  This government must take the higher moral ground and do things differently from the previous government.
It would be tempting to argue that Amnesty International was too harsh on Lesotho and that it did not give the government of Lesotho the necessary space to govern.

Critics would argue that three months is too short a time to make a comprehensive assessment on the government’s competence and effectiveness.
The reality though is that Amnesty was merely doing its job: holding the government accountable.

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