Army must act within the law

Army must act within the law

About a month ago I noticed pictures of young people holding knives on social media. I was reliably informed that these young people had formed a gang called Manomoro, a notorious gang of young thugs that has stabbed and killed ordinary citizens, stolen their monies and cell phones.

This group of thugs was arrested and detained by the army three weeks ago. A lot of Basotho were very happy with these arrests by soldiers. It has been three weeks now, and the young criminals are still in detention. The commander of the army Lt Gen Mojalefa Letsoela says they are being rehabilitated.

It seems to appear like a noble exercise but I am worried that these delinquents are being detained without trial for close to three weeks. To be honest this is a bad idea. Where in the world do we hear of young, suspected criminals being detained for rehabilitation by the army?
This week I want us to take a closer look at the use of the military to enforce the law.

Basotho have been deprived of basic police services so much that they celebrate the intervention by the army. Desperation and hopelessness has made us find nothing wrong with the army detaining these 65 delinquents.
What should happen to the victims of these young thugs when there is no justice served?

The dynamics that drive violent crime in peri-urban villages of Koalabata, Naleli, Tšosane and Sekamaneng are intra-community dynamics. It is the accumulation of historical trauma in communities. We must take a look at the social and economic disruption brought by the Covid pandemic and the sense of hopelessness and desperation that falls on these communities that feel that nothing is working.

Young people growing up in such communities are under stress and feel hopeless. It’s more likely that these conflicts would spiral into violence. That is how Manomoro was birthed. They stab ordinary citizens with knives, take their monies and cell phones by force and sometime end up raping them.

A lot of the onus for the violence falls right at the feet of law enforcement. Some of my friends argue that the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and the police under his leadership had failed to control Manomoro and therefore welcome the intervention by the military.

I fully understand their argument. However, the use of the military to perform law enforcement and order functions raises several problems, many of which have long-term implications. The biggest problem is that our army is not trained for law enforcement. They’re trained for warfare and to use maximum force. This is very different from the law and order duties of the police. The principle of minimum force is alien to a soldier.
The soldiers were supposed to receive proper training on police rules and conduct before they could be used in such exercises. Without this they wouldn’t know how to react nor rehabilitate anyone.

Does the army have any skills related to working with young criminals? Under what law are the young thugs detained for three weeks? What law protects the army for this noble exercise? What will happen if something wrong happens while they are busy with the rehabilitation of these young people?

The failure by the police to investigate crimes committed by Manomoro has left victims feeling let down by the authorities charged with protecting them, as well as extremely distressed at the thought that the perpetrator has got away with the crime. These things have permanent effect on their minds.

While police officers are empowered to use force, however they are trained to use the minimal amount of force needed to control an incident, effect an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm or death. Anything beyond that is given a term called police brutality.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies police brutality as a form of violence, and defines violence itself as: “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”

Trained policemen do fail and sometimes cross to the other side of police brutality. What more of soldiers who have been trained all their lives to use excessive force? Who will account if they fail in their noble attempt to rehabilitate the delinquents they detained?

Manomoro is such an embarrassingly failure of the police service. If the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has failed to do their job, Police Commissioner Molibeli, senior officers and the Minister in charge of the police should all be removed from their posts. They have all failed to solve the incompetence within the LMPS.

Does the Police Commissioner and the police still honour their service and duties? Have they forgotten what it means to put that badge on every day, to put that uniform on every day? Have they forgotten the character that it takes, the responsibility that comes with that? Why is the Commissioner of Police and the entire senior leadership of the LMPS still at their jobs if they are so incompetent?

In a democratic society, who is supposed to instruct the army to intervene after observing that the police have failed? I understand that our laws have not evolved but in my opinion the army commander was supposed to wait for an invitation from the civilian leadership.
If this current situation and laws do not change I am afraid the army shall one day detain Cabinet members or judges with the same intention to rehabilitate them.

After all given the many problems they cause with their bad policies and corruption, if there are people who need to be rehabilitated by the army it should be our MPs. Interest free loans, M5 000 petrol and M3 000 house allowance in my opinion are criminal offences and those who committed these offenses against the people must go for rehabilitation.

The point I am making is that the army cannot wake up and start detaining whoever they want willy-nilly. Though I might opine that the Prime Minister is in need of rehabilitation, I think he deserves to get professionals who have skills.
The detention of these 65 delinquents without trial for three weeks raises a host of political and practical questions about who is in charge when the military decides to intervene in civilian matters and the separation of state powers in the disciplined forces. Disciplined forces must know their boundaries and act within the parameters of the law.

Whether or not the military intervention succeeds will depend on the conduct of the military, their methods of coercion and whether they act in an impartial and professional manner.
The rules of engagement need to be very clear to ensure that they do not use excessive force, or violate the human rights of citizens.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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