Civil society group slams ‘Amnesty Bill’

Civil society group slams ‘Amnesty Bill’

Staff Reporter

MASERU – A CIVIL society group, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), has criticised the proposed Amnesty Bill 2016 arguing it is designed to promote impunity.

The TRC made the scathing attack on the Bill at a press conference on Monday.

The Bill is expected to be tabled before Parliament when it re-opens early November after its indefinite adjournment two weeks ago.

The Amnesty Bill 2016 is meant to stop criminal investigations and prosecution of soldiers, police, prison warders, secret security agents and civilians who could have committed crimes between January 2007 and December 2015.

In its statement of objects and reasons, the Bill says it seeks to protect from criminal prosecution and civil litigation all those who could have committed crimes “in the execution or purported execution of their duties in pursuance of any political objective”.

Between 2007 and 2015, the security forces could have committed serious crimes when they raided homes in Maseru after soldiers who were guarding some ministers’ homes were attacked and disarmed in June 2007.

During that time there were complaints from people in Maseru that armed groups they believed belonged to the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) had tortured them.

The army however refuted claims of torture as unfounded.

Also the security forces could have committed crimes in 2009 when they failed to prevent the attack on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili at his State House residence.

There was a widespread belief during that time that some rogue elements in the army could have assisted or aided the enemy.

The army however managed to kill some mercenaries and arrested others who were later prosecuted and found guilty and sentenced.

Mosisili later praised the army for “acting swiftly” to save his life.

The Bill, if enacted into law, will also protect members of the security forces who could have committed crimes in August 2014 when the army attacked police stations and killed a senior police officer, Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.

Soldiers also besieged the State House in search of then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who claimed the attack was an attempted coup.

The house of Thabane’s girlfriend in Moshoeshoe II was also bombed during the same year. On the same night the home of the then police boss, Khothatso Tšooana, was also bombed.

The police launched investigations against some soldiers but later told a commission of inquiry that the army had thwarted their probe.

The army declined to respond to the charges at the commission.

It will also protect from prosecution soldiers who could have committed crimes near the army commander’s home when they shot and killed a woman who was with a man in a car at night.

The man was seriously injured.

Soldiers who could have committed crimes when they killed the army boss Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015 will also be covered by this Bill.

A commission of inquiry heard that the soldiers were on duty trying to arrest Mahao for his role in a suspected mutiny.

The Bill also aims to stop the prosecution of soldiers who are accused of mutiny who are still held at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison and those who fled the country after they were accused of a similar offence.

The TRC argues the Bill, in its present form, will cause more harm rather than resolve the political and security problems the country is experiencing.

The Bill proposes to grant amnesty to those who are “liable to criminal prosecution and/or disciplinary proceedings and/or civil action”.

It also seeks to extend the same amnesty to the government of Lesotho, “its officers, agents and functionaries liable to civil action and connected matters”.

The offenders are assumed to have committed the crimes “in the execution of duty or within the scope or course of employment and for the protection and defence of the Kingdom of Lesotho or for public safety or order”.

Also those who have committed the crimes while preventing or suppressing “mutiny or internal disorder” are protected from prosecution.

For victims of the crimes who feel the government should compensate them, the Bill provides that they must satisfy the Minister of Finance that they have been prejudiced and have suffered damages before they could be compensated.

Any victim who will not be satisfied with the compensation may approach the courts for intervention.

The TRC says the Bill is unfair where it provides that soldiers who are facing court martial for allegedly plotting mutiny “shall be deemed to have been lawfully retired from the Lesotho Defence Force” upon their release from custody where they are awaiting trial.

This also applies to those who have skipped the country for fear of being arrested.

The Bill provides that they will be paid all their terminal benefits.

TRC director Tšoeu Petlane says this is unfair because the Phumaphi Commission found that there was no mutiny and so retiring them would be tantamount to expelling them from work despite that they have done nothing wrong.

“It is unfair because they are being treated worse than those who have committed crimes. Crime suspects are forgiven and allowed to continue with their employment while these ones are expelled,” Petlane said.

The TRC says the Bill should be rejected because it defeats the purpose of its objects and reasons of “bringing lasting peace and tranquillity”.

Meanwhile, the Mahao family has also attacked the Bill as draconian.

Qamako Mahao told thepost that the government through this Bill wants to avoid implementing the Phumaphi Commission’s recommendations, which include holding crime suspects to account for their wrongdoing.

“We as the Mahao family will not support a Bill such as this one. It is a bad bill and its intention is not clean and so we are appealing to the whole nation to reject it,” Mahao said.

“What we want is justice and nothing more. For a person to be forgiven we have to know what he has done after the court satisfied itself that he has committed a crime, and then we can start talking about forgiveness,” he said.

Government spokesman, Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi said he did not know of the existence of such a bill.

“I cannot talk about a bill which the government does not know,” Letsatsi said.

As for the Defence Minister Mokhosi, he accused civil society and the media of being in possession of government’s confidential documents illegally.

“I want you to ask those civil societies where and how they got that document. Surely they are breaking the law and because of that a person can be arrested and prosecuted,” Mokhosi said.

“Even you in the media have this tendency of breaking the law and later claim that you got the document from your sources. You must be careful because you are breaking the law, you are committing a crime,” he said.

“Government documents should not be in wrong hands. They should be ready for public consumption and then the media and these civil societies can start talking about them,” he said.

Mokhosi could not be brought into telling whether there is the Bill or not.

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