Release detainees to the police

Release detainees to the police

ELSEWHERE in this issue, we carry a gripping story of 28 people who have been detained by the army after they allegedly terrorised villagers in Koalabata over the past two years.

Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told this newspaper this week that the 28 “will be in our hands until further notice as we counsel them and make them human again”.
He said the army intervened after a public outcry that the police were not doing enough “to solve the gang problems” in the village and surrounding areas.

Among the detainees is a 16-year-old boy and two women.
The eldest is 34.
While we acknowledge that the army might have a role to play in helping combat crime, we have serious problems with the manner in which the whole operation has been conducted.

The army’s statement that it was detaining the “gangsters” to “make them human again” sounds like “diplomatic speak” that they are “dealing with them”. And we know what that means.
Human rights lawyers who spoke to thepost this week said there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the 28 have been tortured or were still being tortured.

Lesotho has a long and dark history of brutal torture of government critics and petty criminals. Sadly, our army has not always covered itself in glory. It has not been the paragon of virtue that we had always thought it would be.

It has been implicated in some of the worst human rights violations in the past, all in the name of protecting national security.
We have well-documented stories of Basotho who have been kept in secret detention centres without being subjected to due legal process.
Others disappeared without trace. Very few have been prosecuted for the crimes.

Our history of strife, with the army at the centre, is therefore well documented. This perhaps is triggering fears over the safety and well-being of the 28 detainees. The fear is well founded.
By detaining and seeking to rehabilitate the 28, the army has simply gone beyond its mandate. We also doubt they have the necessary expertise to handle any “corrective behavioural” issues.

That responsibility lies with the Lesotho Correctional Service, for a reason. Only the LCS officers are trained and mandated by the law to detain and “correct” offenders.
When the army encroaches onto this arena, the results are likely to be tears and blood, literally.

We are therefore of the strong opinion that the army has no business detaining and trying to correct the thinking and behaviour of offenders, no matter how skewed they may be.
Of course, we do not dispute that the 28 had caused misery and pain for villagers in Koalabata. The army intervention was therefore critical in bringing such madness to a halt, and for that we are indeed grateful.

Having played its part in halting the reign of terror, the army should have handed the suspects to the police who are trained to deal with such issues.
The Constitution of Lesotho and United Nations conventions are clear that the powers of arrest lie with the police. And the suspects should have been charged in the courts within 48 hours of their arrest.
That’s what the law specifies. So any further detention is clearly illegal. The detention is a clear violation of the rights of the 28.
The army must therefore do the right thing – by handing the suspects to the police for prosecution.

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