There's a sticky wicket in Lesotho. The government feels obligated under the Lesotho Defence Force Act to bring the pending mutiny cases to trial, but the independent commission established by the Southern African Development Community will not have completed its work by then.
[Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha] Mosisili told his fellow-leaders that the 30-day extension – to November 10 – that they had just granted the commission at the summit to complete its work meant the soldiers would have to remain detained without being charged for even longer. The Lesotho Defence Force Act stipulates that they should not be detained without being charged for more than 42 days.
But human rights groups have complained that the soldiers have already been in detention for more than 70 days.
In a statement on Monday night, Mosisili’s office said the Lesotho Defence Force should be at liberty to proceed with the court martial because the soldiers had already appeared in a court of law when their relatives won habeas corpus orders requiring the army to produce the detainees to show they were still alive. He said SADC’s extension of the commission’s terms of reference made it necessary to proceed with the courts martial.
The soldiers were not charged in a civilian court.
A South African government delegate who attended the closed summit session on Monday afternoon, where Sunday night’s decisions of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation were confirmed, said SADC chairman Ian Khama had come down hard on Mosisili.
President Jacob Zuma, who had chaired the organ until this weekend, also “became quite irritated”.
“Lesotho wanted to contest some of the commission’s terms of reference, saying it was out of line with their constitution,” he said.