Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Abuse and torture allegations in Lesotho

An independent commission is looking into allegations that Lesotho Defence Force soldiers apprehended following a mutiny were abused and tortured. Details here. Excerpt:
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc) said more than 50 soldiers who supported [former Lesotho army chief Maaparankoe] Mahao had been arrested in connection with the coup plot allegations. 
And it said, after a fact-finding mission to Lesotho this month, that habeas corpus applications brought to the courts by relatives of the detained soldiers indicated that many had been “snatched” or “kidnapped” by heavily-armed, masked men dressed in black “with no clear procedure of arrest, no arrest warrants, and no clarity of charges under which the arrests were effected”. 
The habeas corpus applications also alleged “a pattern of abuse and torture”, Salc said. “Once abducted, the soldiers were typically taken to Sedibeng, in an area that is particularly cold and where it often snows in the mountains. 
“Here the detainees were forced to walk on ice, sprayed with cold water or thrown into a frozen and dirty stream. Wet and in the cold, they are then tied to a pole and hooded overnight whilst being insulted and asked for information. While tied, some detainees are beaten and gun shots are fired around them.” 
“Following the habeas proceedings in the recent weeks, a number of the detainees have presented with swollen and bleeding wrists, some incapable of walking due to what appears to be pain in their feet. 
“Soldiers have appeared emaciated and underdressed, with some weeping in open court and one in particular, Colonel Stemmere, whose case was detailed in the press, bled from his face in open court when describing his mistreatment.” 
Salc said it had also heard allegations that detainees’ arms and feet were chained or tied behind their backs, while rubber tubing was tied over their faces and mouths, suffocating them. 
“Practices similar to water boarding are described as well as practices of beating the detainees on their feet or waists where tissue damage does not show. 
“A number of the soldiers have been described as becoming incontinent (unable to control urination or defecation) after the abuse they sustain.” 
Salc also said that many of the detainees had now been imprisoned for over 70 days, although the Lesotho Defence Force Act stipulated that no person may be held for more than 42 days without facing court martial.
In this decision, the High Court cautioned in June that the authorities are not to mistreat arrested soldiers, and was especially offended that they had been brought into court for a hearing on their habeas applications both handcuffed and with leg shackles:
[7]  Today, we live in a democratic Lesotho and it is imperative that all institutions and organs of state – without exception – must discharge their functions according to the Constitution, to the law and in a civilized manner; Brutality, cruelty or sadism cannot be countenanced by this Court because all such are evil acts against our human nature as Basotho and are acts that violate even the will of God. Foot shackles – this Court observed – indeed remind one of the days of slavery when men and women in West Africa w[]ere tightly shackled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. During some of these perilous journeys, some slaves were often thrown over board to []lighten the ships during ocean storms! Slavery in whatever from or shape is therefore
totally outlawed on absolute terms by section 9 of the Constitution of Lesotho. I repeat my order that the Minister of Defence, Commander of LDF and Director of Military Intelligence stop forthwith.
Jobo v. Commander, Lesotho Defence Force (Les. High Ct. June 18, 2015) (Peete, J.).

There has also been litigation over the terms of pretrial confinement for a brigadier who had been the LDF's budget controller and is currently under arrest. The High Court's July 1, 2015 decision granting him open arrest on health grounds, subject to stated conditions, in Mareka v. Commander, Lesotho Defence Force is available here.

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