By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MAFETENG – In July, the Gender Equality Academy and Femicide Observatory Lesotho recorded 57 femicide and murder cases, out of which 48 were males and involving nine females.

According to Amnesty International, an international organization that advocates for human rights, “Since 2017, Lesotho has seen a number of human rights violations, including excessive and disproportionate use of force by the security forces. There have also been reports of unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment of suspected perpetrators of crime by members of the security forces, including the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and the Lesotho Defence Forces. (sic)”

The Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Justice Nthomeng Majara who is also the former Chief Justice has lamented the high levels of crime and many social ills that have of late bedeviled the country, also making a call to action for Basotho to retrace their steps back to times when they were known to be a peaceful nation.

DPM said historically Basotho were known as the most peaceful nation, saying the founding father of this nation, King Moshoeshoe I subscribed to a notion of peace fondly referring to it as his “sister”.

“It is no secret that Lesotho has undergone tremendous challenges to good governance for quite a while which were characterized by political instability, security crisis, weak governance and justice institutions, endemic corruption and alarming increase of gender based violence, human trafficking, cold-blooded murders to mention but a few and escalating crime in general.”

Justice Majara reiterated that King Moshoeshoe I worked very hard for peace with his people and neighbours.

Also, the Minister of Justice and Law, Justice Majara said the country can have the best justice system and better functional courts, but warned if the nation cannot “introspect” on child upbringing, on how to handle the kids from a tender age. She canvassed that law and order should first start to be practiced and observed in families, this she believes will in turn translate into a morally upright society at schools and in the communities.

She continued “even if the courts can function optimally, if we do not live in harmony, we are not a nation that respects one another and respects the next person’s fundamental human rights, until people know where and when their right start and ends, we will remain a troubled nation”.

Justice Majara said the courts have to come as a last resort and adjudicate over people’s disputes, coming as the last line of defense.

She reminded people of Mafeteng that before the introduction of these western courts, there were traditional systems through which people could seek intervention where there were disputes and when they did not see eye to eye with their fellow brothers.

Making a call to action, she said Basotho need to go back and embrace their traditional upbringing practices arguing that this way, many societal problems afflicting the nation will be lessened.

“It cannot be disputed that our people have been denied basic rights and freedoms for a long time as manifested by inadequate access to justice, inordinate delays of service by law enforcement agencies, inadequate legal representation, centralized justice and legal services as well as weak oversight institutions.

“This state of affairs has ultimately and undoubtedly eroded the confidence of Basotho in the very important systems of justice in Lesotho as well as of governance. It is also an honest truth that Basotho no longer feel safe and secure in their own homes and in their own motherland a datum which is detrimental to economic development because it is well known that investors will only come and invest in a country where there is peace, there is good governance, and there is a rule of law.

“Foreign direct investment creates jobs for nationals which in turn helps grow a country’s economy and improves lives resulting in a healthy, peaceful, united, happy and prosperous nation,” said the DPM.

Justice Majara said Basotho should revisit their traditional justice system models as they proved to be more functional and a swift in handling disputes and were also cheap to access. “It also restored the relations between the conflicting parties.”

She said the justice-delivering institutions are overwhelmed with numerous disputes, and noted that the majority of them are concentrated in Maseru where many people cannot easily access them, adding that injustices and violations of human rights occur mostly in the communities. The Minister of Justice and Law said worryingly those empowered to ensure protection of civil rights and liberties are the very people who violate them.

Advocating for awareness on rights and freedoms she cautioned the community policing fora to ensure that they do not violate people’s rights in the process of maintaining law and order in the communities by brutalizing those in conflict with the law, but instead take them to police for the law to take its course. She also appealed to the chiefs to ensure they respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of their subjects in their villages.

She said when individuals lack rights, they experience a sense of weakness, humiliation, and disrespect. This, in the long run, the DPM said can lead to an increase in criminal behavior if not arrest.

The DPM said it cannot be denied that citizens of this country no longer feel safe in their homes, quoting weekly horrifying crime statistics of gunned down people, those who have been slaughtered, abducted children, and trafficked persons. “It is manifestly clear that there is a lot of work [that needs to be done].”

She said the European Union sponsored programme that has recently been launched in Mafeteng aims to foster good governance, human rights, and gender equality. The DPM has recently led the launch of the M170 million programme financed by the European Union titled “Support for reforms and strengthening of governance in Lesotho programme” recently in Mafeteng.

It is hoped this programme will ignite the trust of the public to many institutions within the justice sector. As is, these institutions forming a wheel of a justice sector have of late seen a general decline of trust.

Titled “Support for reforms and strengthening of governance in Lesotho programme“, the EU Head of Delegation, Paula Amadei said last month during the justice sector forum convened in Maseru that the overall objective of this programme is to foster rule of law, good governance, human rights and gender equality. 

Its key elements she highlighted is access to justice for girls, women and marginalized groups.

The DPPM added that this programme provides a platform for the nation to reconfigure the value system of Basotho as a peaceful nation through better provision of justice and good governance adding that it came at an opportune time when the country is undergoing the reforms processes that are meant to address obsolete laws and propose modern laws that respond to the present challenges as well as reform institutions for better performance. 

Majara also decried that Lesotho has earned a bad reputation wherein every time there are disputes in the country, the leaders go outside to seek intervention from outsiders and fail to resolve their issues themselves.

She added: “It also provides a platform for the implementation of alternative disputes resolution mechanisms such as restorative justice and other community led initiatives of responding to different injustices that our people suffer on a daily basis.

“As a member of the international community, Lesotho through its membership to various international organisations and regional bodies such as the United Nations, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, has made critical commitments to ensure that Basotho regains peace, stability, security and good governance.