Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
For example, on February 8, Butha-Buthe police killed Terene Pitae. According to the press, police shot and killed Pitae and wounded two other villagers who protested the Kao Mine’s failure to compensate and relocate villagers affected by mining operations.
Although the case of eight LDF members charged with murder in connection with the 2015 death of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao remained open, it had yet to be tried by at year’s end. All eight LDF members remained incarcerated.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law expressly prohibit such practices, there were several credible reports police tortured suspects and subjected them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. For example, on March 31, media reported that Maseqobela Mohale suffered a miscarriage after Matelile police repeatedly kicked her in the abdomen. Police also reportedly forced gang members to roll on the ground while kicking and beating them with clubs.
The LMPS acknowledged receiving seven reports of police torture. The LMPS stated that it took disciplinary measures against one police officer and investigated allegations against two other officers. The LMPS provided instruction to police on the human rights of persons in police custody and cooperated with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transformation Resource Center (TRC). On June 26 and June 27, the TRC conducted a human rights workshop for police. The Office of the Commissioner of Police sent representatives to police stations to emphasize police officer responsibilities regarding human rights.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding; physical abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence, including rape; and inadequate sanitary conditions, medical care, ventilation, lighting, and heat. The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) indicated it had no facilities or staff with specialized training to deal with prisoners with disabilities. The service depended on voluntary assistance from other prisoners. Prison buildings lacked ramps, railings, and other features facilitating physical access for prisoners with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: The LCS reported that facilities in Maseru, Leribe, Quthing, and Berea were overcrowded. Former justice minister Mahali Phamotse attributed overcrowding at prisons holding men to high crime rates among the unemployed.
Prisoners reported 11 cases of physical abuse by correctional officers, and authorities took disciplinary measures accordingly. LCS authorities registered 24 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, instituted disciplinary action in 22 cases, and referred two cases to police for investigation. The LCS reported five inmate-on-inmate rape cases. For example, in July, two inmates allegedly raped another inmate at the Qacha’s Nek Correctional Institution.
Rape and consensual unprotected sex by prisoners contributed to a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in correctional facilities. The LCS distributed condoms weekly to combat the disease. In January the Lesotho Times newspaper reported that Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa stated, “A lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers.”
Although prisons provided potable water, sanitation was poor in Mokhotlong, Berea, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek, and facilities generally lacked bedding. Proper ventilation, heating, and cooling systems did not exist, and some facilities lacked proper lighting. All prisons had a nurse and a dispensary to attend to minor illnesses, but health care was inadequate. Prisons lacked round-the-clock medical wards; as a result, guards confined sick prisoners to their cells from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Administration: The LCS investigated 11 cases of physical abuse by correctional officers, 24 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and 16 allegations of verbal abuse by correctional officers. Authorities formally took disciplinary action in cases of physical abuse and in one case of verbal abuse by correctional officers. Prison instituted disciplinary action in 22 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
The Office of the Ombudsman stated it received one complaint from a prisoner regarding his sentences not running concurrently. Prisoners were often unaware they could submit complaints to this office. Complaints to the ombudsman, however, must pass through prison authorities, creating the possibility of retaliation against complainants.
According to the LCS, prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The LCS referred no complaints to the Magistrate Court during the year.
Independent Monitoring: Representatives of the Lesotho Red Cross Society and the TRC, churches, the business community, and the courts visited prisoners. Visitors provided toiletries, food, and other items. International Committee of the Red Cross representatives periodically visited a group of foreign nationals detained in the country.
Improvements: The LCS reported the renovation of cellblocks at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution, continuing renovation of the Mafeteng Correctional Institution, and installation of electricity at the Berea Correctional Institution.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The security forces consist of the LDF, the LMPS, the National Security Service (NSS), and the LCS. The LMPS is responsible for internal security. The LDF maintains external security and may assist police when the LMPS commissioner requests aid. The NSS is an intelligence service that provides information on possible threats to internal and external security. The LDF and NSS report to the minister of defense, LMPS to the minister of police and public safety, and the LCS to the minister of justice and correctional service. Impunity in the LMPS was a problem.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the LMPS, NSS, and LCS. Following a January change in command of the LDF, civilian control over the army improved. By year’s end more than 30 soldiers implicated in crimes were arrested, charged, and incarcerated. The viability of this improvement is expected to be tested once SAPMIL troops leave the country.
In May the LDF court martialed Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Boiketsiso Fonane, and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane for planning a mutiny that led to the September 2017 killing of LDF commander Motsomotso. Court martial proceedings continued at year’s end. In June the TRC reported an increase in human rights abuses by the LMPS, including killings, torture, and corruption, and in October the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressed concern regarding “persistent allegations of police brutality.” On October 20, the prime minister urged the minister of police and public safety and the commissioner of police to investigate deaths of suspects in police custody.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The PCA was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate. It could only investigate cases referred to it by the police commissioner or minister of police and public safety and could act on public complaints only with their approval. The PCA also lacked authority to refer cases directly to the Prosecutor’s Office. The PCA did not publish its findings or recommendations.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires police, based on sufficient evidence, to obtain an arrest warrant from a magistrate prior to making an arrest on criminal grounds. Police arrested suspects openly, informed them of their rights, and brought them before an independent judiciary. By law police are required to inform suspects of charges against them upon arrest and present suspects in court within 48 hours. According to the TRC, police did not always inform suspects of charges upon arrest and detained them for more than the prescribed 48 hours. The law provides that authorities may not hold a suspect in custody for more than 90 days before a trial except in exceptional circumstances.
The law provides for bail, which authorities granted regularly and, in general, fairly. Defendants have the right to legal counsel. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer and provided lawyers for indigents in criminal cases. Free legal counsel was usually available for indigents, from either the state or an NGO. The Legal Aid Division under the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service offered free legal assistance, but a severe lack of resources hampered the division’s effectiveness and resulted in a backlog. The division had only 15 lawyers and two vehicles to serve the entire country. NGOs maintained a few legal aid clinics.
There were no reports of suspects detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or reports of authorities ignoring court orders for their release this year.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted 23 percent of the prison population. The average length of pretrial detention was 60 days, after which authorities usually released pretrial detainees on bail pending trial. Pretrial detention could last for months, however, due to judicial staffing shortages and unavailability of legal counsel.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reported instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by the government. In some cases authorities failed to respect court orders. For example, on August 6, the High Court found the principal secretary of foreign affairs and international relations, the minister of foreign affairs and international relations, the prime minister, and the attorney general “guilty of blatant and willful contempt of court” for failing to honor its March 23 order directing the government not to recall former permanent representative to the United Nations Kelebone Maope. Consequently, the court ordered the government to pay Maope terminal benefits, including salary for the remaining term of his contract within 60 days.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, but trial delays were common.
Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. In most cases officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges with free interpretation as necessary. In some cases interpreters were not readily available, resulting in delays in the filing of charges.
In civil and criminal matters, a single judge normally hears cases. In constitutional, commercial, and appeals court cases, more than one judge is assigned. Trials are open to the public. A backlog of cases in the court system and the failure of defense attorneys to appear in court caused trial delays.
Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have an attorney provided by the state if indigent, and to have adequate time to prepare their case. Authorities provide free interpretation as necessary during proceedings at the magistrate and High Court levels but not at other points in the criminal justice process. By law the free assistance of an interpreter is not required for cases in the court of appeals.
Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their own behalf. The law allows defendants to present evidence on their own behalf at the Magistrate Court, but the High Court requires legal representation. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal a judgment. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary with jurisdiction over civil matters. Individuals and organizations may freely access the court system to file lawsuits seeking cessation of human rights violations and recovery of damages.
The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the law provides police with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles as well as to enter homes and other places without a warrant if the situation is life threatening or there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a serious crime has occurred. Additionally, the law states any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may search individuals or homes without a warrant.