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Army must respect human rights



FIVE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers were this week charged with murder.
The arrest and arraigning before the courts marks the end of a four-month frantic search for three men who disappeared in May under extremely controversial circumstances.

The three men were arrested for allegedly killing a soldier in a shoot-out at the Maseru border bridge.
They were later released by the police only to be kidnapped by the soldiers who were allegedly out to avenge the death of their colleague.
They were never seen again.

On Tuesday, the five LDF soldiers were formally charged with the murder of the trio when they appeared in the Maseru Magistrates’ Court.
The families of the three men had over the last four months demanded that the army release their sons, dead or alive, all to no avail.
The disappearance of the three men came at a time when emotions were still running high following yet another high profile murder of a junior police officer.
Although the government and the police had denied any knowledge of what happened to Mokalekale Khetheng, his decomposing body was later found buried in a pauper’s grave in Maseru.

Khetheng’s brutal murder and the manner of his burial pricked the nation’s collective conscience and the nation was justifiably outraged.
The callousness with which the whole operation was carried out was an indictment on our humanity as Basotho.
It is the same level of callousness that we are seeing in the latest case.

It is not yet clear if the five soldiers who have been charged for murder were acting alone or had the tacit endorsement of their seniors in the army.
If that is so, then it would suggest that the whole army had gone rogue.
The murder and arrest of the five soldiers is a serious indictment on the army and what it stands for.

The pressing of charges against the five will damage the army’s already battered reputation.
If the LDF is to salvage what’s left of its reputation it must quickly cooperate with the law enforcement agencies and not shield the discredited officers from censure.

That way the army will restore its credibility and trust among Basotho.
The toxic relations between the army and civilians is bad for the security services.
The army does not operate in a vacuum. It must work with the community.
It must be a true people’s army.

But perhaps the biggest lesson to be drawn from the current murder case is that Lesotho must proceed with urgency in pushing security sector reforms.  We need an army that operates within the confines of the law and is not a law unto itself.
Lesotho needs an army that respects and upholds human rights, not a ragtag militia that visits harm on civilians at the slightest irritation.
The army must not be feared.

It must be respected and cherished by its own people.
It must have deep respect for the sanctity of life.

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