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Lesotho faces scrutiny over death penalty

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Mohloai Mpesi

The government’s delegation led by Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Employment Richard Ramoeletsi, faced intense questioning regarding the infrequently employed death penalty during the 138th session of the Human Rights Committee.

The dialogue, held in Geneva, Switzerland, involved Ramoeletsi presenting a periodic report on Lesotho’s efforts to promote and protect civil and political rights.

Manuel Jose Santos Pais, a member of the committee, raised concerns about the significance of Lesotho’s death penalty, which has not been implemented since November 1995.

While Lesotho retains capital punishment in its Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act for offenses such as murder, treason, sexual offenses, and statutory rape, its practical enforcement has been limited.

Pais stressed the irreversible nature of any miscarriage of justice related to the death penalty and emphasised the need for strong political will, sustained leadership, and an active civil society to abolish capital punishment.

Responding to the queries, advocate Motsieloa clarified that although the death penalty remains in the country’s legal framework, it was effectively not practiced.

He indicated that while the High Court may impose the death penalty, the Court of Appeal consistently commutes these sentences to life imprisonment upon appeal.

“Currently there were no inmates on the death row.  There had been two, but they appealed and their sentences were commuted to life,” he said.

Pais further questioned Lesotho’s stance on maintaining the de facto moratorium on the death penalty, considering the prohibition of mandatory death sentences, restricting the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes, and the possibility of conducting a referendum on the issue.

He also inquired about Lesotho’s potential ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

“I want to confirm whether the state party is intending to keep the present de facto moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty,” Pais asked.

“Would the state party consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, since capital punishment was no longer carried out in practice?”  

Highlighting Lesotho’s high homicide rate, Pais argued that the existence of the death penalty had not proven to be a deterrent.

“According to the recent World Population report, Lesotho has the third highest homicide rate in the world and most of the killings remain unresolved, and so the conclusion that we must draw the existence of death penalty has not proven deterrent at all,” he said.

Minister Ramoeletsi addressed the Committee on Lesotho’s efforts to combat excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies.

He mentioned a recent training workshop, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), which resulted in the development of a human rights training manual.

Ramoeletsi cited ongoing criminal cases related to torture and affirmed the government’s commitment to combating such acts.

Regarding reports of torture by law enforcement agencies, Ramoeletsi acknowledged the suspension of three police officers involved in the death of a suspect at the Thetsane Police post in Maseru, pending ongoing investigations.

“There are reports that law enforcement agencies do subject suspects to torture sometimes leading to death. The LMPS suspended three police officers involved in the death of a suspect at Thetsane Police post while investigations are continuing,” he said.

He highlighted initiatives supported by the OHCHR, including human rights training for members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and the development of a module on police brutality and the use of force for police recruits.

“Police training college in partnership with faculty of law at the University of Lesotho is developing a module on police brutality and the use of force for police recruits,” Ramoeletsi said.

Ramoeletsi also discussed Lesotho’s participation in a national dialogue and stability project, facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which aimed to strengthen the human rights regime and ensure transparency and accountability in key sectors such as the judiciary, parliament, security, public service, economy, and media.

As a result of this project, proposed national reforms, including the tenth Amendment to the constitution (Omnibus Bill), are awaiting parliamentary approval, he said.

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