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Amnesty International Report 1997 - Lesotho

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Lesotho, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa046c.html [accessed 8 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
At least five construction workers were shot dead and dozens of others wounded when police opened fire to disperse them. There were reports of ill-treatment and torture. Four people were sentenced to death.

In January, King Moshoeshoe II died in a motor accident and was succeeded by his son, King Letsie III.

Tensions within the ruling Basotholand Congress Party, said to revolve around the succession to Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle, hampered the effective functioning of parliament. In May, four cabinet ministers were dismissed and two others resigned. Journalists critical of the government were harassed.

In September, heavily armed police stormed a construction workers' compound at Butha-Buthe in the north of the country, shooting dead at least five workers and injuring dozens of others. The shootings occurred when, following a prolonged labour dispute at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Butha-Buthe worksite, dismissed workers were called to the compound to receive their final pay. Before they had been paid, armed police ordered them to disperse. Police then stormed the compound firing tear-gas and automatic weapons at the workers. According to eye-witnesses, foreign employees joined the police in shooting at the workers. Police also shot and wounded workers trying to assist the injured. Worksite security personnel assisting the police used automatic gunfire to halt an ambulance which was attempting to pick up injured workers. The police arrested and assaulted the ambulance driver and three other people. They were released without charge after several days, but were required to report regularly to the police.

The police claimed workers had fired on them, but presented no corroborative evidence. Independent post-mortem examinations on three of the workers killed indicated that the men died from single shots fired from high-velocity military-style weapons. The use of such weapons in the context of a labour dispute indicated that the police used lethal force without justification, suggesting that the killings may have been extrajudicial executions.

Local non-governmental organizations, human rights workers, victims' relatives, and Amnesty International expressed concerns about the adequacy and impartiality of an internal inquiry into the shootings announced by the government in September. The inquiry body consisted of an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the police force, and a British police officer on secondment to Lesotho. In November, it issued an interim report which endorsed the police decision to clear the workers' compound, but found that police equipment and training were inadequate to achieve this with minimum possible force.

After the shootings, hundreds of workers fled into the countryside or sought refuge at a nearby Roman Catholic mission. Workers' families, local residents and human rights workers investigating the incident were reportedly harassed by police in the ensuing days.

There were reports that suspects in criminal investigations were routinely tortured and ill-treated in police custody. In September, four Butha-Buthe workers were arrested, ostensibly for theft, held for one week at Ha Lejone police station, and tortured. The police forced them to lie on the floor, tied their hands and feet tightly behind their backs, nearly suffocated them by pulling plastic bags over their faces and crushed their backs with heavy objects. Two of the workers reported that they lost consciousness. Charges against them, although not formally withdrawn, appeared to have been dropped by the end of the year.

In October, it was reported that Matlaselo Maramane Konyana died at Roma police station in December 1995, hours after his arrest in connection with a criminal investigation. There had been no inquest into his death by the end of the year, nor into that of Thabo Lefosa in June 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996).

Three men were sentenced to death after being convicted in May of the 1991 murder of a bank manager during a labour dispute between the bank and its employees, represented by the Lesotho Union of Bank Employees (LUBE). Two, who were former LUBE officials (see Amnesty International Report 1995), were not present when the victim was killed. Their conviction rested on the finding that they conspired with others to commit the murder. The evidence against them came largely from an alleged co-conspirator, who was granted immunity from prosecution. An appeal against conviction and sentence was lodged. A fourth person was sentenced to death in November. No executions were reported.

Amnesty International received no substantive response from the government regarding concerns raised during 1995 about police accountability and use of lethal force. After the shooting of construction workers by the police, the organization appealed to the authorities to protect workers, their families, and human rights workers attempting to assist them, and to establish an impartial, independent and public commission of inquiry. In October, the organization sent a forensic pathologist to observe post-mortem examinations on three of the workers killed, and an Amnesty International delegate took testimony from eye-witnesses to the shooting of workers at Butha-Buthe.

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