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Remarks by European Union Ambassador Dr. Christian Manahl at the National Stakeholders Consultation Forum - The Path towards Sustainable Peace, National Unity and Reconciliation (The Lesotho We Want)

'Manthabiseng Convention Centre, Maseru, 23/07/2021 - 14:45, UNIQUE ID: 210723_6
Speeches of the Ambassador

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I present my respects to His Majesty, King Letsie III,

The Right Honourable, Prime Minister Majoro, the Deputy Prime Minster,

Honourable Ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of the National Reforms Authority (NRA), High Officials from the Judiciary, Commanders of the Security Forces, traditional leaders, colleagues from diplomatic missions and UN agencies, religious congregations, civil society, and media representatives.

Bo-'M’e le Bo-Ntate,

            You probably know that my assignment as Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho is coming to an end next month, and since this will likely be my last public speech, let me start by expressing my gratitude to all of you for the warm welcome that you have extended to me. It was a privilege and a pleasure to serve in the Kingdom. I appreciated the many discussions we have had and I thank you in particular for allowing me to be part of the debate on the national reforms and to listen to me, even if we did not always agree. Of the dozen-or-so African countries I worked in over the past three decades, I have found Lesotho, and the Basotho people, the most open of all towards sincere deliberation and self-criticism. And over the last three days, we have witnessed a prime example of this quality of introspection, a broad and animated debate about Lesotho's past, its challenges, its achievements and its failures in dealing with internal conflicts, which every society has to confront. It is a discussion which, I firmly believe, is essential in order to make the national reforms sustainable.

            The reforms, ladies and gentlemen, have been front and centre of my work during these four years in the Kingdom. In October 2017, as I had just arrived in Maseru, many of us attended the first reforms conference, which was organized by the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN). It was not an easy start, with disagreements on the structure, objectives and the lead entity of the reforms process. But eventually the national dialogue got under way with the assistance of the SADC facilitation team under Justice Moseneke. It included an unprecedented country-wide consultation, steered by the National Dialogue Planning Committee, and the dialogue process culminated in the Second Plenary, which catalysed the results of the consultations into a concise blueprint for the reforms.   

            We are now in the second phase of the process, which consists in translating the recommendations of the second plenary into legislation, under the oversight of the National Reforms Authority (NRA). And while this is essentially a technical process that involves, apart from the NRA, also the Government and the Parliament, it is equally important that there is also a social process that allows all segments of society, and in particular the victims of past political turmoil or oppression, to air their grievances and to plead for reparations. There is a need for institutional space for reconciliation. Legislation alone will not reform the minds and hearts.

            The reason you have embarked on reforms is Lesotho's recurrent political instability, which is well known and which has been widely discussed in the last three days. This recurrent political instability has had a cost, as the Prime Minister has reminded us in his opening remarks: lives were lost, but also economic opportunities and investments were lost, and Lesotho's dire economic state with high unemployment, pervasive poverty, and glaring inequalities, is to a good part a consequence of this instability. Ladies and gentlemen, political, social and traditional leaders of this Kingdom, you who are assembled here, this is your call – you can turn the page of Lesotho's turbulent and violent past by successfully completing these reforms and by laying the foundations for a better future.

            Bo-'M’e le Bo-Ntate,

The topic of this forum is transitional justice. Over the past three days, I have heard various definitions of "transitional justice", and I have repeatedly heard voices asking: Why do we need a transitional justice mechanism? What should its objectives be? Is it not a tool that is used, and useful, for a country that has gone through civil war, or through a dramatic transition like South Africa at the end of Apartheid? I will not bore you with another definition, but I want to share with you my thoughts on why such a mechanism might be useful, and what should be taken into consideration when you elaborate its mandate and structure.

            It is true, transitional justice mechanisms have been applied after civil wars or dramatic transitions. But there is also a case for transitional justice when the courts have failed to deliver justice. If I go by the contributions I have heard, not only during these three days, but which I have heard before again and again, there have been so many instances of political violence in the five-and-a-half decades of Lesotho's independence that have seen no judicial follow-up. Perpetrators have not seen their day in court, because the judiciary was not independent from the powers of the day, and victims have not obtained justice, nor any form of compensation – they have not even been officially recognised as victims. This is called adding insult to injury.

            If the courts of Lesotho had been truly independent, as courts should be, and if they had been properly resourced, we would not be discussing past episodes of political violence, because they would long have been dealt with. Now, I know that the judiciary is one of the seven sectors of the reforms, and there is therefore reasonable hope that in the future, the courts of Lesotho will be able to adequately deal with all forms of crime and violence, whether political or not. And I am proud that the European Union is supporting judiciary reform financially and with technical assistance.

            But whether these future courts will have the time and resources to deal with all the crimes of the past, when there are thousands of pending cases, is another matter. And then, there are cases that date back decades, where there is only scant evidence remaining, where perpetrators have passed away. Where there is no living perpetrator, there can be no trial. There is no hope that victims of these crimes can obtain justice in court, or even official recognition as victims and plead for compensation unless there is a mechanism of transitional justice. Therefore, if you want to offer justice to all victims of past political violence, a mechanism of transitional justice is the only way.

            Another element that has come out of the discussion of these three days is the need for an institutional space for reconciliation. Courts can help establish the truth and punish the culprits. But a court case is a confrontational procedure that offers no opportunity for reconciliation. Reconciliation is a social process that involves the victims and perpetrators, it entails disclosure, dialogue, forgiveness, and eventually healing. It is a difficult and painful process which only a transitional justice mechanism can facilitate.

            Allow me to remind you, in this context, of the difference between "forgiveness" and "amnesty". Forgiveness is an act of human generosity, it is based on the admission of wrongdoing and it is the privilege of the victims. Forgiveness cannot be granted by the state. By contrast, "amnesty" is a legal act that should be considered if and when it helps a nation to move forward, to turn the page of a violent past. Forgiveness and amnesty can complement each other, but how they interact in the social and judicial dynamics of a society has to be carefully considered so that they do not work at cross-purposes. The same is true when it comes to the complex interaction between the conventional justice system, the courts, and a transitional justice mechanism. They can be complementary, but their respective responsibilities have to be carefully defined, and in a way that the process on one side does not obstruct the other; this is particularly the case concerning disclosure, which is essential for transitional justice.

            It has also been pointed out by many speakers that Lesotho has a rich cultural heritage when it comes to dealing with conflicts, arbitration and reconciliation, and that full use should be made of traditional practices when a transitional justice mechanism is devised. The inevitable reference in this respect is the Founder King Moshoeshoe I, whose magnanimity and willingness to forgive has been instrumental in uniting the Basotho and creating the nation that you inhabit today. I can only encourage you to draw inspiration from your own traditions, and from King Moshoeshoe I, when you define and lay the legal foundations for a comprehensive justice system that encompasses both the courts and a transitional justice commission.

            Bo-'M’e le Bo-Ntate,

Political and social leaders, but also you, the representatives of the victims, this is your "Moshoeshoe moment"; this is your opportunity to show the wisdom, the understanding, and the willingness to compromise in order to comprehensively and fairly deal with the political violence of the past and at the same time to move forward in a more cooperative and consensual way. The future of the Kingdom is in your hands. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the upcoming generation, the youth of Lesotho, will hold you accountable for your decisions.

            As I prepare to leave the Kingdom, I wish you success in your collective endeavours, in particular in the reforms and in your efforts to build a stable, peaceful, dynamic and prosperous Kingdom of Lesotho!

Khotso, Pula, Nala

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