Security Agents Harass Lesotho Man Who Attended Dam–Affected Peoples Conference

Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Police Confiscate Documents Belonging to LHWP Critic 

Maseru: Three agents of Lesothos National Security Service (NSS) have repeatedly harassed Mr. Benedict Leuta in recent months. Leuta is a resident of the Lesotho Highlands who lost land to the recently constructed Katse Dam. On their first visit to him on 19 November, the NSS seized documents from Leutas home in the village of Ha Nkokana (Thaba–Tseka District). Leuta had just returned from a meeting in Cape Town sponsored by several non–governmental organisations (NGOs) during which he presented a paper on the effects of Katse Dams construction on his community. The meeting gathered testimony for the World Commission on Dams from people affected by large dams. The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), the parastatal organisation in charge of building Katse Dam, and other dams in the massive scheme, was represented at the meeting. All of the documents seized from Mr. Leuta pertained to his participation in this meeting.

"My hands were shaking because I was so frightened" Leuta said, "I didnt know what they wanted." The agents asked him what he spoke about in Cape Town, and who sponsored his travel there. They also demanded minutes of the meeting. When he asked them why they were interrogating him, they replied that all citizens of Lesotho must report to NSS agents after they return from trips outside the country – a blatant falsehood. They then confiscated a copy of his presentation, a meeting participant list, and other documents. They returned all of the documents the following week without any explanation.

Since then, the NSS has repeatedly visited Mr. Leuta. The most recent visit occurred on 16 February. During these meetings, the agents asked him what his opinions are on certain policies and procedures of the LHDA. The visits appear to be an attempt by NSS and the LHDA to anticipate dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) and to intimidate community leaders who may criticise the dam. Other community leaders report similar harassment in the years during Katse Dams construction. Several highland residents, who asked not to be named, have alleged that security agents would frequently interrogate them after they attended meetings of local advocacy NGOs.

On 4 February, the organisers of the Cape Town meeting wrote a letter to Mr. Makase Marumo, the chief executive of LHDA, on Mr. Leutas behalf. The letter requested official clarification from LHDA as to whether it was responsible for the meetings and asked that it use its "significant influence to stop these visits from taking place in the future." Marumo and the LHDA have declined to comment on the matter to date. Police officials in Maseru have denied all knowledge of the incidents. World Commission on Dams Chairperson Kader Asmal expressed regret at hearing of Mr. Leutas "difficulties" but declined to use his influence to assist him. In a March 6 letter, Asmal wrote, "I regret to have to inform you that I cannot intervene directly as the NGO consultations/hearings were not organised by the Commission but by the Southern African NGOs." In fact, the NGOs organised the hearings because the WCD has said it was unable to hold a Southern African hearing due to budgetary constraints. Asmal was, until the recent elections, South Africas Water Minister, and his department was actively involved in the LHWP.

The Transformation Resource Centre believes that these visits can be construed as nothing less than intimidation and a violation of Leutas human rights. TRC Coordinator Ms. Motseoa Senyane–Makatjane said, "It is deeply disturbing that the LHDA would use the nations police services in this way. Given the circumstances and the LHDAs silence on the issue, we can only assume that the harassment is at the very least condoned and perhaps encouraged by LHWP authorities. We demand that the visits stop and that the LHDA officially explain its involvement in the incidents. We are also very disappointed with the WCD. People participated in their meeting with the understanding that it would be a safe and open process. If WCD stakeholders like the LHDA act in bad faith, how can affected people express their concerns freely? The Commissions process may be irreparably corrupted here in Lesotho."

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