In Dialogue with Lesotho, Experts of the Human Rights Committee Commend Measures to Combat Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, Raise Issues Concerning the Death Penalty and Attacks on Journalists
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Lesotho on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts commending measures to combat domestic and gender-based violence, and raising issues concerning the death penalty and attacks on journalists, including the murder of radio journalist Ralikonelo Joki.
A Committee Expert noted that commended Lesotho's overall efforts to promote civil and political rights, as presented in the periodic report. The Committee welcomed protection of women and children from domestic and gender-based violence, and acknowledged measures to combat those practices by certain ministries, non-governmental organisations and especially by the Princess.
Another Expert asked whether the State party was intending to keep the present de facto moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty. Would the State party consider prohibiting mandatory death sentences, and restrict the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes? A public referendum on repealing legal provisions related to the death penalty was planned. Did the State party intend to reconsider the idea of conducting a referendum on such an essential issue?
Another Committee Expert said attacks on journalists and the death of Ralikonelo Joki, a radio journalist, in May 2023 were seriously concerning. What were the circumstances of his death?
Presenting the report, Richard Ramoeletsi, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Employment, and head of the delegation, said that the country intended to domesticate all international human rights treaties that it ratified. Recent non-discrimination legislation included the Harmonization of the Rights of Customary Widows and the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2022 and the Persons with Disabilities Equity Act 2022. Human rights training had been developed to address the excessive use of force within the Lesotho Defence Force. The country had further made strides in addressing prison overcrowding, political instability and held democratic elections in October 2022. Mr. Ramoeletsi said challenges such as poverty, food insecurity and HIV/AIDS hampered access to civil and political rights, stressing how support from United Nations agencies and other stakeholders would help to enhance the promotion of those rights.
In the ensuing discussion, the delegation said the Government had taken measures to popularise laws on gender-based violence, which would improve reporting of such cases. Some non-governmental organisations offered victims free legal services. Training for police addressed gender-based violence.
The Lesotho High Court still imposed death penalty sentences, but if appealed, the Court of Appeal without hesitation commuted such sentences to life imprisonment. Lesotho would restrict the death penalty to serious crimes. The referendum on the death penalty was an important bottom-up process.
Four suspects had been arrested in the investigation into the death of the radio journalist in May, the delegation said. The police statement noted that his death was not related to freedom of expression. Court proceedings were underway, however had been slowed as one of the accused claimed they were wrongfully accused. To imagine that the murder was politically motivated was shocking as the journalist was generally well-received. The police report noting the absence of political motivation was believable, but justice would decide.
Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their cooperation and frank honesty during the dialogue, as well as civil society and members of academia for their contributions. Issued addressed during the dialogue included domestication of the Covenant, impunity, non-discrimination, reproductive rights, the excessive use of force, the prohibition of torture, child labour, the administration of justice and right to privacy.
The delegation of Lesotho was made up of the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Employment, and representatives of the Ministry of Justice; the Human Rights Unit and the Permanent Mission of Lesotho to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-eighth session is being held from 26 June to 26 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Monday 24 July to hear the presentation of the progress report of the Special Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations.
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Lesotho (CCPR/C/LSO/2).
Presentation of the Report
RICHARD RAMOELETSI, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Employment, and head of the delegation, expressed his sincere appreciation to the Committee for the opportunity of presenting the periodic report on measures being taken for the protection of civil and political rights. He registered the country’s apology for the late submission of the report, after an interval of over twenty years. Lesotho had had a backlog of State Party reports, and so had made a call to the international community for assistance. In August 2021, Cabinet had approved the establishment of a National Mechanism on Reporting and Follow-up. The Government, civil society organisations and other stakeholders participated in the report preparation process. The Covenant had been translated into the local vernacular for easier dissemination. A joint work-plan had been devised by all stakeholders.
Covenant obligations were realised through the Constitution and Acts of Parliament. In Lesotho, international law was applicable in the courts of law only when it did not violate the provisions of the Constitution. Lesotho intended to establish a comprehensive and systematic process for domestication of all international human rights treaties that Lesotho has ratified.
The measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic were within the parameters provided by the Covenant, and had made progress in curbing the pandemic. However, the Government admitted that it had missed an opportunity to report to the United Nations Secretary-General that the country had introduced a state of emergency.
Commissions of Inquiry were set up to address past human rights violations. After the 1995 Botha-Buthe killings, such a commission recommended that riot control be part of the curriculum of the Police Training College, and further that a specialised riot control unit be established within the police service and be equipped accordingly. As a result, a Special Operations Unit was established to deal with similar situations. In connection with August 2014 events, army officers implicated during an attempted coup and other human rights violations were facing criminal charges and their trial had begun in the High Court.
With regards to non-discrimination and equality between men and women, there had been promulgation of laws that prohibited discrimination in various settings with the view to bring equality between men and women. These laws included Harmonization of the Rights of Customary Widows and the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2022, which granted widows inheritance rights. Regarding the promotion of civil and political rights of persons with disabilities, Lesotho had enacted Persons with Disabilities Equity Act 2022, prohibiting discrimination of the basis of disability in all areas of life.
Lesotho had enacted the Counter Domestic Violence Act 2022, and the Draft Children's Protection and Welfare Bill 2021, which sought to criminalise child marriage, had been finalised and was pending cabinet approval. Abortion remained illegal per the Penal Code 2010, but could be performed under certain circumstances such as rape.
The Lesotho Defence Force was aware of the lack of written guiding tools to address excessive use of force. Human rights training had been developed in this regard.
In the case of “Mamoleboheng Besel”, four members of the Defence Force had been arrested and charged with murder. This case was now before the High Court. Regarding the “Tumelo Mohlomi” murder case, two members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service were arrested and remanded. The matter was pending trial while waiting for a ballistics report.
The prohibition of torture was guaranteed in the Constitution and the Penal Code listed torture as a crime against humanity. The Government’s commitment against torture was illustrated by its ratification of the Convention against Torture. However, there were reports that law enforcement agencies did subject suspects to torture, sometimes leading to death. Initiatives had been taken to eliminate incidences of torture. Lesotho was developing a module on police brutality and the use of force for police recruits. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2011 had been amended in 2021 with a view of redefining the term “trafficking in persons” and to remove an option of a fine for persons convicted of the offence.
With a view to reducing overcrowding, in 2022, 163 inmates were released on Royal Pardon. Lesotho had made strides to enhance its capacity in relation to the administration of justice. In May 2022, the High Court received nine newly appointed judges. The judiciary had been allocated around 6.2 million United States dollars for the financial year of 2023 to 2024 to improve access to justice and the rule of law.
To address political instability, since 2014, the Government had engaged in a national dialogue and stability project, with support from the United Nations Development Programme. The objective of the project was to strengthen the human rights regime. It resulted in national reforms through the 10th amendment to the Constitution, called the Omnibus Bill, which was yet to be passed by Parliament. The Bill established a national human rights commission. On 22 June 2023, the Parliament signed a Multi Party Agreement to ensure that every party in Parliament committed to the Omnibus Bill and did not impede the reforms in any manner possible.
Lesotho had undergone general elections in October 2022, where democracy, rule of law as well as popular participation had been demonstrated. The country was beset with challenges, such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and HIV/AIDS, which impeded civil and political rights. Mr. Ramoeletsi appreciated the technical and financial support that Lesotho was receiving from United Nations agencies, the Commonwealth and individual countries, which were continually offering support to enhance promotion and protection of human rights.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said the Committee had recommended that the authorities disseminated not only the first national report but also the concluding observations following the consideration of the initial report in 1999, in order to increase public awareness of the provisions of the Covenant and their rights.
The Committee had received information that civil society organisations had not been involved in this process and that there had been no measures making the provisions of the Covenant available in local languages. Was civil society consulted regarding the report? Had the promotion and dissemination of the Covenant and its Optional Protocol been initiated since the submission of the second national report?
Could more information be provided on the mandate of the Police Complaints Investigation Bureau and to what authority it belonged? To what extent did it interact with judicial authorities? What specific remedies were available to litigants alleging that their rights had been infringed? Did the Government have data on the number of complaints brought before the courts, and any follow-up given to them? Did the State party intend to examine or amend domestic legal provisions that were incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant, including those on customary law? What was the status of the establishment of the national human rights commission? Had differences with civil society regarding the appointment process been resolved? Would resources finally be allocated to the commission?
Another Committee Expert asked whether the State party had plans to review and amend section 21(1) of the Constitution permitting derogations from some fundamental rights, to ensure that it was fully consistent with the provisions of the Covenant. Were emergency measures subject to review by an independent oversight mechanism to ensure that the rights of individuals were not violated? Did the State party intend to review the Internal Security Act giving discretionary powers to the Prime Minister and his cabinet to declare a state of emergency to ensure its compatibility with the provisions of the Covenant?
When would the State party adopt a specific anti-torture law that met the requirements of international human rights standards, so that accountability for such acts could be pursued by victims? How would the State party carry out a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into past and future allegations of torture, and provide appropriate penalties and remedies for victims? Which perpetrators of torture offences had been prosecuted to date?
Had the State party put in place any policies, regulations or guidelines with clear criteria for law enforcement officers on when and how to apply reasonable force? Did the State party intend to amend section 32 of the Penal Code to be in line with the Covenant? The Expert asked for statistics on cases of excessive use of force lodged against law enforcement officers. Did the State party intend to take steps to remove existing provisions allowing corporal punishment? How was the State party promoting non-lethal crowd control methods? Had independent mechanisms been established to investigate violations? What judicial follow-up to investigations had been conducted? Had perpetrators been identified? Did victims or their families have access to justice and legal aid? What measures had been taken to prevent repetition of human rights violations? Did the Government plan to set up a truth and reconciliation process to identify the root causes of these human rights violations, name the alleged perpetrators and bring them to justice, and support the victims and their families?
Women in Lesotho continued to be subjected to multiple forms of discrimination under ordinary and customary laws. What measures had been taken to ensure equality between men and women since the last review? Could the State party specify measures aimed at repealing all discriminatory laws against women, especially in the fields of inheritance, access to land, nationality, marriage and its dissolution? In which cases had the Constitutional Court made decisions on discrimination since the last examination? The Expert asked for information about laws and measures taken to eliminate discrimination on all grounds.
How many staff were serving the victims crime office under the Ministry of Justice and the Lapeng Care Center for victims of sexual and gender based violence? Were their budgets adequate? How many cases of human trafficking had been tried in the last five years? What measures had been taken to protect sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons against abuse, violence and discrimination, and support their access to health services and to justice? How many people had been prosecuted or sentenced for the murder of elder women accused of witchcraft in the last five years, and what had been done to prevent such murders from happening?
Another Committee Expert commended Lesotho's overall efforts to promote civil and political rights, as presented in the periodic report. The Committee welcomed protection of women and children from domestic and gender-based violence, and acknowledged measures to combat those practices by certain ministries, non-governmental organisations and especially by the Princess. Lesotho had enacted the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the Children’s Protection and Welfare Amendment Bill 2019, and after several postponements, the Counter Domestic Violence Bill in 2022. How would the Counter Domestic Violence Bill be implemented?
Had the State party developed strategies and programmes for tackling patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes against women, and for encouraging women to report domestic and sexual violence? Did the State party plan to increase the training of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, as well as other officials and services that were involved with victims of domestic and gender-based violence, especially judges and prosecutors? Were there plans regarding potential legalisation of abortion? Had Lesotho developed a strategy to establish control of private clinics where illegal abortions were taking place? Had Lesotho organised wider awareness campaigns regarding contraception?
A Committee Expert asked whether the State party was intending to keep the present de facto moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty. Would the State party consider prohibiting mandatory death sentences, and restrict the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes? A public referendum on repealing legal provisions related to the death penalty was planned. Did the State party intend to reconsider the idea of conducting a referendum on such an essential issue? If not, when would the referendum take place? Would the State party consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, since capital punishment was no longer carried out in practice?
Would the State party reevaluate its legal framework as regards freedom of assembly, in line with General Comment 37? Were there any plans to inform members of the public of the existence and mandate of the Police Complaints Authority? Could the delegation provide disaggregated statistics on the complaints submitted to the Authority? What steps did the State Party intend to take to ensure that any reported case of extrajudicial killing or enforced disappearance was promptly and thoroughly investigated, that the perpetrators were prosecuted and punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime? Which measures did the State Party intend to take to ensure victims received full reparation?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said Lesotho was undergoing structural reform. The Government was conducting consultations with stakeholders to promote the passing of the Omnibus Bill in both houses without impediment. A national human rights institution would be established after the passing of the Bill. Civil society was involved in awareness campaigns. There had been no awareness campaigns carried out on the Optional Protocol, but stakeholders, including the police, the army and the prison service, had been made aware of the Covenant through workshops.
Lesotho’s national HIV/AIDS policy of 2006 recognised the vulnerability and marginalisation of sex workers and the importance of guaranteeing access to confidential health services. The Government, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, had taken measures to build tolerance towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Lesotho was one of the first countries to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons. There were no longer reports of female genital mutilation in Lesotho. In addition, the childrens’ protection and welfare amendment act of 2021, which sought to criminalise child marriage, was now pending cabinet approval. Lesotho had launched a campaign to end child marriage in 2017, with the Princess appointed as the champion of that. Steps had been taken to adopt anti-torture legislation. Cabinet had approved a draft policy on torture in line with the country’s obligation to prevent torture and provide remedies to victims.
The issue of non-discrimination and equality between men and women had been dealt with by the State party in a positive manner. Discrimination of girls and customary practices were being addressed, including through the domestication of international conventions and the creation of new laws. Lesotho was a party to a number of international conventions protecting women and children. The Government had taken measures to protect widows’ right to inheritance and combat the customary practice of the first male child being the sole heir. It was key to move away from customary practices. Customs still dictated that women were the primary caretakers.
The delegation cited a case of compensation provided to the family of a victim of an extrajudicial killing. Lesotho had made significant progress in domesticating the Convention against Torture. This included the drafting by the Cabinet of a policy on torture, which started in 2020. Not all Optional Protocols to international human rights treaties had been ratified, and consultations at the Government level would be held on the matter. No legislation focused exclusively on corporal punishment of children, but there were legal measures that referred to specific abuse of children.
The Government had taken measures to popularise laws on gender-based violence, which would improve reporting of such cases. Some non-governmental organisations offered victims free legal services. Training for police addressed gender-based violence. The Ministry of Health had engaged a consultant to assess the prevalence of clandestine abortions, and develop guidelines on proper management of post-abortion care and training on manual vacuum aspiration. Measures had been taken to protect female reproductive rights. A manual on sexuality to guide parents and educators had been created. A policy had been adopted to protect the elderly from human rights abuses.
Lesotho still upheld the death penalty. The referendum on the death penalty was an important bottom-up process. Lesotho would restrict the death penalty to serious crimes. If the State party upheld the death penalty, it would not be able to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The Lesotho High Court still imposed death penalty sentences, but if appealed, the Court of Appeal without hesitation commuted such sentences to life imprisonment. Lesotho had several incidents of homicides committed to obtain others’ property.
Even in the absence of the national human rights institution, the State party had an institutional framework for the protection of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman was mandated to deal with issues of maladministration, injustice and abuse of human rights.
Lesotho was ensuring that young boys were provided with training in schools and at home on the reproductive rights of both boys and girls. Consultations were ongoing on how to reflect self-identified gender in legal documentation. On the issue of sodomy, the sexual offences act of 2003 covered all offences related to sexual acts.
A 2010 act regulated public meetings and processions. Notices of meetings needed to be presented within a set timeframe, and rejections were explained. Negotiations were ongoing to produce regulations on domestic work in the country.
Currently there were no inmates on the death row. There had been two, but they appealed and their sentences were commuted to life. In the case of a student that had lost his life in a riot, investigators had considered excessive force and the police were put on interdiction.
All forms of trafficking in persons were criminalised. A 2019 act criminalised trafficking of children. The Commissioner of Police was currently establishing a department dealing specifically with trafficking. There were prosecutors assigned with such crimes. A pilot project focused on counter-trafficking and addressing irregular migration through strengthening border and migration management. Currently there were 16 cases of trafficking reported, and in about 13 of those, the perpetrators or suspects had been remanded to the courts of law. An office to support victims and a national database for trafficking in person cases in Lesotho had been created.
In relation to the killings of two generals, criminal cases were underway before the High Court. Further, there were compensation claims relating to police brutality and other issues.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked if there was a deadline for establishing the national human right institution. What was the status of the National Mechanism on Reporting and Follow-up mentioned by the delegation? Was there a large number of complaints of human rights violations? If so, this was not necessarily a negative thing, as it would indicate public awareness.
Another Committee Expert asked how victims of domestic and gender-based violence accessed shelters. Did the State party charge staff in private clinics for carrying out illegal abortions? How many investigations, prosecutions and sentences could the State party report? Were women who had gone through clandestine termination of pregnancy charged as well? Had the State party made an effort to investigate claims of forced HIV testing and forced sterilisation?
Another Committee Expert asked what the official position of the Government on the abolition of the death penalty was. He said it was encouraging that death penalties applied by the High Court were downgraded or commuted on appeal. It seemed that everything was leaning towards the abolition of the death penalty, nevertheless the State party considered it should go through a referendum to know the position of the people. It was always dangerous to subject to referendum questions relating to fundamental human rights. Had the Government taken a stand on the position it would defend in the case of a referendum? Had courts heard cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances?
Another Committee Expert asked if there were any safeguards in place regarding officials’ use of force that were in line with the Istanbul Protocol? Would the State party consider totally prohibiting corporal punishment, excessive use of force against children and child abuse?
Another Committee Expert asked if there was a procedure enabling individuals convicted of serious crimes, including those sentenced to death or life in prison, to seek review of their convictions based on newly discovered evidence indicating innocence. What remedies were provided to persons committed of serious crimes who were later found to have been wrongly committed? Was compensation provided?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that a national human rights institution would be established following the passage of the related Omnibus bill within an 18-month timeframe. The institution would be a constitutional body so that it would be difficult to alter through lower judicial processes. It would be complaint with the Paris Principles.
Though the death penalty was legal, it was not practiced. A referendum would indeed be required to change it as it was enshrined in the Constitution. Changing the Constitution was a lengthy and complicated process.
Foreign judges were not called upon for lack of resources. Any financial assistance to bring them into the country and retain them would be appreciated.
Sodomy was an offence against law and morality. The prohibition on male homosexuality was in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. Arrests could be made without a warrant for sodomy. The Penal Code Act of 2010 was silent on sodomy but it could be interpreted to contradict the Act. Prior to the enactment of the Penal Code, the common law punishment for sodomy was never enforced. Consensual sexual relations between men had been decriminalised and they were never criminalised between women.
The Office of the Ombudsman was funded to the equivalent of 530,000 United States dollars in 2022 to 2023. This year, the Office had seen an increase of funding by 50,000 United States dollars. The Office, with assistance from United Nations bodies, was able to conduct investigations throughout the country.
From 2013-2018, 107 complaints were lodged to the Police Complaints Authority, 79 were sent to the Authority for intervention, 14 were investigated, 11 were withdrawn and two sent to police headquarters for intervention. From 2019 to 2022, 33 complaints were lodged, 9 were sent to the police authority for intervention, 23 were under investigation, and one had been withdrawn by the complainant.
Instances of alleged witchcraft had declined thanks to public awareness campaigns on dementia. Previously, those with the condition had been interpreted as being involved in witchcraft. There had been an increase of persons with dementia being returned to the care of their families.
Shelters for victims of violence could be accessed independently or with referrals from family, health providers and civil society organisations. It currently accommodated 30 people with separate accommodations for pregnant women, boys and girls. The shelter was under the watch of the Chief Gender Officer, the Matron and social workers. In 2019, 72 victims were received, in 2021, 56 and in 2022, 47.
The Government had approached the non-governmental organisation reporting forced sterilisation of HIV-positive women, but they had not responded. The reports were unsubstantiated. The Government did not require HIV tests for anyone, however pregnant mothers were required to get tested to prevent transmission to the child.
The Government was not aware of clinics carrying out illegal abortions. No cases of women accused of abortion were in progress, but there were cases of concealment of childbirth. The Police Complaints Authority would be strengthened with the goal of it becoming independent. No reports on wrongful convictions were available and no mechanisms to deal with them were available in the country’s legal framework yet. An officer was in court for extrajudicial killing charges. Another case dealt with enforced disappearances and was before the High Court currently.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert recalled how important it was to address torture within the State party and appreciated its response acknowledging the phenomenon. What measures have been taken to end torture as a practice among law enforcement officers? How many perpetrators have been prosecuted? What steps could be taken to strengthen the Police Complaints Authority? How would the plan be overseen in cities and areas other than Maseru? How would training in line with the Covenant, especially on the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, be administered to security forces?
While the State party acknowledged life-threatening conditions in prisons, what had it done to remedy the problem? What measures were in place to prevent the transmission of illnesses that could occur in overcrowded prisons? What results were observed following the training of the inmates and staff on human rights issues, particularly on inmate violence and abuse from officers?
The Committee welcomed the reform processes resulting in the establishment National Reforms Authority in 2019. The Government dissolved the Authority before elections in 2022. What were the results of the reforms and their impact on the 2022 elections? The period from 2012 to 2017 saw three elections, and the National Parliament was dissolved in 2022 after its five-year term. What happened afterwards? Had the State party managed to arrange elections in conformity with international standards, in view of preserving stability in the country? Were there any bills or laws pending to bring election processes in line with international law?
Another Committee Expert noted a significant backlog of trafficking cases, including some with official complicity. Reportedly, the State party relied on one non-governmental organisation to provide all services to trafficking victims. What steps would the State party take to increase its efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes, and address the backlog of cases? Would it increase the funding for the Victim of Trafficking Trust? What data was available on cases lodged in courts in the past five years?
Reports indicated that the worst forms of child labour, including in animal herding and commercial sexual exploitation, persisted in the State party. Children engaged in animal herding often worked under poor conditions for long hours, including during the night, without adequate food and clothing, exposed to extreme weather conditions in isolated areas, and did not attend school. What specific measures would the State party take to ensure that children who were engaged in hazardous work were removed and integrated back in the community? Further, child domestic workers were not covered under child labour legislation. Could the delegation address this?
Steps taken to ensure accountability of the Government including through the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the office of the Auditor General were commendable. However, the Government had not yet addressed the issue of the public’s access to information, which was an essential part of a participatory democracy. It was noted that the State party would take steps to adopt legislation in the form of an information bill. What were the contents of the bill? What was its timeline for adoption?
Efforts to combat corruption through the establishment of statutory bodies, including the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences, were commendable. Reports indicated that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences was challenged by its lack of capacity to investigate and prosecute politically connected persons. Could the delegation address this? Was the Directorate adequately funded?
An Expert noted that despite trainings, police officers continued to arrest suspects to carry out investigations, resulting in repeated arrest and release. Would the State party consider issuing specific recommendations for police officers to have a reasonable suspicion before arresting a suspect? 26.7 per cent of the total prison population was in pre-trial detention, which averaged between 30 and 60 days, though there had been a 48-hour rule that required anyone in pre-trial detention to be brought to before a judge. How many complaints had been received regarding the non-respect for the detention period established in the law? What were their outcomes? Were there either disciplinary or criminal proceedings instituted against involved police officers?
Lesotho had enacted the Judiciary Administration Act 2011, which promoted the independence of the judiciary. However, the King was still responsible for the nomination of judges upon proposals from the Judicial Commission. Further, limited resources and underfunding remained problems in the judiciary. These issues could compromise the independence and the integrity of individual judges. When would the Court of Appeal be transformed into a permanent institution, instead of a court in session twice a year? Reportedly, there were significant delays in the administration of justice and delivering of judgments. What measures would be adopted to expedite justice? Were there plans to reinforce the recruitment of qualified professionals in the justice system on ballistics or forensics, for example? How would the Judicial Service Commission be reformed? What measures would be taken to ensure the judiciary’s independence? Did judges and prosecutors enjoy security of tenure? What was the gender and number makeup of the judiciary?
Another Committee Expert noted that a 2011 law guaranteed right to privacy by protecting personal data. The Data Protection Commission, which was promulgated by the law, had not yet been set up. When would it be? What would its mandate be and what was its budget? What checks and balances occurred in the decision to tap a phone or email? What redress was available in the case of abuse?
Did the Government have statistics on national newspapers that had been registered and rejected? Had journalists brought any rejections before the justice system? What were the outcomes of these cases? A reportedly independent body regulated both public and private media. What reasons did the Ministry for Communications have to limit, suspend or withdraw an authorisation to broadcast? What remedy did those affected have? What was the relationship between the Communications Authority and the Lesotho Media Institute, which brought together civil society working in the media. Attacks on journalists and the death of Ralikonelo Joki, a radio journalist, in May 2023 were seriously concerning. What were the circumstances of his death?
An Expert asked the State party to clarify how legislation affected the registration of trade unions. Were any requests to establish a union denied in the past five years? Had any peaceful assemblies been conducted in recent years after they had been forbidden by the Government? What were their outcomes? Could the State party provide updates on the arrest of leaders of the student movement, in terms of prosecutions and reparation?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that there was indeed torture and other cruel and degrading treatment in the country. The State party was addressing the issue through information dissemination and steps toward the adoption of anti-torture legislation, which would provide redress and compensation for victims. The Government would hold consultative meetings regarding ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The Ministry of Law had conducted human rights trainings for law enforcement agencies, with the participation of civil society organizations such as the Women’s Law Clinic. Torture taking place within the detention system had been sanctioned. Victims of torture were entitled to damages, awarded by the courts.
Currently, there was no fund for victims of trafficking, but the Government had intentions to establish one. The Lapeng Care Centre provided support to victims of trafficking and domestic violence. Perpetrators had been fined but also been sentenced to years in prison without parole. Sanctions were heavy and serious. Part of the human rights training that police forces received involved dealing with trafficking.
There had been a 67 per cent budget increase for the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences this year to increase its capacity. However, for the Directorate to prosecute, it had to pass through the Director of Public Prosecutions, a restriction that was being addressed. Allegations of immunity for politically connected persons were unfounded, as nine high level political persons or politicians themselves were currently under investigation by the Directorate.
There had been great improvements in human rights in prisons. In 2020, there had been 15 cases of human rights violations reported in prisons, while in 2023 there had only been one. This was a result of awareness raising campaigns targeting inmates and prison employees. Recommendations made following visits of experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross were being slowly implemented in prisons. New clothing had been provided to inmates, as well as increased access to health and vocational training.
The Minister of Labour was advised by the tripartite partners from the employers’ and employees’ associations. The Government recommended to provide young boy domestic workers with cash remuneration. Further, compulsory education would be recommended up to secondary school. Currently only primary education was required. Children from disadvantaged families who could not further their education after primary school would often seek jobs. The Ministry of Gender, Sports and Culture could provide a bursary up until the age of 18, however. A related action plan addressing education was underway.
The Government had not yet been able to establish a Data Protection Commission for lack of funding. It would, however, consider it once the financial situation in the country stabilised. Telephone tapping was allowed by the Constitution through court orders. The Lesotho Communications Authority and the Media Institute of Lesotho were distinct bodies. The Authority was a regulatory body while the Institute was an advocacy body established under the Societies Act. Both, however, cooperated to train journalists in aspects such electoral reporting and mediation of disputes. The Media Policy passed in 2021 would serve as a guide in the review and repeal of all media-related policies in the country. Four suspects had been arrested in the investigation into the death of the radio journalist in May. The police statement noted that his death was not related to freedom of expression.
The Government sought support from foreign judges in high profile cases. In the court of appeals, all judges were foreign nationals, except for the president of the court. The judiciary had recommended increasing local judges from 16 to 19 with accompanying prosecutors, however appointments had been delayed for lack of funding. The Government would appreciate any aid in this respect. Judges could not alone be blamed for delays, as prosecutor and private lawyers postponed cases unnecessarily.
The nine new High Court judges were recruited through transparent processes, including publicly advertised positions, as well as public, live broadcasted interviews for vetted candidates. The Witness Protection Act of 2021 prevented intimidation of witnesses. Lesotho intended to transform its courts. All judges, including the Chief Justice, would be appointed by the King, acting on recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission. Further, the country intended to establish a permanent court of appeals, which would be called the Supreme Court. Judges would retire at 75 years old or after serving a term for 15 years, whichever came first. Judges could be also removed by the King, acting on advice of the Judicial Service Commission. Following reforms, judges would still be removed following the Commission’s advice. The Commission would receive a complaint of incompetence, form a tribunal to investigate and then advise on what action to take.
The Public Meetings and Processions Act of 2010 related to freedom of assembly. Requests to hold demonstrations were submitted to the police, which accepted or denied the request within 48 hours. A request for an urgent demonstration would be responded to in 24 hours. In 2019, the Social Revolutions Party held a demonstration following the denial of their request. The court ruled in their favour on the grounds of freedom of assembly. Lesotho respected its constitutional rights.
The National Reforms Authority was dissolved in 2022 and the National Transitional Reforms Authority was established, which was a secretariat body charged with disseminating information and coordinating stakeholders in the reforms process. The reforms process had not been embarked upon and therefore did not have a noticeable effect on elections. 2022 elections were observed by United Nations, European Union and bilateral partner representatives. The elections were declared free and fair. There were only small logistical challenges such as weather-related delays.
Lesotho had extended all rights to bargaining to all workers including in the public sector. International Labour Organization Convention 151 on labour relations in the public sector had been ratified and reflected in legislation approved in 2023. It allowed public officers to join unions of their choice and to participate in strikes. Legislation would be further amended in line with Experts’ recommendations.
The judiciary was hamstrung by a lack of resources, which indeed affected its independence. Its yearly funding could be increased only through an act of parliament. The Judicial Service Commission was made up of four people: a Chairperson, one High Court Judge, the Attorney General and the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission. Following intended reforms, the Commission would be expanded to include a civil society representative.
Health care facilities in correction centres had qualified staff and were in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health to ensure monitoring of standards of care. Three main healthcare centres dealt with inmate and staff health throughout the country. Dispensaries also existed within prisons. It helped that many prisons were near hospitals, ensuring access to healthcare. Some measures to address overcrowding included faster trials and parole issued for good behaviour. There was a shortage of prison facilities for women and juvenile offenders in the south, however. Offenders were therefore processed through the court and prison system in Maseru, which created financial and logistical problems.
Public and government officials, including all ministers and the Prime Minister, declared their assets yearly. Declaration for judges and all other officials would follow and be overseen by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences.
The Government, in collaboration with the University of Lesotho, had developed a training manual for police on investigating crimes without the use of torture. The delegation was confident that with civil society and non-governmental organisations’ participation, the frequency of torture would decrease. There was no law addressing torture in law enforcement, but the Government could consider adopting a policy based on the Convention against Torture, to which Lesotho was a party.
The practice of arrest in advance of an investigation still occurred, but was not the way the Government encouraged the police to act. The State party was trying to address the issue and could improve its response. A lack of resources impeded on-the-ground work. The police had only one laboratory, five ballistic experts, four fingerprint experts, no psychiatrists and one general practitioner. The delegation requested financial aid to remedy the situation.
Political parties were registered under the Societies Act. Lesotho was a multiparty democracy. There were 65 political parties involved in the 2022 elections. No information was available on cases of attempts to block the formation of political parties.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Office was staffed by 47 prosecutors, with 22 being women and 25 being men. The Director was also a woman.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked for more information on non-custodial alternatives to pre-trial detention. What permits were required for police to carry out a search? It was refreshing to hear such frank honesty about the problems in the judiciary. It was important to recruit more judges to tackle the problem within the country. Was the Attorney General a member of Cabinet?
Another Expert noted the delegation’s response that financial problems were the main obstacle to the great reforms to be undertaken. The United Nations did sometimes provide assistance in terms of knowledge and budget.
Though the data protection commission was not established because of financial reasons, was there a timeline for its creation? How did media authorities ensure a diversity of political presences in the media? The delegation’s report on the death of the journalist in May was from the police. Had the case been brought before the judiciary?
A Committee Expert asked how the mechanism to combat torture functioned, considering that there was no law explicitly criminalising torture? Were convictions and sentences handed down to the 30 officers who had appeared before in court for allegations of torture?
Responses by the Delegation
As Lesotho was a vibrant democracy with a population of two million people, it had one main television network, almost 10 radio stations and around four newspapers, all of them independent. All political parties were given their fair share of time on televised and print media. All access was free and guaranteed.
Non-governmental organisations participated in the integration of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and were active in other human rights issues.
The delegation could not commit to a timeframe for the creation of the Data Protection Commission. Political life was given proper space in private media.
All four suspects involved in the murder of the journalist were remanded in custody and court proceedings were underway. However, the trial was slowed as one “trial within a trial” occurred when one of the accused claimed they were wrongfully accused. To imagine that the murder was politically motivated was shocking as the journalist was generally well-received. The police report noting the absence of political motivation was believable, but justice would decide.
No denial of registration of newspapers had occurred. There were indeed 16 newspapers in the country. Plans were in place for private broadcasting services to be disconnected from the Government, as maintenance on the Government’s receiver resulted in a temporary media shutdown. Another receiver would be established for private media to avoid this problem.
TANIA MARÍA ABDO ROCHOLL, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their cooperation and frank honesty during the dialogue, as well as civil society and members of academia for their contributions. Issued addressed during the dialogue included domestication of the Covenant, impunity, non-discrimination, reproductive rights, the excessive use of force, the prohibition of torture, child labour, the administration of justice and right to privacy.