Press Statement on the Promotion Mission of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Kingdom of Lesotho

    Following the invitation of the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a delegation of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ (“the Commission”) undertook a Promotion Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho from 3 to 7 September 2012, in line with its mandate under Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“the African Charter”).  

    This Promotion Mission which is a follow up of the first Mission conducted by the Commission in the country from 3 to 7 April 2006 is premised on the general situation in Lesotho, thematic issues related to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as prisons and conditions of detentions.

    The Terms of Reference of the Mission are as follows:

    ·         To promote the African Charter through the exchange of views and sharing of experiences with the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the main stakeholders working in the field of human rights, on how to improve the enjoyment of human rights in the country;

    ·         To raise awareness about the importance of the right to freedom of expression and access to information generally, as well as before and after elections;

    ·         To hold discussions with Prison Administrative Officials and other stakeholders on all issues relating to detention and prisons, and on the work of the Commission on this specific theme;

    ·         To visit prisons in Lesotho so as to assess the extent to which  conditions of detention comply with regional and international standards;

    ·         To raise awareness , and visibility of the Commission in Lesotho especially among the relevant Government departments and civil society organizations;

    ·         To encourage closer collaboration between the Commission and the Kingdom of Lesotho on the one hand, and between the Commission and civil society organizations in the country on the other;

    ·         To follow up on recommendations arising from the Concluding Observations  adopted by the Commission following its examination of Lesotho’s initial Report in 2000, submitted in accordance with the latter’s obligations under Article 62 of the African Charter;

    ·         To encourage Lesotho to be up to date with its Periodic Reports in accordance with Article 62 of the African Charter.

    The delegation of the Commission was comprised of:

    ·         Honourable Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, Commissioner responsible for monitoring human rights in Lesotho and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa;

    ·         Honourable Commissioner Med S.K Kaggwa, Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa; and

    ·         Ms. Irene Desiree Mbengue Eleke, Legal Officer at the Secretariat of the Commission in Banjul, The Gambia, assisted the Honourable Commissioners.

    During the Mission, the delegation met with various stakeholders at the high level in Government, civil society organisations, as well as other actors who are involved in the protection and promotion of human rights in Lesotho.

    The Mission started with a courtesy call to the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Thomas Thabane, who welcomed the Commission and noted that the Mission is critical at this stage when a new Government has been formed, which will serve as a good ground for the Commission to carry on with the objectives of the Mission more appropriately. He committed to supporting the Commission throughout the Mission.

    The delegation also paid a courtesy call to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of Lesotho, Honourable Mr. Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa, where it formally briefed the Honourable Minister on the purpose of the Mission. The Honourable Minister welcomed the Commission and noted that it has come after a peaceful democratic transition in the country, leading to a new Government. He reiterated the commitment of the Government of Lesotho to uphold international and regional human rights instruments such as the African Charter. He explained that Lesotho is committed to the work of the Commission and hopes that the delegation will meet with all relevant government institutions and civil society in order to understand the human rights issues in Lesotho.

    The delegation dialogued with:

    ·         His Lordship Chief Justice Mahapela L. Lehohla;

    ·         Honourable Mr. Lekhetho Rakuoane, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly;

    ·         Honourable Mr. Haee Edward Phoofolo, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, Correctional Service, and of Law and Constitutional Affairs;                        

    ·          Honourable Mr. Tšeliso Seth Mokhosi, Minister of Communications, Science and Technology;     

    ·          Mrs.  Matsoana Fanana, Ombudsman of Lesotho;

    ·          Mrs.  Matau Futho Letsatsi,    Director of Gender in the Ministry of Gender, Youths, Sports and Recreation.

    The delegation held discussions with:

    ·         The Electoral Commission of Lesotho;

    ·         The Director -General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences;                

    ·         The Police Complaints Authority;

    ·         The Inter-Sectoral Committee for Human Rights;                 

    ·         The Commissioner of Lesotho Correctional Services;           

    ·         Leaders of Political Parties;                                           

     

    ·         The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations;            

    ·         The Faculty of law of the National University of Lesotho;  

    ·         MISA and other Journalist Associations.      

    The delegation also visited the Central Prison of Maseru and the Correctional Centre of Maseru.

    After the various visits and exchanges, the delegation notes with satisfaction that efforts have been made by the Government of Lesotho and other stakeholders in realising the rights guaranteed by the African Charter to its citizens. In this regard, the delegation:

    • Commends the holding of a successful and peaceful election which has led to a coalition Government in Lesotho;
    • Welcomes the Draft Media Policy which amongst other things advocates for the establishment of a Media Ombudsman, Media Council, and Code of Ethics for journalists and media practitioners;
    • Commends Lesotho for ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,  the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa ( “the Maputo Protocol”),  the Protocol Establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“the Protocol”), and other regional human rights instruments;
    • Notes with satisfaction the programmes, activities and strategies put in place to realise gender equality and promote the rights of women and girls in Lesotho;
    • Appreciates the incorporation of human rights in the curriculum of the faculty of law, University of Lesotho, designed to provide educational and research opportunities in observance of and respect for international human rights and fundamental freedoms;
    • Further appreciates the inclusion of Non-Governmental Organisations (“NGOs”)  in the Inter-Sectoral Committee for Human Rights;   
    • Commends the Lesotho Correctional Services in the application of sub-regional, regional and international instruments in their work;
    • Acknowledges the ongoing renovations in Lesotho Prisons.            

    The delegation is however concerned about Lesotho’s non-compliance with Article 62 of the African Charter with five (5) outstanding Reports, and calls on the Government of Lesotho to submit its Reports in the nearest future. The delegation also encourages the Government to involve the civil society in the compilation of the Periodic Reports.

    With respect to freedom of expression, the delegation notes the existence of   laws that criminalise expression such as criminal defamation and insult laws. The delegation urges the Government of Lesotho to repeal such laws, and support the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the Commission in her campaign to decriminalise defamation and insult laws on the continent.

    Additionally, while commending the initiation of a Draft Media Policy, the delegation is also urging the Minister of Communications of Lesotho to expedite the adoption of the draft Media Policy.

    Regarding access to information, the delegation notes with concern, the absence of an Access to Information Law in Lesotho and urges the Government to give priority to the adoption of an Access to Information law on its reform Agenda.

    The delegation encourages the Government of Lesotho to transform the State Broadcaster into a Public Broadcaster with an independent board.

    On prisons, the delegation notes with concern the overcrowded nature and conditions of the Maseru Central Prison, and calls on the Government of Lesotho to expedite the renovation of Wing B of the same.  

    On women, while appreciating the political will of the Government of Lesotho to promote and protect their rights, the delegation is however concerned that woman in textile industries/factories are entitled to only six (6) weeks of maternity leave, as opposed to twelve (12) weeks given to employed women in the public and private sectors. This practice is discriminatory and a violation of these women’s rights under the African Charter and the Maputo Protocol. In this regard, the delegation recommends the adoption of laws that provide equal treatment with respect to maternity leave to women in all works of life.

    The delegation is also concerned that women in Lesotho cannot pass citizenship to their children and spouses, and urges for a revision of this position by the Government of Lesotho.

    The delegation notes with concern the continued application of customs and tradition that hamper the full enjoyment of human rights by women in Lesotho.

    It notes with satisfaction that legal framework aimed at guaranteeing human rights exist in Lesotho, including inter alia, the Gender and Development Policy, the Land Administration Act, the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act and the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act. However implementation of these laws is slow in some instances. The delegation calls on the Government of Lesotho to formulate strategies of implementation so as to ensure effective protection of human rights for its populace.

    The delegation notes the delay in appointing members of the Police Complaint Authority which has negatively impacted on its mandate to deal with complaints against the conduct of the police force. Accordingly, the process of appointing members should be accelerated.

    The delegation also calls on the Government of Lesotho to speed up the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles so as to protect and promote human rights in the country.

    On the question of the death penalty, the delegation appreciates the fact that no death sentence has been carried out since 1995. However it is concerned that death penalty still remains in the statute books of Lesotho. The delegation encourages the Government of Lesotho to carry on debates on this issue at the level of the society and other actors.

    The delegation also urges Parliament to pass a formal Resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty.

    The delegation reiterates its appeal for Lesotho to sign the Declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol, which allows direct access to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

    The Government of Lesotho is also called upon to ratify the following instruments:

    • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty; and
    • The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

    Finally, the delegation calls on Lesotho to remove the reservation made upon its ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This reservation allows women to be discriminated against, in different aspects of their lives.

    The delegation wishes to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and its people for their very warm reception, hospitality, and openness during this Mission. The Commission is truly grateful to the Government for the facilities and services placed at its disposal during the Mission, and singles out for special gratitude, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations and the Ministry of Justice, for the excellent arrangements put in place which enabled the delegation to meet a cross section of the Lesotho society in order to have a fairly representative view of the human rights situation in the country.

    The delegation will prepare a Report of the Mission which will be presented to the Commission for consideration during its 53rd Ordinary Session, and onward transmission to the Government of Lesotho. Without in any way pre-empting the content of the Report, the delegation wishes to note that Lesotho is making good progress in the direction of realising for its people, the rights enshrined in the African Charter.

                                      Done in Maseru, Lesotho, this 7th Day of September 2012

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