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TITLE: LESOTHO HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE LESOTHO Lesotho held democratic elections in March, marking the end of 7 years of military rule and 23 years of unconstitutional rule. The Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) won all 65 seats in the Assembly (lower house) and formed a Government under Prime Minister Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle. The upper legislative house, the Senate, is comprised of the Kingdom's 22 principal chiefs and 10 members nominated by the Council of State. Given the absence in the Assembly of any opposition party representatives, the BCP offered to nominate 4 opposition party members among the 11 appointive Senate seats. Only one clearly identified opposition politician accepted. Several Cabinet members were also appointed from the ranks of the opposition. Coincident with the assumption of power by the BCP Government on April 2, Lesotho's new Constitution came into force. After the election, controversy over who should rightfully occupy Lesotho's throne died down. King Letsie III continued as monarch despite the presence of his father, ex-King Moshoeshoe II, who returned in 1992 from exile imposed by the military government in 1990. The new Constitution clearly defines the king's role as ceremonial. The Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF) of about 2,500 troops is responsible for internal and border security. The RLDF is assisted by the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police (RLMP) of about 2,000 men and women. The RLDF is responsible to the Minister of Defense (a portfolio held by the Prime Minister) while the RLMP answers to the Home Affairs Minister. However, both services' actions and policies are under the ultimate control of the service chiefs through the Defense Commission, not under the control of Parliament. Members of both forces occasionally beat or otherwise mistreat detainees. A landlocked country surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is almost entirely dependent on its sole neighbor for trade, finance, employment, and access to the outside world. A large proportion of the adult male work force is employed in South African mines. Miners' remittances play a substantial role in Lesotho's balance of payments, accounting for around 40 percent of gross national product in 1992. State-owned organizations predominate in the agroindustrial and agribusiness sectors, but private sector activity dominates in manufacturing and construction. Under Lesotho's traditional chieftainship structure, land is controlled by the chiefs and owned by the kingdom, precluding private ownership of property. Human rights in 1993 were accorded increased attention by the civilian Government but serious abuses occurred. The elections were peaceful, free, and fair, according to over 130 international observers, and during the election process the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly expanded. However, police brutality continued against detainees, criminal suspects, and trade unionists. No government action to curb police brutality was taken. The Government appeared to condone harsh police measures against legitimate trade union activities. Women's rights continued to be severely restricted. Parliament scaled back but did not completely remove restrictions on freedom of assembly. The Internal Security Act of 1984 (ISA), as amended in 1986, with its draconian limitations on basic civil and political liberties, including provisions for lengthy detentions without trial, remained in force. The Government acknowledged that a number of laws were inconsistent with human rights guarantees of the new Constitution but did not act to repeal them. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reported incidents of political killing in 1993, but local press and parliamentary inquiries identified at least two extrajudicial killings. The Government announced its intention to charge two RLMP troopers with murder in one case. Excesses by law enforcement agencies continued, including fatal shootings of criminal suspects. One person was killed by police during a labor dispute. There were no investigations into any of the dozens of allegations of police brutality, including deaths in custody, suffered prior to 1993 by trade unionists and criminal suspects. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically related disappearances in 1993. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Credible reports of police brutality, including beatings of detainees, continued during 1993. There were continued reports of random beatings of civilians by police and military personnel. On July 2, police attacked and clubbed trade unionists marching peacefully to present a petition; several marchers were hospitalized. There were several other incidents of police brutality against trade unionists, notably those involved in strikes against garment manufacturers. No known investigations or other official measures were launched as a result of these practices. Prison facilities are overcrowded and in need of repair. There was no progress on an investigation into allegations that RLDF Captain Samuel Tumo was tortured during his incarceration on a charge of murder in 1990. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile About a dozen cases of arbitrary arrest of trade unionists for violation of provisions of the ISA came to light in 1993. The General Secretary of the Construction and Allied Workers Union of Lesotho was arrested while leading a peaceful march July 2 for having failed to obtain prior police permission as then required under the ISA. Other arbitrary arrests occurred in the course of demonstrations against various factories by striking garment industry workers. In general, pretrial detainees constitute a significant portion of total prison population; up to one-half, in some locations. Pretrial remand can last several years. In civil and criminal cases, persons arrested or detained have the right to immediate consideration of habeas corpus appeals as well as the right to legal counsel. The 1981 Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, as amended in 1984, provides for the granting of bail. Under the Act, the High Court is the only judicial body empowered to grant bail in cases of armed robbery or homicide. Although it was acknowledged by the Government to be partly inconsistent with human rights guarantees in the new Constitution, the Internal Security (General) Act (ISA) of 1984 remained in force. The ISA provides for so-called investigative detention without charge or trial in political cases for up to 42 days (the first 14 days on order of the police; the second 14 days on order of the Police Commissioner; and the final 14 days on order of the Minister of Defense -- a portfolio now held by the Prime Minister). A political case is defined as involving "subversion," defined in the ISA to include "supporting, propagating, or advocating any act or thing prejudicial to public order, the security of Lesotho, or the administration of justice; connection, association, or affiliation with or support for an unlawful organization;" and other similarly loosely defined transgressions, most within the judgment of a police officer. During the second stage of the detention, ministerially appointed "advisers" (all of whom have to date been government employees) are available to report on the health of the detainee, investigate whether the detainee has been involved in subversive activities, and advise the Minister of Defense whether continued detention is needed. Detainees under the ISA may make representation about their own treatment only through the adviser. The ISA also allows for detention of witnesses in security cases. There were no known detentions under the ISA in 1993; legal professionals held that any such attempt to detain persons would promptly be declared unconstitutional by the High Court. The ISA also allows the Minister of Defense to "restrict" a person who, in the opinion of the Police Commissioner, is conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to public order, security, administration of justice, or obedience to the law or lawful authority; there were no known "restrictions" in 1993. The ISA was used in 1993 to charge trade unionists with illegal assembly, although no unionist was ever brought to trial. Pressure from Parliament and the Lesotho Human Rights Alert Group grew throughout 1993 to scrap the ISA in order to bring Lesotho's Legal Code into compliance with the Constitution. At year's end, Parliament was debating establishment of a law reform commission which would review all laws for consistency with the Constitution and each other. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judiciary consists of the Court of Appeal (which meets semiannually), the High Court, magistrate's courts, and customary or traditional courts, which exist largely in rural areas to administer customary law. Judges on the High Court are relatively independent; magistrates appear more susceptible to governmental or chieftainship influence. The Court of Appeal's early 1993 release on bail of a royalist army officer convicted of conspiracy to murder, a person greatly feared by the then ruling military council, demonstrated its independence. Court decisions and rulings are respected by the authorities and are generally free of interference by the executive. Accused persons have and use the right to counsel and public trials. The courts have acted to limit infringements of law on numerous occasions in past years, e.g., the April 1988 annulment on procedural grounds of the state of emergency, which, however, the military government then in power quickly reinstituted. Under the system of Roman-Dutch law applied in Lesotho, there is no trial by jury. Criminal trials are normally adjudicated by a single High Court judge who presides, with two assessors serving in an advisory capacity. In civil cases, judges normally hear cases alone. The High Court also provides procedural and substantive advice and guidance on matters of legal procedure to military tribunals; however, it does not participate in arriving at judgments. Military tribunals have jurisdiction only over military cases. An inquiry into the 1986 slayings of two former Cabinet ministers and their wives, initiated by the Attorney General in November 1989, resulted in the arrest, trial, and conviction of two military personnel; those convictions were upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1993. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence Although search warrants are usually required, the ISA provides police with sweeping powers to enter and search homes and cars without a warrant when the presence of explosives or the "unlawful use of radio transmitters" is suspected. Such searches occurred generally in the context of police operations against criminal activity, primarily theft. The Government is believed routinely to monitor telephone conversations of senior officials and some foreigners on national security grounds. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Prior to March 1993 elections, the government-controlled press continued editorial warnings to royalists and partisans of ex-King Moshoeshoe II against interference in the elections during the weeks leading up to the vote. Political meetings were covered impartially, and all political parties were allotted time by government-controlled media. Following the election, the new Minister of Information and Broadcasting encouraged the independent and government-owned media to report impartially on newsworthy events. Opposition viewpoints were routinely expressed in the independent press, which consisted of Sesotho-language weekly newspapers published by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lesotho Evangelical Church, and two independent English-language weeklies. The Government controls the official media (one radio station, a 1-hour daily newscast on a local television channel, and two weekly newspapers) and ensures that they faithfully reflect official views. Prior to the elections, however, the Government made available free time on television and radio to each of the 16 contesting political parties. There were charges that government media gave favorable preelectoral coverage to the political activities of the Basotho National Party (BNP). Academic freedom was generally respected. Political meetings were held on the National University campus during the election campaign. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The police prevented several peaceful assemblies of union members in 1993. Prior to the elections, the Government prevented several planned public meetings of supporters of ex-King Moshoeshoe II. However, political party meetings and rallies, particularly those held by the two main parties, the BCP and BNP, occurred regularly throughout the country in preparation for the vote. Nonpolitical organizations and professional groups were freely formed and allowed to hold public and regular meetings. Under a mid-1993 revision of the ISA, a public meeting, rally, or march no longer requires prior police permission, only advance notification. Police or local authorities may still restrict or prohibit such gatherings on loosely defined "public order" grounds. c. Freedom of Religion There is no state religion. Free and open religious practice is permitted and encouraged. Christianity is nominally the dominant faith of the majority of Basotho, and Roman Catholicism has the most adherents, although less than half of the population. A significant Protestant minority is composed of the Lesotho Evangelical Church, the Anglican Church, and a number of smaller denominations. Conversion is permitted. No apparent social or political benefit or stigma is attached to belonging to any particular church. There are no barriers to missionary activity or work by foreign clergy. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Citizens generally are allowed to move freely within the country and across national boundaries. The Government distinguishes between "international" passports and "local" passports. The latter, which are the more readily available, are for use only in travelling to South Africa, as many Basotho do on a regular basis for work or shopping. A refundable deposit of up to $730 (2,500 maluti), depending on the destination, is required to obtain an international passport, in theory to cover the cost of eventual repatriation if necessary. The Government places no obstacles in the way of its own citizens who wish to emigrate. As of late 1993, fewer than 100 refugees, the majority of them South Africans, who were registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been granted asylum in Lesotho. The local office of the UNHCR also reported over 4,000 South Africans in "refugee-like status;" most have lived in Lesotho for many years. There is no forced resettlement of refugees. The UNHCR closed its Lesotho office in mid-1993, owing to the lack of new refugee cases. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens exercised their right to choose their own government in 1993 for the first time in over 20 years. The March 27 multiparty elections were judged free and fair by over 130 international observers. Under its new Constitution, Lesotho has a democratically elected Parliament with universal suffrage for those over 21, an independent judiciary, and a constitutional monarch. National elections are to be held again no later than 1998. The Constitution is based largely on the independence Constitution of 1966, modified by the National Constituent Assembly which met intermittently from 1990 to 1992. The new civilian Cabinet includes Lesotho's first female cabinet minister. While there are no legal impediments to women's participation in government or politics, many practical impediments exist. As noted in Section 5, married women are considered minors under law, requiring permission from their husbands for basic business activities (e.g., opening a bank account). Single women face a social stigma that mitigates against their achieving senior positions in the private or public sector (although there are prominent exceptions, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief civil servant. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government did not hinder the activities of the Lesotho Human Rights Alert Group, the umbrella nongovernmental organization (NGO) formed in 1992, which aimed to bring under its leadership all other NGO's active in human rights issues. Union allegations of worker rights' violations and official anti-unionism were aired by the media, including government-controlled media. The Government worked closely with the International Labor Organization (ILO) in preparing and implementing a new labor code. Section 5 Discrimination based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Women The rights of women are severely limited by both law and custom in such areas as property, inheritance, and contracts. Women have the legal and customary right to make a will and sue for divorce. However, under Lesotho's customary law, a married woman is considered a minor during the lifetime of her husband; she cannot enter into any legally binding contract, whether for employment, commerce, or education, without her husband's consent. A woman married under customary law has no standing in court and may not sue or be sued without her husband's permission. Women traditionally have been the stabilizing force in the home and in the agricultural sector, given the absence of tens of thousands of Basotho men who work in South Africa. More female than male children complete primary and secondary schools, and literacy rates are estimated to be higher among women than among men. No government has seriously addressed the issue of women's rights. Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs frequently. Statistics are not available, but the extent of the problem is thought to be great. In Basotho tradition, a wife may return to her "maiden home" if physically abused by her husband; in the common law, wife beating is a criminal offense and defined as assault. A 1976 High Court case reversed a Roman-Dutch legal tradition which recognized a husband's right to chastise his wife at will. Women's rights organizations have formed. The local chapter of the International Federation of Woman Lawyers has taken a leading role in educating Basotho women about their rights under customary and common law and highlighted the importance of women's full participation in the democratization process. Women in Business is an advocacy group that seeks to promote the empowerment of independent businesswomen. Children The Government devotes substantial resources to primary and secondary education, and enrollment rates are relatively high. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children. Young "herdboys" live a rigorous and harsh existence tending their parents' cattle, sheep, or goat herds and often miss formal schooling as a result. This practice constitutes a socially entrenched rite of passage. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Most citizens speak a common language and share common historical and cultural traditions. Small numbers of Asians (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) and South African whites are active in the country's commercial life. Economic and racial tension between the Chinese business community, specifically textile industry employers, and the Basotho remained an issue in 1993. There was no generalized, ethnically based violence as occurred in 1991, but foreign shop owners remained subject to the 1987 Trading Enterprise Order, which calls on foreign owners to enter into joint ventures with Basotho nationals. Although equity transfers would entail compensation and the program has not been strongly enforced, it remains a concern to non-Basotho businesspeople. People with Disabilities The Government has not legislated or mandated physical accessibility to public buildings for the handicapped. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers have the legal right to join or form unions without prior government authorization. A large portion of the active male labor force between the ages of 20 and 44 seeks work in the Republic of South Africa, mainly in gold and coal mines. Most of the remainder are engaged in traditional agriculture. The rest are employed mainly by the Government and in small industries and enterprises in Lesotho. A majority of Basotho mineworkers are members of the South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Because the NUM is a foreign organization, it is not permitted to engage in union activities in Lesotho. Under a new Labor Code, prepared with the assistance of the ILO and effective in April, all trade union federations were required to seek government registration. The Government has withheld registration from the Congress of Democratic Unions (CDU) since its formation by four recognized independent unions in 1991. The Labor Commissioner maintained in 1993 that the CDU still did not meet registration requirements under the new code, but the authorities took no action to inhibit CDU activities. The Government's refusal to register the CDU was in part an effort to require it to join a rival federation, the officially recognized Lesotho Labor Congress (LLC), composed of 24 affiliated trade unions. Overall, unionized workers represent only about 10 percent of the total work force. The Lesotho Allied Clothing and Textile Workers Union is the only major industrial union within the LLC. All major unions professed political neutrality in the elections. After the elections, tension increased dramatically between labor and employers, with particularly frequent and violent confrontations occurring in the textile and garment industries. Although the newly elected Government voiced no hostility toward unions, it appeared to condone harsh police measures against wildcat strikers, including teargassing, beatings, and detentions or arrest. Settlement procedures are so lengthy and cumbersome that no legally sanctioned strike has occurred in Lesotho since independence in 1966. Dozens of strikes occurred in 1993, particularly amid heightened expectations among workers after the March elections, but none was recognized as "legal" by the Government. Legal protection for strikers against retribution has not been enforced in cases of illegal strikes; several hundred workers in the textile industry were dismissed in 1993 following wildcat strikes, and the Government maintained it could not oblige their employers to reinstate them. Workers engaged in peaceful assembly were in 1993 harassed by police. In one case, members of the Construction and Allied Workers Union of Lesotho (CAWULE) were in early July teargassed, assaulted, and arrested when attempting to march peacefully to deliver a petition to the Minister of Labor. CAWULE members were charged with violating the Internal Security Act of 1984 by failing to obtain permission to march; CAWULE claimed that it had requested such permission but the police never responded. The ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association noted the Government's 1993 response to a complaint lodged in 1992 concerning intimidation of CAWULE activities at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project construction site. The Committee, however, asked to be kept informed of developments in this case, reflecting an incomplete governmental response to charges made. There were no instances in 1993 of governmental restrictions on international affiliations or contacts by unions or their members. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively All legally recognized trade unions in Lesotho in principle have the right in law to organize and bargain collectively, but exercise of these rights is often thwarted. There was some minor bargaining between unions and employers to set wage and benefit rates in 1993, although wage rates continued to be set primarily through unilateral action by employers. Credible reports of government acquiescence to private employers' intimidation of union officials continued. In one case, members of a local executive committee of the Lesotho Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (LACTWU) were prevented by police from meeting. An Unfair Labor Practices Tribunal investigates unfair labor practices and charges of antiunion discrimination. Both the LLC- and CDU-affiliated unions charge the Government with maintaining an antiunion bias. Lesotho has several industrial estates grouping together companies, mostly textile and apparel firms, engaged in manufacturing for export. All national labor laws apply in these industrial zones, but LACTWU officials charge that the Government colludes with industry employers to inhibit union organizational activities in the workplace. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the 1987 Employment Act, and there is no indication of its practice. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age for employment in commercial or industrial enterprises is 15. Persons under age 16 may not work more than 4 consecutive hours without a 1-hour break, nor may they work more than 8 hours per day. In practice, however, children under 14 are employed in family-owned businesses. The employment of minors in commercial, industrial, or nonfamily enterprises involving hazardous or dangerous working conditions is prohibited. Basotho under 18 years of age may not be recruited for employment outside the country. Enforcement of these laws by inspectors of the Ministry of Labor and Employment is lax. In Lesotho's traditional society, rigorous working conditions for the country's young "herdboys" are considered a prerequisite to manhood and a fundamental feature of Basotho culture beyond the reach of labor laws. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work Wages are extremely low. The Government, following the recommendation of a tripartite wages advisory board, last raised the statutory minimum wage rates for various types of work in 1992. Monthly minimum wage rates in the established categories range from the equivalent of $75 for a messenger to $144 for a heavy-vehicle driver. At the low end, wages at these rates are insufficient for a minimum decent standard of living for a worker and family. Most wage earners supplement their monthly income through subsistence agriculture or remittances from relatives employed in South Africa. Many employers in Lesotho now pay more than minimum wages in an effort to attract and retain motivated employees. The 1993 Labor Code spells out basic worker rights, including a 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, 12 days' paid leave per year, and paid public holidays. Employers are required to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees, and to install and maintain machinery in ways which minimize the risk of injury. In practice, these regulations are generally followed only within the wage economy and are enforced haphazardly by inspectors from the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Labor and Employment. Staff shortages in the Ministry limit effective enforcement to the major urban areas.
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