The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar

TITLE:  LESOTHO HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                            LESOTHO


Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy.  For most of the year, 
Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhele and his Basotholand Congress Party 
(BCP), which won all 65 seats in the lower house of Parliament 
in the 1993 elections, controlled the Government and the 
legislature.  After holding open several appointive Senate 
seats for the opposition Basotho National Party (BNP), the BCP 
Government finally filled the vacancies in early 1994 with BCP 
members, further exacerbating BCP-BNP tensions.  Following 
serious fighting within the military early in the year, King 
Letsie III touched off a constitutional crisis by suspending 
Parliament and parts of the Constitution and ruled by decree 
during August and September.

Although the King has no executive authority under the 1993 
Constitution, he justified the suspension of Parliament by 
alleging that the BCP-led Government had ignored several 
constitutional provisions.  The King demanded the return of his 
father to the throne, former King Moshoeshoe II, who had been 
deposed by the previous military government and exiled in 
1990.  Under national and international pressure, the King and 
political leaders reached an agreement in September to restore 
the Constitution and reinstate the BCP Government, with the 
Government committing itself to address speedily the royal 
family's insistence that King Moshoeshoe II return.  At year's 
end, the BCP Government struggled to bridge the political 
divisions and constitutional weaknesses highlighted by the 
palace coup.

The Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) is responsible for internal and 
border security, assisted by the Lesotho Mounted Police (LMP).  
While the LDF is nominally responsible to the Defense Minister 
and the LMP to the Home Affairs Minister, both services' 
actions and policies are under the ultimate control of the 
Defense Commission, which is independent of Parliament.  In 
January the LDF split into factions that battled one another 
across Maseru, causing several civilian casualties.  In April 
LDF soldiers briefly held hostage several government ministers 
and killed the Deputy Prime Minister.  In May the LMP went on 
strike over pay demands and in some cases encouraged looting of 
unprotected businesses.  Both the LDF and the LMP supported 
King Letsie's August coup, and the security forces shot and 
killed demonstrators and reportedly perpetrated acts of torture 
and other human rights abuses during the month-long 
constitutional suspension.

A land-locked 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 1994.  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 land.

Throughout the year, security forces and political activists 
committed serious human rights abuses.  Against a backdrop of 
sustained political tension, there were serious lapses in both 
LDF and LMP discipline and professionalism.  Military and 
police personnel engaged in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary 
arrest and detention of persons, and torture and physically 
abuse of senior government officials and many others.  As a 
result of complex political circumstances, the weakened BCP 
Government took no action to curb military and police brutality 
or to punish the offenders.  The Government acknowledged that a 
number of preexisting laws were inconsistent with human rights 
provisions of the new Constitution but did not act to repeal 
the laws.  For example, the legal provisions that allowed for 
lengthy detentions without trial continued in force.  Women's 
rights continued to be severely restricted, and violence 
against women remained widespread.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Security forces committed a number of political and 
extrajudicial killings of civilians through factional battles, 
several mutinous actions, or in efforts to oust the elected 
Government.  In April LDF soldiers killed Deputy Prime Minister 
Selometsi Baholo during an apparent kidnaping attempt, and in 
early January, three soldiers were killed and at least eight 
civilians wounded in fighting between LDF factions in the 
capital.  In December police allegedly beat to death a senior 
figure of the now-disbanded Lesotho Liberation Army, the armed 
wing of the BCP, while under arrest for suspected criminal 
activities.

In August the security forces, who supported the King, fired 
into large demonstrations by supporters of the BCP Government, 
killing five persons outside Maseru's royal palace gates.  LDF 
and LMP forces killed another five persons during celebrations 
of the impending Government's reinstatement, held in violation 
of a dusk-to-dawn curfew.  Police also killed at least one BCP 
protester in southern Lesotho during a march against BNP 
opposition politicians.

The authorities did not investigate or prosecute any law 
enforcement officials in 1994 for any extrajudicial or summary 
killing.  They also failed to investigate the many reports of 
police brutality, including pre-1994 reports of deaths in 
police custody of a number of unionists and criminal suspects.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically related disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

There continued to be credible reports of police brutality, 
including beatings of detainees in 1994.  Police tortured one 
Member of Parliament by continuously pouring water on him 
during extended detention after he led a progovernment march 
during the August coup.  There were numerous credible reports 
of random security force brutality against curfew violators 
during August and September, usually in the form of beatings.

In general, prison facilities in Lesotho are overcrowded and in 
disrepair, but do not threaten the health or lives of inmates.  
Conditions are not monitored independently.  Rape is not a 
significant problem in prisons.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

During the April and May mutinies, LDF and LMP members 
arbitrarily arrested and detained cabinet members and other 
senior government officials.  They arrested dozens of striking 
workers at various textile factories and construction sites.

In general, pretrial detainees constitute a significant portion 
of total prison population; up to one-half, in some locations.  
Because of backlogs, pretrial remand can last several years.

Persons detained or arrested in criminal cases, and defendants 
in civil cases, have the right to legal counsel.  The 1981 
Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, as amended in 1984, makes 
provision for the granting of bail.  Bail is granted regularly 
and generally fairly.

Although the Government acknowledged that the Internal Security 
(General) Act (ISA) of 1984 is partly inconsistent with human 
rights provisions in the new Constitution, the ISA remains in 
force.  The Act 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 involves "subversion," a 
term loosely defined in the ISA to include "any act or thing 
prejudicial to public order, the security of Lesotho, or the 
administration of justice."  The Act also allows for detention 
of witnesses in security cases and permits 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, or the administration of 
justice.

There were no known restrictions or detentions under the Act in 
1994; legal professionals held that any such attempt to detain 
persons would promptly be declared unconstitutional by the High 
Court.  There were no known political detainees at year's end.

     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.  The High Court Chief 
Justice's decision in August to swear in a provisional ruling 
council after King Letsie's coup, in defiance of the 
Constitution, raised new questions about the independence of 
the judiciary.  In particular, magistrates appear susceptible 
to governmental or chieftainship influence.  Accused persons 
have and use the right to counsel and public trial.  The 
authorities generally respect court decisions and rulings.

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, and their decisions may 
not be appealed.

There were no trials for political offenses in 1994.  There are 
no known political prisoners.  Lesotho's law and custom 
severely limit the rights of women (see Section 5), but court 
treatment of women is not known to be discriminatory in itself.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

Although search warrants are usually required under normal 
circumstances, the ISA provides police with wide powers to stop 
and search persons and vehicles and to enter homes and other 
places for similar purposes without a warrant.  After the May 
LMP mutiny, police officers entered without warrant dozens of 
residences in the Maseru neighborhoods of Sea Point and 
Matimposo, allegedly seeking looted property.  The security 
services are believed to monitor routinely telephone 
conversations of Basotho and foreigners on national security 
grounds.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for these rights, which are generally 
respected in practice.  However, the King suspended the 
Constitution during the August-September palace coup, and 
security force personnel censored the official media outlets to 
reflect antigovernment positions.  Under the elected 
Government, the official media, which consist of one radio 
station, a 1-hour daily newscast on a local television channel, 
and two weekly newspapers, faithfully reflect official 
positions.

The independent newspapers, including one each controlled by 
the Roman Catholic and Lesotho Evangelical churches, and two 
English-language weeklies, routinely criticized the 
Government.  Independent newspapers covered coup events, but 
security forces intimidated some journalists into practicing 
self-censorship during this period.

Academic freedom is generally respected.  Students staged 
political meetings on the National University campus in 
response to the palace coup.  However, the university 
Vice-Chancellor warned the teaching staff that openly political 
activities were incompatible with their civil service status.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under a mid-1993 revision of the ISA, a public meeting, rally, 
or march no longer requires prior police permission, only 
advance notification.  However, police or local authorities 
repeatedly interfered with this right.

In August after the palace coup, LDF and LMP forces killed and 
wounded several demonstrators when they dispersed a large crowd 
of peaceful progovernment protestors.  Police also used 
excessive force to enforce the curfew instituted between  
August and September (see also Section 1.a.).

In addition to the BCP and the BNP, there are several smaller 
political parties.  Political party meetings and rallies 
occurred regularly throughout Lesotho in 1994.  There are no 
restrictions on political parties.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion, and all faiths may worship free of 
government restriction.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens generally are able to move freely within the country 
and across national boundaries.  The Government places no 
obstacles in the way of citizens who wish to emigrate.

As of late 1994, the Government had allowed about 25 refugees 
to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees (UNHCR) to study in Lesotho.  They were expected to 
return to their countries of first asylum after completing 
their studies.  Other than these students, Lesotho has no 
resident refugee population.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

After the first multiparty democratic elections in over 20 
years in 1993, the elected BCP Government was forced to contend 
with its first serious threat to power.  The August coup, 
instigated by King Letsie III, inspired many Basotho to 
demonstrate their support for the democractically elected BCP 
Government.  Organized labor and others held two national 
"stayaways" to demonstrate support for the ousted Government, 
and there were numerous rallies at the National University.  As 
a result of both local and international pressure, in 
September, the King reversed the coup and the BCP regained 
control of the Government.  An agreement between the King and 
Prime Minister Mokhehle, brokered by South Africa, Botswana, 
and Zimbabwe, called for the reinstatement of ex-King 
Moshoeshoe II, Letsie's father, in addition to steps to broaden 
Lesotho's political process.  By December both houses of 
Parliament had passed a bill to return Moshoeshoe to the 
throne, and the Government was expected to act early in 1995 to 
arrange his return.

The King's suspension of the Constitution, although 
short-lived, highlighted the fragility of constitutional rule 
in Lesotho.  Opposition politicians who supported the palace 
coup called for new elections, but at year's end the Government 
indicated it had no plans to call elections prior to 1998.

There are no legal impediments to women's participation in 
government or politics, but women remained underrepresented in 
politics.  There is one woman in the Cabinet, as Minister of 
Health and Social Welfare.  There are 2 other female members of 
the Assembly (out of a total of 65), and 7 women (of 33) in the 
Senate.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Neither the Government nor the briefly installed palace regime 
hindered the activities of various nongovernmental human rights 
groups.  These groups freely criticized the Government and the 
coup regime.  The Government's attitude toward international 
human rights groups is untested, as Lesotho has not been 
visited during this Government's tenure.  However, there is no 
reason to believe the Government would be hostile to or oppose 
such a visit.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Language, Disability, or Social Status

The 1993 Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, 
color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, 
national or social origin, birth or other status.

     Women

Both law and custom severely limit the rights of women 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.  The Government has not addressed the issue of 
women's rights.

Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs frequently.  
Statistics are not available, but the problem is believed 
widespread.  In Basotho tradition a wife may return to her 
"maiden home" if physically abused by her husband; in common 
law, wife beating is a criminal offense and defined as 
assault.  Few domestic violence cases are brought to trial.  
Women's rights organizations, such as the local chapter of the 
International Federation of Women Lawyers, have taken a leading 
role in educating Basotho women as to their rights under 
customary and common law, highlighting the importance of women 
fully participating in the democratic process.

     Children

The Government has not addressed directly children's rights and 
welfare, although it has devoted substantial resources to 
primary and secondary education.  There is no pattern of 
societal abuse against children, but many children are working 
at a young age (see Section 6.d.).

     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 and garment industry employers, and the 
Basotho remained a problem.

     People with Disabilities

The Government has not legislated or mandated accessibility to 
public buildings for the handicapped.

Discrimination against physically disabled persons in 
employment, education, or provision of other government 
services is unlawful.  However, societal discrimination is 
commonplace.

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 percentage of 
Lesotho's male labor force works in South African gold and coal 
mines.  The remainder are primarily engaged in traditional 
agriculture.  There is a small public and industrial sector.  A 
majority of Basotho mineworkers are members of the South 
African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).  However, as a 
foreign organization, the NUM is not permitted to engage in 
union activities in Lesotho.

Under the 1993 Labor Code, prepared with the assistance of the 
International Labor Organization (ILO), all trade union 
federations require government registration.  Lesotho's 
previously existing trade union federations, the Lesotho Labor 
Congress and the Congress of Democratic Unions, attempted to 
merge but split again in 1994, to form the Lesotho Trade Union 
Congress (LTUC) and the Lesotho Federation of Democratic Unions 
(LFDU).  The Government registered neither federation but made 
no attempt to inhibit either federation's activities.  Unions 
are not tied to political parties.

Overall, unionized workers represent only about 10 percent of 
the total work force.  After the Government granted substantial 
wage and benefit concessions to the LDF and LMP in June, 1994, 
labor movement militancy increased.  There were dozens of 
strikes in the textile, garment, and construction sectors.  The 
Government did not stop security forces from occasionally 
violently suppressing workers participating in wildcat strikes, 
including by tear gas, beatings, and detentions.

Procedures for settling disputes are lengthy and cumbersome, 
and no legally sanctioned strike has ever occurred in Lesotho 
since independence in 1966.  The Government recognized none of 
the dozens of strikes in 1994 as "legal."  Legal protection for 
strikers against retribution has not been enforced in cases of 
illegal strikes; employers dismissed several hundred workers in 
the textile industry following wildcat strikes, and the 
Government maintained it could not oblige their employers to 
reinstate them.

There were no instances in 1994 of governmental restrictions on 
international affiliations of contacts by unions or their 
members.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

All legally recognized trade unions in Lesotho in principle 
enjoy the right in law to organize and bargain collectively, 
but in practice the authorities often restrict these rights.  
Although there was some bargaining between unions and employers 
to set wage and benefit rates, employers generally continued to 
set wage rates through unilateral action.

Lesotho has several industrial zones, in which mostly textile 
and apparel firms engage in manufacturing for export.  All 
national labor laws apply in these industrial zones, but 
officials of the Lesotho Amalgamated Clothing Textile Workers 
Union charge that the Government colludes with employers to 
inhibit union organizational activities in the workplace.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1987 Employment Act prohibits forced or compulsory labor, 
and there is no indication that such labor is practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for employment in commercial or 
industrial enterprises is 14.  In practice, however, children 
under 14 are often employed in the textile and garment sector 
and in family owned businesses.  As much as 15 percent of the 
textile work force of some 12,000-15,000 may be children 
between the ages of 12 and 15, according to a 1994 U.S. 
Department of Labor study.  There are prohibitions against the 
employment of minors in commercial, industrial, or nonfamily 
enterprises involving hazardous or dangerous working 
conditions, but enforcement is very lax.  The Ministry of Labor 
and Employment's inspectorate is grossly understaffed.  Basotho 
under 18 years of age may not be recruited for employment 
outside of Lesotho.  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 low despite the Government's April decision to raise 
statutory minimum wages for various types of work.  Monthly 
minimum wages in the established categories range from the 
equivalent of $83 (294 Maloti) for an unskilled laborer to $161 
(565 Maloti) for a heavy vehicle driver.  At the low end, 
minimum wages are insufficient to ensure a minimum decent 
standard of living for a worker and family.  Most wage earners 
supplement their 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.  The Code 
requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and 
sanitary facilities for employees, and to install and maintain 
machinery to minimize the risk of injury.  In practice, 
employers generally follow these regulations only within the 
wage economy, in urban areas, and the Ministry of Labor and 
Employment enforces the regulations haphazardly.  The Labor 
Code does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove 
themselves from hazardous situations without prejudice to 
employment.  But Labor Code sections on safety in the 
workplace, and dismissal, imply that dismissal in such 
circumstances would not be legal.

(###)

[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.