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Title: Lesotho Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 LESOTHO Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle of the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) is the Head of Government. Since winning free and fair elections in 1993, the BCP has controlled the Government and Parliament. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King has no executive authority. In 1994 King Letsie III unconstitutionally suspended Parliament and installed a Ruling Council. Local and international pressure led to a rapid return of constitutional government. The security forces consist of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), the Lesotho Mounted Police (LMP), and the National Security Service (NSS). The three services are under the control of the Defense Commission comprised of the Prime Minister, the LDF Commander, Deputy LDF Commander, LMP Commissioner, Deputy LMP Commissioner, and Director of the NSS. However, the Commission is independent of Parliament, and the civil Government exerts little control over the security forces. Although there were fewer disturbances and human rights abuses than in 1994, security forces continued arbitrarily to detain and harass government officials. Some police personnel engaged in looting during a May salary dispute. The BCP Government took no action to punish the offenders in these incidents or in the more extensive disturbances of 1994. 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 account for around 40 percent of the gross national product (GNP). Real gross domestic product grew an estimated 7.5 percent during 1995 with inflation predicted at less than 8 percent. Per capita GNP was approximately $690. State-owned organizations predominate in the agro- industrial 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. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be problems in some areas. Lack of discipline in the security forces led to continued arbitrary detentions and harassment. The Government acknowledged that a number of pre- existing 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 detention without trial continued in force. The authorities did not investigate or prosecute anyone for extrajudicial killings and brutality committed in previous years. 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 In August a student at the National University, Edward Fobo, was shot and killed allegedly by a member of the LDF and others. A soldier and a civilian have been arrested while the Government investigates this incident which does not appear to have been politically motivated. However, the authorities did not investigate or prosecute any security officials for the extrajudicial or summary killings committed during the political unrest of 1994. They also failed to investigate 1994 reports of police brutality, as well as pre-1994 reports of deaths in police custody of a number of unionists and criminal suspects. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment In March the President of the Lesotho Law Society, K. Thabang Khauoe, was detained and physically abused by members of the LMP. Khauoe had legally challenged the restoration of King Moshoeshoe II. Moreover, the Government did not investigate the numerous incidents that occurred in 1994 and previous years. 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. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Members of the NSS arbitrarily detained cabinet members and other senior government officials. In June then Foreign Minister Mpho Malie was forced out of his car and obliged to walk home by persons believed to work for the NSS. Then Foreign Ministry Principal Secretary Nthabiseng Monoko also reported being interrogated and having her car temporarily confiscated by NSS personnel. NSS officials also reportedly detained and harassed a number of other lower level government officials. 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 Act (ISA) of 1984 is partly inconsistent with the new Constitution, the ISA remains 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 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 acting in a manner prejudicial to public order, security, or the administration of justice. There were no known restrictions or detentions under the Act; 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. 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 1994 to swear in a provisional Ruling Council, 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. Lesotho's law and custom severely limit the rights of women (see Section 5), but court treatment of women is not discriminatory. There were no trials for political offenses. There were no reports of political prisoners. 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. 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. The independent newspapers, including one each controlled by the Roman Catholic and Lesotho Evangelical churches, and two English-language weeklies, routinely criticize the 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. 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, for example, police turned away striking teachers who were attempting to march through downtown Maseru. The Government did not investigate or prosecute any of the security personnel who killed and wounded several protestors at a peaceful 1994 progovernment demonstration. In addition to the BCP and the Basotholand National Party (BNP), there are several smaller political parties. Political party meetings and rallies occurred regularly throughout Lesotho. There are no restrictions on political parties. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right in practice. 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. In 1994 the Government allowed about 25 refugees to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 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 In the first multiparty democratic elections in over 20 years, the BCP swept into power in 1993 with complete control of the Parliament. Despite the landslide electoral victory, the BCP Government was forced to contend with a number of challenges to its power in 1994. Those challenges culminated in August when King Letsie III unconstitutionally suspended the Parliament and installed a Ruling Council. Many Basotho responded by demonstrating their support for the democratically 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, the King soon reversed himself, and the BCP regained control of the Government. The Memorandum of Understanding between King Letsie III and Prime Minister Mokhehle, which was brokered by South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, called for the reinstatement of the King's father, Moshoeshoe II, who had been deposed by the previous military government and exiled in 1990, in addition to steps to broaden Lesotho's political process. Early in 1995, Moshoeshoe II was returned to the throne. The 1994 suspension of the Constitution, although short-lived, highlighted the fragility of constitutional rule. There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government or politics, but women remained underrepresented. There is one woman in the Cabinet, the Minister of Natural Resources. There are 2 other women in the 65-member Assembly and 7 women in the 33-member Senate. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government did not hinder the activities of various nongovernmental human rights groups. These groups freely criticized both the Government and the short-lived Ruling Council. The Government was cooperative during an Amnesty International 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, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. Women 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. 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 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. Senior government officials have publicly criticized customary practice which discriminates against women. The Government has committed to implement the plan of action from the Fourth International Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September. 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 work at a young age (see Section 6.d.). 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. 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. 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 the male labor force works in South African gold and coal mines. The remainder are primarily engaged in traditional agriculture. There are small public and industrial sectors. 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. There are two trade union federations: 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 their activities. Unions are not tied to political parties. Overall, unionized workers represent only about 10 percent of the total work force. No legally sanctioned strike has occurred since independence in 1966. 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 in 1994, and the Government maintained it could not oblige their employers to reinstate them. Security forces violently suppressed some of the strikes in the textile, garment, and construction sectors during 1994. There were no instances 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 principle enjoy the legal right 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. For example, the Government unilaterally rescinded a pay increase granted to teachers early in 1995. 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. 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 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. Statutory monthly minimum wages in the established categories range from the equivalent of $80 (294 maloti) for an unskilled laborer to $154 (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. (###)
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