U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Lesotho
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Lesotho, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5028.html [accessed 20 November 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
LESOTHOLesotho is a constitutional monarchy. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party is the head of government and exercises executive authority. In 1993 Mokhehle, then leader of the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), won free and fair multi-party general elections that resulted in BCP control of the Government and the bicameral Parliament. In June a schism in the BCP's ranks led Mokhehle to abandon the party he formed in 1952 and establish the new Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Party. He took a majority of the members of the BCP with him, giving the LCD a 40-seat majority in the 65 member House of Assembly. The BCP was relegated to minority opposition status, with only 23 seats. The BCP refused to accept its opposition status. Beginning in August, BCP members refused to regularly attend parliamentary sessions and tried to make the country ungovernable, as opposition parties in the House of Assembly and the appointed 33-member Senate chose not to cooperate with the new LCD. Despite the fact that the LCD Government was formed in a constitutional manner, the opposition claims that the LCD is illegitimate and lacks the moral authority to rule because it never received an electoral mandate. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is a ceremonial monarch with no executive authority and is proscribed from taking political initiatives. In 1994 King Letsie III, in collaboration with elements of the army, staged a palace coup, unconstitutionally suspended Parliament and installed an appointed Ruling Council. However, domestic and international pressures led to a rapid return of constitutional government. The judiciary appears subject at times to Government and chieftainship influence. The security forces consist of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police (RLMP), and the National Security Service (NSS). The Government adopted legislation that brought these services under more direct civilian control. The LDF now answers to the Prime Minister, through the Ministry of Defense. The NSS is directly accountable to the Prime Minister, and the RLMP reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. Members of the security forces on occasion committed human rights abuses. Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa, and 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 the mines in South Africa; miners' remittances account for slightly over one-third of gross national product (GNP). Real GNP was projected by the Ministry of Planning to grow at a rate of 5.5percent during 1997, with inflation estimated at below 9percent at year-end. Per capita GNP was approximately $790. State-owned organizations predominate in the agro-industrial and agri-business sectors, but private sector activity dominates in the small manufacturing and construction sectors. Under the traditional chieftainship system, the vast majority of land, particularly in the interior, is owned by the Crown, and managed in trust by traditional chiefs who control land tenure and land use rights. Limited long-term (99-year) leasehold rights for land exist for farmers, householders and enterprises, but is still legally viewed as belonging to the King. The Government generally respected the human rights of citizens; however, there continued to be problems in some areas. Police occasionally used excessive force against suspects in custody. Discipline in the security services improved somewhat, but a few controversial disturbances still occurred. A police mutiny in February reflected entrenched mistrust and competition between the Government and some elements within the police force, and an uneasy institutional relationship between elements of the police and the army. It was sparked by the Government's only attempt to prosecute anyone for extrajudicial killings or other abuses committed in the conflicts of 1994 through 1996. As a result of their involvement in that mutiny, 33 members of the RLMP face sedition and high treason charges. The noninvolvement of the LDF in the police mutiny is a mark of progress in its evolution away from partisan politics toward a more professional and cooperative pattern of civil/military relations. In fact, the Army was called on to forcibly quell the police mutiny. Prison conditions are poor. The Government did not prosecute any one for extrajudicial killings or other abuses committed in the conflicts of 1994 through 1996. For example, palace guards who opened fire on demonstrators during the 1994 palace coup were given blanket amnesty as well as were the members of the coup's provisional government; and, also in 1994 the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a commission of inquiry for the incident in which the former Deputy Prime Minister was shot and killed allegedly by soldiers, but the results were not made public and there is no indication that military or law enforcement officials or palace guards were prosecuted for their involvement in incidents leading to these deaths. The security services reportedly monitor telephones illegally. Women's rights continued to be severely restricted, and domestic violence remained common. Government enforcement of prohibitions against child labor is lax in commercial enterprises involving hazardous conditions. Societal discrimination against people with disabilities is common.