U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Lesotho
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||26 February 2001|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Lesotho , 26 February 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa8b18.html [accessed 2 April 2015]|
|Comments||This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with King Letsie III as Head of State. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King fills a ceremonial role, has no executive authority, and is proscribed from actively taking part in political initiatives. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, took office in June 1998 and is the Head of Government. In the May 1998 elections, the LCD won 79 seats in the expanded 80-member Parliament. The Basotho National Party (BNP) won the one remaining seat. Over 700 foreign and national election observers concluded that the election met international standards for a transparent, multiparty election; however, the Langa Commission, a group of election auditors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reported that while there was no evidence to substantiate charges of electoral fraud, mismanagement of polling data made it impossible to confirm that fraud did not occur. Opposition parties claimed that the election result was fraudulent and launched a prolonged and aggressive protest at the royal palace in Maseru in August 1998. Opposition leaders urged the King – who had staged a coup in 1994 – to dissolve the newly elected Parliament and install a government of national unity on the basis of their claim that the LCD rigged the election. In September and October 1998, the armed opposition protesters used violence to destabilize the Government, disarm the police, intimidate workers and business owners, shut down government and business operations, and facilitate a junior officer rebellion in the army. The army rebels, who were armed, aligned themselves with the opposition protesters. This action resulted in a virtual coup and severely strained relations between the Head of State and the Government. The palace vigil and protests resulted in politically motivated killings, injuries, violence, arson, and destruction. These events also precipitated intervention by a SADC military task force in September 1998 to quell the army mutiny and return society to a state of law and order. In the past, the judiciary had been subject at times to government and chieftainship influence; however, there were no reports of the use of such influence during the year.
The security forces consist of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), the Lesotho Police Service (LPS), and the National Security Service (NSS). The Prime Minister is the Minister of Defense, with direct authority over the LDF and the NSS. The police force is under the authority of the Minister of Home Affairs. In 1996 and 1997, the Parliament passed the Lesotho Defense Act (1996), Regulations for Military Justice (1997), and amended the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police Force Act. This legislation was designed to bring these services under direct civilian control. However, the politicized armed services have a history of intervening in the country's politics and government. The LDF ruled the country with two successive military regimes from 1985-90, and 1990-93. In September 1998, a SADC task force put down an army rebellion, arrested LDF rebels, and disarmed the remaining soldiers. Fifty-two army personnel were arrested and tried in courts-martial for rebellion, mutiny, and treason. Fifteen of these soldiers were acquitted after trial or had the charges against them dropped, 1 died of natural causes, and 36 soldiers were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 13 years. This was the first instance in which a court-martial prosecuted LDF soldiers for infractions of the Defense Act. The LDF continues to be the subject of a national debate on the structure, size, and role of the armed forces. The NSS and the LPS also are undergoing comprehensive restructuring. There were allegations that members of the security forces on occasion committed human rights abuses.
Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and almost entirely dependent on its sole neighbor for trade, finance, employment, and access to the outside world. About 17 percent of the adult male work force works in mines in South Africa. Miners' remittances account for slightly over one-third of gross national product (GNP). Real gross domestic product grew by 2 percent in 1999, after a decline of 4.6 percent in 1998. Inflation was slightly more than 12 percent, with per capita GNP rising about 8 percent in local currency terms, to approximately $590. State-owned enterprises predominate in the agroindustrial and agribusiness sectors, but private sector activity dominates in the small manufacturing and construction sectors. The 1998 opposition protest and SADC intervention resulted in a wave of political violence and arson that destroyed nearly 80 percent of the commercial infrastructure in Maseru and other towns and villages. Thousands of jobs were lost, and many entrepreneurs went bankrupt. Hundreds of millions of dollars in losses occured. Under the traditional chieftainship structure, land use and tenure is controlled by the traditional chiefs and formally owned by the Kingdom (i.e., "crown lands").
The Government generally respected many of the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be problems in some areas. There were unconfirmed allegations of torture by security forces, and credible reports that the police, at times, used excessive force against detainees. Prison conditions are poor, and lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. There are long delays in trials; 25 of 33 RLMP members charged in connection with a February 1997 police mutiny spent 41 months in jail before being convicted in July. Domestic violence was common, and women's rights continued to be restricted severely. Societal discrimination against the disabled was common. Some worker rights were restricted. Government enforcement of prohibitions against child labor was improved in commercial enterprises that involve hazardous working conditions.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
During the 1998 opposition palace protest, violence between protesters and police, between antagonistic political factions, and between policemen and soldiers resulted in nine fatalities, including one police officer and eight civilians – four of whom were opposition supporters, and numerous injuries. These deaths resulted from gunshot wounds and fatal beatings sustained during enforcement actions and during violent clashes between political party supporters. Between September 21 and 28, 1998, nine South African soldiers were killed while suppressing the army mutiny. Over 50 LDF soldiers and 40 civilians allied with the opposition died in fighting with SADC troops. Fifty-two LDF personnel have been arrested and court-martialed for mutiny and high treason in connection with these events. In 1999 three of the accused were acquitted after trial, and charges against another eight were dismissed upon motion by the Crown. In July three of the accused were convicted and received sentences ranging from 5 to 13 years' imprisonment. One of the accused died of natural causes unconnected with his incarceration while in prison. During the year, 4 of the accused were acquitted after trial, and in December the remaining 33 were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 13 years.
In March 1999, the Government began investigating the 1994 palace coup and the alleged involvement of military personnel in the killing of the Deputy Prime Minister; 14 members of the LDF were arrested and charged with involvement in the killing. Four of the soldiers also are facing courts-martial for their role in the 1998 army mutiny. The trials for the killing of the Deputy Prime Minister have been delayed until the courts-martial are completed.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution expressly prohibits torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, and the Government generally respects these provisions; however, there were credible reports that the police at times used excessive force against detainees.
Prison conditions are poor. Prison facilities are overcrowded and in disrepair. In 1998 Amnesty International representatives visited the LDF soldiers accused of mutiny being held in the maximum security prison in Maseru and reported that conditions were poor. In January 1999, the Judge Advocate ordered prison officials to improve conditions in the cells in which the soldiers were being held; conditions were improved as a result, and the Judge Advocate did not issue further orders. Women are housed separately from men, and juveniles are housed separately from adults. Rape in prison reportedly is not a problem.
Prison conditions were not monitored independently, and there were no visits by local or international organizations during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and there were no reports of such abuses. During the 1998 crisis, a number of persons were arrested for arson, looting, and possession of stolen property and unlawful firearms. Some of the persons searched and arrested were opposition supporters; however, there was no clear evidence that the authorities exclusively targeted opposition supporters. The domestic legal and nongovernmental organization (NGO) communities are concerned that pretrial detainees, such as those alleged to have been involved in 1998 arson and looting incidents, can be held for long periods of time before trial; however, efforts have been made to improve the judicial administration and reduce the backlog of cases. Some persons arrested in interior districts in January 1999 for looting, arson, and possession of stolen goods in connection with the 1998 crisis were tried and sentenced to fines or incarceration.
In July a trial judge convicted 25 of the 33 RLMP members arrested in connection with the January 1997 police mutiny on charges of sedition and contravention of the 1984 Internal Security Act (ISA) and sentenced them to prison for terms ranging from 1 to 3 years. In passing the sentences, the trial judge took into account the 41 months that the defendants had spent in prison prior to convictions, and their sentences were reduced accordingly. Eight of the convicted RLMP members were released due to lack of evidence. Eight others also were charged with murder and kidnaping; although their trials were completed, the trial court had not rendered a judgment by year's end.
Pretrial detainees on remand were a significant portion of the prison population. Because of serious backlogs of the court caseloads, the period of pretrial remand for some suspects can last months or even years.
In 1997 the Government repealed the provisions of the ISA that allowed for investigative detention.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in the past, magistrates appeared at times to be subject to government and chieftainship influence. There were no reports of such influence during the year.
The judiciary consists of the Court of Appeal (which meets semi-annually), the High Court, magistrates courts, and customary or traditional courts, which existed largely in rural areas to administer customary law.
The High Court also provides procedural and substantive advice and guidance on matters of law and procedure to military tribunals; however, it does not participate in arriving at judgments. Military tribunals operating under the 1996 Defense Act have jurisdiction over military cases only. Decisions by military tribunals can be appealed only to a special court-martial appeal court, which is composed of two judges from the High Court, one retired military officer with a legal background, and the registrar of the High Court. In January 1999, the defense lawyers for the accused army mutineers asked the judge advocate to dismiss all charges, alleging that the courts-martial hearings were unconstitutional on the grounds that the proceedings were subject to inappropriate command influence and lacked judicial independence. The adjudication panelists were the same LDF officers who were rounded up at gunpoint during the mutiny and held incommunicado in the maximum security prison. The judge advocate denied the lawyers' request. In June 1999, upon review, the Chief Justice also denied the request, as did the Court of Appeals in October 1999.
Persons detained or arrested in criminal cases and defendants in civil cases have the right to legal counsel; however, there is no system to provide public defenders. The Ministry of Justice and the NGO community maintained a few legal aid clinics. The authorities generally respect court decisions and rulings. There is no trial by jury. Criminal trials normally are 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 1981 Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, as amended in 1984, makes provision for granting bail. Bail is granted regularly and generally fairly. There is a large case backlog, which leads to lengthy delays in trials. In September 1998, a Molotov cocktail attack on the High Court destroyed case files and other important documents and further hampered the operations of the courts.
In civil courts, women and men are accorded equal rights; however, in traditional and customary courts, certain rights and privileges accorded to men are denied to women (see Section 5). When traditional law and custom are invoked in a court case, a male plaintiff can opt for customary judgments by a principal chief rather than a civil court, and the judgment is binding legally. This system greatly disadvantages women.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law does not fully protect citizens' privacy rights, but there were no confirmed reports that authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights during the year. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the ISA provided police with wide powers to stop and search persons and vehicles and to enter homes and other places without a warrant. There were no prohibitions against monitoring telephone conversations until 1999, when some restrictions were implemented. Observers believed that the security services continued to monitor telephone conversations of Basothos and foreigners, ostensibly on national security grounds.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. There are several independent newspapers – including one controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, one controlled by the Lesotho Evangelical Church, and four English-language weeklies – that routinely criticized the Government. The official state-owned or state-controlled media consist of one radio station, a 1 1/2 hour daily newscast on a local television channel, and two weekly newspapers. All faithfully reflect official positions of the ruling party. There are four private radio stations, but no private local television station. South African and global satellite television and radio broadcasts are widely available. Despite serious damage to a number of news publications caused by arson and looting in September 1998, these news organizations resumed publishing within months.
Internet services are freely available from a number of private Internet service providers.
There is a lack of free access to government information, which often is described as a limitation on the free press; however, there are no other barriers that affect press coverage of government activities. In 1998 the National Press Association objected to rules established by the Independent Electoral Commission, which barred reporters from entering polling stations on election day.
The Government respects academic freedom. Although the Government owns and administers the country's only university, the academic staff represents the full political spectrum and is free to express its views.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Under a 1993 revision of the ISA, a public meeting, rally, or march no longer required prior police permission, only advance notification. Political party meetings and rallies were held regularly and without hindrance from the Government.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. In addition to the LCD, the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), and the BNP, there were nine smaller, registered 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 placed no obstacles in the way of citizens who wished to emigrate.
In September 1998, numerous serious incidents and threats to the safety of citizens by opposition supporters who carried out assaults, car-jackings, attacks on residences, and sniper attacks led thousands of foreigners and ruling LCD supporters to flee to South Africa in the weeks immediately following the SADC military intervention. Almost all citizens had returned by the end of 1999; however, a large number of the foreigners who fled have moved across the border and commuted to their jobs in the country.
The law provides for the granting of refugee and asylee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In 1994 the Government allowed approximately 25 refugees from Somalia and Uganda registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to study in the country. They were expected to return to their countries of first asylum after completing their studies, but had not done so by year's end. Other than these students, there is no resident refugee population. The Government has provided first asylum; however, the issue did not arise during the year.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
In the first multiparty democratic elections in 1993, after more than 20 years of authoritarian and military rule, the BCP came to power with complete control of the National Assembly. Despite its landslide electoral victory, the BCP Government had to contend with a number of challenges to its power, including a violent opposition destabilization campaign based on allegations that the BCP had won by fraud. These challenges culminated in August 1994 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 demonstrations – "stayaways" – to express 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 reversed himself, and the BCP regained control of the Government.
A 1994 Memorandum of Understanding between King Letsie III and Prime Minister Ntsu 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, and for measures to broaden participation in the political process. In early 1995, Moshoeshoe II was reinstated as King. In January 1996, upon the death of his father, King Letsie III was sworn in again as King. The formal coronation of King Letsie III was held in October 1997. The 1994 suspension of the Constitution by Letsie, although short-lived, highlighted the fragility of rule within the constitutional monarchy.
The 1998 crisis was similar to that of the 1993-94 postelectoral period. In both cases, opposition party members alleged electoral fraud, suborned army supporters, sought the King's involvement, and effectively overthrew the elected Government. However, in 1998 the King did not take an active role in the opposition campaign, as he did in 1994, and, based on the 1994 Memorandum of Understanding, Prime Minister Mosisili asked SADC to intervene militarily to stabilize the situation.
In the May 1998 elections, the LCD won 79 of 80 parliamentary seats. The BNP won the other seat. International observers concluded that the elections met international standards for a multiparty election and reflected the will of the voters. Despite opposition coalition claims, the Langa Commission, composed of international observers from four southern African countries, reported no definitive findings of vote rigging or fraud; however, postelection management of electoral and polling station data was poor. The Commission stated that the documentation was in such disarray that it could not prove that fraud had not occurred. This judgement encouraged the opposition to charge that errors short of fraud could have affected the results.
In October 1998, the LCD and the newly formed opposition alliance agreed to hold new elections within 2 years to resolve the ongoing political crisis. Local elections, scheduled to be held late in 1998, were postponed because of the 1998 crisis. Negotiations under SADC supervision resulted in the December 1998 establishment of the Interim Political Authority (IPA) with a mandate to prepare for new elections within 18 months (i.e., during the first half of the year). However, the IPA made little progress in meeting its objectives. The IPA and the Parliament continued efforts to negotiate an electoral arrangement that would be acceptable to all parties.
In February anonymous flyers threatened a return to political violence if an election was not held or an election date announced by May 16. The flyers warned workers to stay away from work from May 10 to 16. Although joint police and army patrols were deployed as a precaution, some workers stayed home due to a fear of reprisals by the opposition. On May 13, the Prime Minister announced that the next national multiparty elections were scheduled for March 2001.
There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government or politics, but women remain underrepresented in both areas. There are 2 women in the 80-member National Assembly, and there are 7 women in the 33-member Senate. A woman serves as the Minister of Environment, Women, and Youth Affairs. In October 1999, the Parliament unanimously elected the first female Speaker of the National Assembly.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of local and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and the Government allowed international organizations to visit the country during the year.
5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, Disability, or Social Status
The 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; however, the Constitution also recognizes customary law as a parallel legal system, and women's inheritance and property rights are restricted severely under the traditional chieftainship system.
Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs frequently. Dependable statistics were not available, but the problem was believed to be widespread. In Basotho tradition, a wife may return to her "maiden home" if physically abused by her husband. Under common law, wife beating is a criminal offense and defined as assault; however, few domestic violence cases were brought to trial. Beatings and violence against women perpetrated by husbands or other male relatives occured frequently; however, increasingly it was considered socially unacceptable behavior. A national conference held in March 1998 on the empowerment of women noted that of 100 cases of human rights abuses, 90 percent of the victims were women who were victims of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment.
Both law and custom under the traditional chieftainship system severely limited the rights of women in areas such as property rights, 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 was considered a minor during the lifetime of her husband. She cannot enter into legally binding contracts, whether for employment, commerce, or education, without her husband's consent. A woman married under customary law has no standing in civil court and may not sue or be sued without her husband's permission. Government officials have criticized publicly this customary practice, which discriminates against women. The tradition of paying a bride price (lobola) is common. Polygyny was practiced by a very small percentage of the population.
Women's rights organizations have taken a leading role in educating women about their rights under customary and common law, highlighting the importance of women participating in the democratic process. In 1998 the Government created a Ministry of Gender Affairs.
The Government has not addressed adequately children's rights and welfare, although it has devoted substantial resources to primary and secondary education. Education is not compulsory even at the primary levels, and 25 percent of children do not attend school, particularly in rural areas where there are few schools, where children are involved in subsistence activities in support of their family's welfare, or where families cannot afford the costs associated with school attendance (for example, fees for the purchase of uniforms, books, and materials). The problem of school nonattendance affects boys disproportionately more than girls. In traditional rural Basotho society, livestock herding by young boys is a prerequisite to manhood in the community, and this frequently interferes with their school enrollment. The Government began implementation of a new program that provides free public education through the primary grades (one through six). The program commenced in all schools in the first grade during the year, and it covered the costs of school fees, books, and one meal per day. Expansion of the program to the second grade in all schools is scheduled for 2001.
There is no pattern of societal abuse against children, but many children work at a relatively young age (see Section 6.d.). Familial stress, poverty, the spread of HIV/Aids, and divorce have led to a rise in child homelessness and abandonment, creating a growing number of street children. People with Disabilities
Discrimination against physically disabled persons in employment, education, or provision of other government services is unlawful; however, societal discrimination is common. The Government has not legislated nor mandated accessibility to public buildings for the disabled.
Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, is the predominant religion. Approximately 90 percent of the population are Christian, and 70 percent of the Christians are Catholic. Muslims, members of other non-Christian religions, and atheists constitute the remaining 10 percent. Christians are scattered throughout the country, while Muslims are found mainly in the northeastern part of the country.
There is generally mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. Although there were some tensions between Christians and Muslims in previous years, there were no reports of such tensions during the year.
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 and the Basotho remained a problem. In past years, civil unrest and riots targeted persons of Asian descent; however, there were no similar incidents reported during the year.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Under the law, workers have the right to join or form unions without prior government authorization. The Labor Code prohibits civil servants from joining unions. The Government regards all work by civil servants as essential. In a 1997 judgment by the High Court concerning a petition filed by the Lesotho Union of Public Servants (LUPE) against the registrar of law, the Chief Justice dismissed the LUPE's application to form a union on the grounds that it was not consistent with the Labor Code. The LUPE filed an appeal with the Appeals Court, which was dismissed after LUPE failed to file the necessary papers to proceed with the case.
Under the 1993 Labor Code, prepared with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO), all trade union federations require government registration. There are three small trade union federations that rarely cooperate with one another: the Lesotho Trade Union Congress; the Lesotho Federation of Democratic Unions; and the Congress of Lesotho Trade Unions. Unions are not affiliated formally or tied to political parties.
The labor and trade union movement was very weak and fragmented. There are several small unions in the public and industrial sectors, but there was no unified trade union congress. There were cases of unions competitively organizing small numbers of workers in the same sector. Overall unionized workers represent only about 10 percent of the work force. Consequently efforts toward collective bargaining and tripartite policymaking were not amenable to strong trade union influences.
There was credible evidence that some employers prevented union organizers from access to factory premises to organize workers or to represent them in disputes with owners or managers. There were reports that some employers harassed union organizers, intimidated members, and frequently fired union activists (see Section 6.b.). The Commission of Labor, which operates as part of the Labor Ministry, is charged with investigating allegations of labor law violations. Approximately 17 percent of the male labor force works in the gold and coal mines of South Africa, and the majority of those who do not were engaged primarily in traditional agriculture. A majority of Basotho mine workers were members of the South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM); however, as a foreign organization, the NUM is not allowed to engage in union activities.
No legally authorized strike has occurred since independence in 1966. Because civil servants generally are not allowed to strike, all public sector industrial actions are, by definition, unauthorized. In the private sector, the Labor Code requires an escalating series of procedures to be followed by workers and employers before strike action is authorized. In past years, some small unions and their members have undertaken wildcat strikes or spontaneous industrial actions without following the procedures for dispute resolution; however, there were no reported strikes during the year. Legal protection for strikers from retribution has not always been enforced in cases of illegal strikes. Security forces violently suppressed some wildcat strikes in the textile, garment, and construction industries in 1994, 1996, and 1998.
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
In principle all legally recognized trade unions in principle enjoy the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the Government generally respected these rights; however, some employers tried to restrict these rights in practice. Employers usually are cooperative; however, some employees are threatened with expulsion and loss of employment if they join unions. There was credible evidence that some employers in the textile and garment sector used blacklists to deny employment to workers who have been fired by another employer within that sector. There were reports that some employers harassed union organizers. Although there was some collective bargaining between unions and employers to set wage and benefit rates, employers generally continued to set wage rates through unilateral action. Employee grievances reportedly were handled promptly by the Labor Commission, and there were no significant backlogs of cases during the year.
In May Parliament passed the Labor Code Amendments Bill; however, it was not implemented by year's end. The bill provides for the establishment of a Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Settlement with full-time arbitrators and conciliators; however, the Directorate was not staffed by year's end due to funding constraints. The bill does not permit public employees to join unions; however, it does allow them to form associations. The country has several industrial zones, in which mostly textile and apparel firms manufacture for export. All national labor laws apply in these industrial zones; however, employers in the zones do not always respect these rights in practice. Employers reportedly harassed and intimidated union organizers, and prevented them from entering the zones. There were reports that union activists often were fired. There were also reports that many companies in the zones paied below minimum wage, enforced long hours, and deducted wages when employees were found talking or taking more than one break a day.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The 1987 Employment Act prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, and there were no reports that it occurred.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The legal minimum age for employment in commercial or industrial enterprises is 15 years, and legal minimum age for hazardous employment is 18 years; however, children under 14 years of age reportedly are employed in family-owned businesses. Although there were allegations of child labor in the textile and garment sector, investigations by the ILO and the Labor Commission found no evidence to support the charges.
There are statutory prohibitions against the employment of minors in commercial, industrial, or nonfamily enterprises involving hazardous or dangerous working conditions, and although enforcement of prohibitions was very lax in previous years, the Ministry of Labor and Employment's Inspectorate was adequately staffed and conducted quarterly inspections during the year. Children under 18 years of age may not be recruited for employment outside of the country. In traditional society, rigorous and occasionally dangerous working conditions for the country's young livestock, herdboys are considered a prerequisite to manhood, essential to the livelihood of families, and a fundamental feature of local culture beyond the reach of labor laws. Child labor laws covered all sectors except for the agricultural sector.
The Government has not ratified the ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor, although it was being considered by the Cabinet at year's end with the support of the Lesotho Manufacturer's Association.
The Government specifically prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, and there were no reports that it occurred (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In general wages are low. A national minimum wage is determined annually by the Wage Advisory Board, a tripartite entity, consisting of Government, trade unions, and employers. The monthly minimum wage for unskilled laborers is $67 (467 maloti), and $129 (901 maloti) for heavy vehicle operators. Minimum wages for workers in lower skilled jobs were insufficient to ensure a 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 private employers paid more than minimum wages to attract and retain motivated employees. However, there is also reason to believe that some employers, especially in export sectors, treated the minimum wage as a maximum wage. This situation was made possible by the high levels of unemployment and underemployment, which provide a large pool of surplus unskilled labor that bid down wage rates and threatened job security for workers who made demands for better wages and conditions of work.
The Labor Code spells out basic worker rights, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, 12 days of paid leave per year, and paid public holidays; however, employers did not always respect these rights in practice. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of employers locking in workers until an order was finished without overtime pay or of employers refusing sick leave.
Workers generally are unable to obtain an expeditious hearing in court on their complaints. The labor court has a large backlog of industrial dispute cases on the docket; there is only one labor judge to deal with cases filed as early as 1995. However, the Labor Commission is staffed adequately and handled most complaints within a 1-month period, and it cooperated closely with the ILO in establishing inspection regimes. Labor inspectors generally conducted unannounced inspections in factories 4 times per year. The Labor Commission is authorized to order the reinstatement of wrongfully dismissed employees and the payment of back wages, but it does not have the authority to impose criminal fines.
The Labor Code requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner designed to minimize the risk of injury, and in practice employers generally follow these regulations. The Labor Code does not protect explicitly the right of workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without prejudice to employment; however, Labor Code sections on safety in the workplace and dismissal implied that dismissal in such circumstances would be illegal. f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were no reports of trafficking in persons to, from, or within the country during the year. There was a report that illegal immigrant smugglers, primarily from South and East Asia, continued to take advantage of the country's undersupervised borders to pass persons temporarily through the country to transportation hubs in South Africa for onward movement to Europe and North America. There was no clear evidence that these movements included women or children, or that these organizations were recruiting or transporting persons illegally for involuntary servitude, slavery, or forced or bonded labor. It was suspected that most of the persons who are moved by these criminal organizations were primarily economic immigrants seeking employment in other countries. There were no reports or evidence of forced or bonded labor or servitude in the country resulting from these activities.
The Government took no specific action to address trafficking during the year.