U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - 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.


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 hs 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.


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.


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.

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