Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1992

Lesotho has been ruled since 1986 by a six-member Military Council, which overthrew
the civilian government of Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan in that year.
Major General Elias Ramaema, who took over in April 1991 as Chairman of both
the ruling Military Council and the 15-member civilian and military CouncU of Ministers,
continued on the path laid out by his predecessor to return Lesotho to civilian
rule. Throughout 1992, as the Military Council's commitment to elections became
more apparent, political activity resumed, with 14 parties campaigning for elections
planned for early 1993.
Electoral preparations took place against a growing controversy over the future
of Lesotho's Monarchy. The exiled ex-king, Moshoeshoe II, returned from London in
Julv and attempted to regain the throne from his son, Letsie HI, who had been installed
during his father's absence. The Military Council insisted that Moshoeshoe's
return not disrupt the electoral process, but political discourse in the country intensified
after his return to include consideration of modifying or abolishing the Monarchy
and the subordinate traditional chieftainship structure. A new constitution,
under consideration by the government-appointed National Constituent Assembly
since 1990 but not yet enacted, would firmly limit the King's political prerogatives
and clearly establish a constitutional monarchy.
The Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF) of about 2,000 troops is responsible for
internal and border security. The Royal Lesotho Mounted Police (RLMP) of about
1,600 men and women assists the RLDF. Members of both forces occasionally beat
or otherwise mistreat detainees. Total military expenditures for 1989, the last year
for which the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency conducted a detailed
analysis, were roughly estimated to be between $18 million and $22 million. There
are no indications that efforts will be made to reduce these expenditures in the near
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. Approximately one-third of the adult male work force is employed in
South African mines. Miners' remittauices play a large role in Lesotho's balance of
ga}nments, accounting for over 40 percent of the gross national product in 1990.
tate-owned organizations dominate the agroindustrial and agribusiness sectors, but
Erivate sector activity dominates in manufacturing and construction. Under
esotho's tracUtional chieftainship structure, the chiefs control the land, precluding
private ownership of property.
Human rights in Lesotho in 1992 remained circumscribed under the military Government,
but the imminent return to civilian rule by year's end resulted in greater
freedom of speech, press, association, and assembly. The revised, but not yet enacted,
constitution includes a lengthy section on protection of fundamental human
rights and freedoms, based primtuily on the 1966 Constitution. However, the military
Government used its powers to restrict promonardiy activities. Police brutality
against detainees and trade unionists continued, as did excessive force against
criminal suspects. Provisions remain in force for lengthy detentions without trial,
and women's rights continue to be severely restricted.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing.
^There were no ^oorted political
killings, but some extrajudicial killings continued to occur. Excesses Tby law enforcement
agencies included the fatal shooting of suspects involved in a rash of armed
car thefts in early 1992. The authorities have not taken any convincing action to
punish those responsible for excesses, including torture. There were no investigations
into the 1991 police shooting of Ngaka Sula, a trade union official, or into the
death in police custody of Mofokeng Makakola, a criminal suspect. Makakola apparently
died as a result of severe beatings and electric shocks. In recent years, a number
of people have died while in government custody or reportedly at the hands of
progovemment forces; only one person was investigated and brought to trial.
      b. Disappearance.
^There were no reports of politically relatea disappearances in
1992, nor were there any fiirther instances of reported abductions by South African
authorities in Lesotho, as occurred in previous years.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Reports of police brutality, including beatings of detainees, continued during 1992.
There were also continued reports that police or military personnel randomly beat
civilians. No known investigations or other official measures were launched as a result
of these practices.
Prison facilities in Lesotho are overcrowded and in need of repair. Credible reports
have spoken of prisoners being held in rooms ankle-deep in water for extended
Seriods; there are also reports indicating severe beatings of prisoners by police and
enial of proper medical treatment in cases of injury resulting from such abuses.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
In civil and criminal cases, persons arrested
or detained have the right to immediate consideration of habeas corpus pleas
as well as the right to legal counsel and medical attention. The 1981 Criminal Procedures
and Evidence Ad,, as amended in 1984, makes provision for the granting
of bail. Under the Act, the High Court is the only iudicial body empowered to grant
bail in cases of armed robbery or suspected homiciae.
The Internal Security (general) Act (ISA) of 1984 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 and Internal Security—
a portfolio held by the head of the military government). During the second
stage 01 the detention, ministerially appointed advisers" (all of whom have been
government employees to date) are available to report on the health of the detainee,
investigate whether the detainee has been involved in subversive activities, and advise
the Minister of Defense and Internal Security whether there is a need for continued
detention. Detainees under the Act may make representation about their
own treatment only through the adviser. The Act also allows for detention of witnesses
in security cases. There were no known detentions under the Act or other
laws in 1992.
In addition, a 1986 amendment to the ISA allows the Minister of Defense and Internal
Security to "restrict" a person who, in the opinion of the Police Commissioner,
is conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to public order, security, administration
of justice, or obedience to the law or lawful authority. After ex-king Moshoeshoe
II's return from exile in July, the Government made clear its expectation that he
would remain primarily at nis home village about 30 minutes from Maseru, although
it did not invoke the Internal Security Act to enforce this.
The continued existence of the Internal Security Act became a source of political
party criticism in 1992 of the Government's commitment to genuine democratiza131
tion. Some parties argued that free and fair elections could not, in fact, be held so
long as the Act's broad powers remained available to the Government as a means
of intimidation. The Act was used in 1991 to charge three trade unionists with holding
an illegal meeting at a local textile factory, but they were not brought to trial.
e. Denim 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.
Judges on the High Court are relatively independent; magistrates appear more susceptible
to governmental or chieftainship influence. Court decisions and rulings are
respected by the authorities and are generally free of interference by the executive.
Accused persons have and use the right to counsel and public trials. The courts have
acted to limit infringements of law on numerous occasions in past years, e.g., the
April 1988 annulment on procedural grounds of the state of emergency which, however,
the military Government quickly reinstituted.
Under the [^stem of Roman-Dutch law applied in Lesotho, there is no trial by
jury. A single High Court judge, presiding with two assessors who serve in an advisoiy
capacity, normally adjudicate criminal trials.. In civil cases, judges normally
hear cases alone. The High Court also provides procedural and substantive advice
and guidance to military tribunals on matters oi legal procedure; however, it does
not participate in arriving at judgments. Military tribunals have jurisdiction only
over military cases.
The Attorney General may initiate a judicial inqruest on the authority of the Judicial
Inquest Proclamation Number 32 of 1954. In November 1989, he initiated such
an inquiry into the 1986 slayings of two former cabinet ministers and their wives.
The 1991 conviction by the Chief Justice of the High Court of two military officers
for the murder of these persons is under automatic appeal in li^t of the death sentence
imposed on one defendant. Due to the volume of testimony resulting from this
lengthy case, the appeal was not heard in 1992.
In late 1992, the authorities released 23 former members of the military, who
were arrested following the 1986 coup, after the High Court made clear it was prepared
to hear their cases on appeal. They had been convicted by a court-martial during
which they had been denied access to counsel.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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. Such searches
occurred generally in the context of police operations against criminal activity, primarily
theft. Grovemment officials occasionally monitor correspondence.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and press were more widely
observed in 1992, as the Military Council made preparations to hand over authoritv
to a civilian government. After the 1991 lifting of the 1986 Order No. 4, which
banned partisan political activity, political parties expanded their activities throughout
1992. In the months leading up to the general elections, criticism of military
government leaders and policies was widespread and generally unrestrained, attesting
to growing press freedom and declining inhibitions on the part of journalists.
In particular, events surrounding the return in July of ex-king Moshoeshoe provoked
strong editorial positions, both proand antigovemment, in the press and in
general political discourse.
The Government controls the official media (one radio station, a 1-hour daily
newscast on a local television channel, and two weekly newspapers) and ensures
that they faithfully reflect official views. Prior to the elections, however, the (Jovemment
made available free time on television and radio to each of the 14 political
parties contesting the elections. There were charges that government media gave favorable
coverage to the political activities of the Basotho National Party (BNP), although
this perception was widely reported and debated within the independent
media. With the exception of editorial warnings in the government-controlled media
to royalists who criticized the electoral process and foreign donors, the Government
rarely used the official media to attack its partisan critics. Opposition viewpoints
were routinely expressed in 1992 in two Sesotho-language weekly newspapers published
by the Roman Catholic and Lesotho Evangelical Churches and in two independent
English-language weeklies.
Academic freedom is generally respected, although some professors and students
complained about restrictions on their ability to discuss academic and political issues.
Political meetings took place on the National University campus in the runup
to elections.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government inhibited
lai^e public gatherings in support of ex-king Moshoeshoe's return and continued to
monitor closely the actions or his supporters throughout 1992. However, political
party meetings and rallies occurred regularly throughout Lesotho in preparation for
the elections, limited only by the recpiirement for prior police notification. Nonpolitical
organizations and professional groups are freely formed and sire allowed to hold
public and regular meetings.
      c. Freedom of Religion
There is no state reli^on in Lesotho. Free and open religious
practice is permitted and encouraged. Christianity is nominally the dominant
faith of the majority of Basotho, and Roman Catholicism has the most adherents,
although less than half of the population.
There is a significant Protestant minority composed of the Lesotho Evangelical
Church, the Anglican Church, and a number of other smaller denominations. Conversion
is permitted, and there is no apparent social or political benefit or stigma
attached to belonging to any particular cnurch. There are no barriers to missionary
activity or woric by foreign clergy.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens generally are allowed to move freely within the country and
across national boundaries. There were no instances in 1992 of the Government denjring
passports to prominent critics, as occurred in 1991.
The Government distinguishes between "international" passports and "local" passports—
the latter being more readily available, and for use only in traveling to South
Africa, as many Basotho do on a regular basis for work or shopping. A refundable
deposit of up to $875 is required to obtain an international passport, depending on
the destination, in theory to cover the cost of an eventual repatriation if^ necessary.
The Government does not obstruct its citizens who wish to emigrate.
There are currently about 220 refugees registered with the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who have been granted asylum in Lesotho,
the majority unaffiliated South Africans. The local office of the UNHCR also reports
over 4,000 South Africans in "refugee-like status," most of whom have lived in Lesotho
for many years. There is no forced resettlement of refugees. At year's end, the
UNHCR planned to close its Lesotho office, owing to the lack of new refugee cases.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens of Lesotho prepared in 1992 to exercise their right to choose their own
government for the first time in over 20 years. National elections, scheduled for November
28, were postponed at the last mmute for technical reasons until early 1993,
with the agreement of all political parties.
Under its new constitution, Lesotho wiU have a democratically elected Parliament
with universal suffrage for those over 21, an independent judiciary, and a constitutional
monarch. The new constitution is based largely on the independence constitution
of 1966, updated by the National Constituent Assembly which met intermittently
from 1990 to 1992. A commission of the Assembly traveled around the countiy
in 1991 and 1992, explaining major provisions of the new constitution and soUcitmg
public comment.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations ofHuman Rights
A new human rights umbrella, nongovernmental organization (NGO) was formed
in August, which aimed to bring under its leadersrap church groups and other
NGO's active in human rights issues. The official media gave coverage to this organization's
founding, and the Government showed no sign of interfermg with its activities.
The independence of this organization and its ability to investigate human
ri^ts abuses within Lesotho remained untested at year's end.
The Government neither commented on, nor hindered the distribution within Lesotho
of a May 1992 Amnesty International report on human rights violations. The
report cited torture, extrajudicial killings, and abuses against trade unionists, all of
which allegedly occurred in 1991 or earlier. There was scant comment on the report
in the local press, although persons within and without the Government did not dispute
the accuracy of its account of individual cases involving torture and
extrajudicial killings.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Most citizens of Lesotho 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 countiy*s commercial life. Economic
and racial tension between the Chinese business community and the Basotho
remained an issue after the May 1991 riots which targeted Asian-owned shops. Al133
though there was no repeat of generalized, ethnically based violence in 1992, foreign
shop owners remained subject to the 1987 Trading Enterprise Order, which calls on
foreign owners to enter into joint ventures with Basotho nationals. Although equity
transfers would entail compensation and the program has not been strongly enforced,
it remains a concern to non-Basotho business people.
In Lesotho the rights of women are severely limited oy both law and custom in
areas such as property, inheritance, and contracts, but women have the legal and
customary right to make a will and sue for divorce. 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
heus no standing in court and may not sue or be sued without her husband's permission.
Despite their second-class status, women in Lesotho traditionally have been
the stabilizing force in the home and in the agricultural sector, given the absence
of tens of thousands of Basotho men who work in South Africa. More female than
male children complete primary amd secondary schools. The Government has not seriously
addressed the issue of women's rights but has made some attempts to improve
the economic prospects of women.
In August the Government announced that married female civil servants would
henceforth have the same pension eligibility as men; they had been ineligible previously.
Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs frequently. While statistics are
not available, the e»tent of the problem is thought to be great. In Basotho tradition,
a wife may return to her "maiden home" if physically abused by her husband; under
conmion law, wife beating is a criminal offense and defined as assault. A 1976 High
Court case successfully reversed a Roman-Dutch legal tradition which recognized a
husband's right to chastise his wife at wiU.
Women's rights organizations have formed, including a partnership of women lawyers.
"Die locm chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers has taken
a leading role in educating Basotho women about their rights under customary and
common law and emphasized the importance of women fully participating in the democratization
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 portion of Lesotho's tictive male
labor force between the ages of 20 and 44 seeks work in the Republic of South Africa,
mainly in gold and coal mines. At least 70 percent of the remainder is engaged
in traditional agriculture. The rest are employed mainly by the Government and in
smadl industries and enterprises in Lesotho. A maiority of Basotho mineworkers are
members of the South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Because the
NUM is a foreign organization, it is not permitted to engage in union activities in
During the year, the Government withheld its recognition of the Lesotho Congress
of Democratic Unions (CDU>—formed in 1991 by four recognized independent
unions. The Government's action was an effort to require the CDU to join a rival
federation, the officially recognized Lesotho Labor Congress (LLC), composed of 24
affiliated trade unions, in order to attempt to bring organized labor within a single,
umbrella trade union federation. Overall, unionized workers represent only 10 percent
of the total work force, and the LLC now accounts for three-quarters of those
union members. However, important sectors remain outside its umbrella, leaving
the Lesotho Allied Clothing and Textile Workers as the only major industrial union
within the LLC. All major unions professed political neutrality in the elections, but
some independent unions charge the LLC remains subject to government control.
WhUe a legal right to strike exists for woikers in nonessential services, in practice
the procedure for calling a strike is so lengthy and cumbersome that it discourages
legal strike actions and accounts for the prevalence of wildcat strikes. The 1964
Trade Union and Trade Disputes Act enumerates lengthy procedures which must
be followed before a strike can be legally called. Although no legal strikes took place,
several wildcat strikes occurred in 1992 against both foreign and domestic companies,
mostly over wages and conditions of woik. Most were resolved through compulsory
government arbitration.
La 1992 the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee on Freedom of
Association (CFA) issued an interim report on a complaint brought before it on behalf
of the Construction and Allied Workers Union of Lesotho (CAWULE), one of
the founding unions of the Congress of Democratic Unions, over alleged antiunion
reprisal actions. These actions ranged from dismissals, detentions, and frequent
court actions to police shooting of union leaders and the slajdng of a shop steward
after a strike at the construction site of the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project
in 1990-91. The CFA faulted the Government for some of its actions as well as its
inaction in not setting up a judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts in full, determine
responsibilities, punish those responsible and prevent the repetition of such actions.
The complaint remains before the ILO while the Committee awaits further government
response to its questions.
The Lesotho Labor Congress and unaffiliated unions maintain a wide network of
international trade union links. In general, the Government imposes no obstacles
to international affiliations or foreign travel for labor union-related purposes. The
CAWULE General Secretary was detained under the Internal Security Act and deprived
of his passport for 2 weeks in 1990 to prevent his attendance at an international
labor meeting, but labor officials traveled freely in 1992.
      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 these ri^ts are not always respected in practice. Bargaining between
unions and employers to set wage and benefit rates increased in 1992, although
wage rates continue to be set primarily through unilateral action by employers.
There were continuing credible reports of government acquiescence in private employer
intimidation of union officials. An Unfair Labor Practices Tribunal has the
responsibility to investigate unfair labor practices and charges of antiunion discrimination.
The Tribunal began to function effectively only in 1992, once all members
were officially named. In one case, it ordered the reinstatement of construction
workers who staged an unsanctioned strike and were dismissed. A government-appointed
labor commission is charged with monitoring wages and working conditions
and accepting, reviewing, and investigating worker complaints. Both the LLC and
CDU-affiliated unions have accused the Grovemment of maintaining an antiunion
Lesotho has several industrial estates grouping together companies, mostly textile
and apparel firms, engaged in manufacturing for export. All national labor laws
apply in these industrial zones, but the textile workers' union charges that the Government
colludes with textile industry employers to inhibit union organizational activities
in the workplace. In 1991 union officers were arrested, detained, or otherwise
intimidated by the police, but none was successfully charged. Similar incidents
did not occur in 1992.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited
by the 1987 Emplojrment Act, and there is no indication of its practice.
      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 commonly employed in family owned businesses. There are prohibitions
against the employment of minors in commercial, industrial, or nonfamily
enterprises involving hazardous or dangerous working conditions. Basotho minors
under 18 years of age may not be recruited for employment outside of Lesotho. Enforcement
of these laws by inspectors of the Ministry of Employment, Social Welfare
and Pensions is lax. In Lesotho's traditional society rigorous working conditions for
the countrys young "herdboys" is considered a prerequisite to manhood and a fundamental
feature of Basotho culture beyond the reach of labor laws.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wages in Lesotho are extremely low. The Government,
following the annual recommendation of a tripartite wages advisory board,
again raised the statutory minimum wage rates in 1992 for various specified types
of work. Wages at these rates still are barely sufficient for a minimum decent standard
of living for a worker and family. Most wage earners supplement their monthly
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.
Lesotho's 1967 Employment Act spells out basic worker rights, including a 45-
hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, 2 weeks' paid leave per
year, and pay for public holidays. Employers are required to provide adequate light,
ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery
to minimize the risk of injury. In practice, these regulations are generally
followed only within the wage economy and are enforced haphazardly by inspectors
from the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Employment, Social Welfare and
Pensions. Staff shortages in this Ministry limit effective enforcement to the major
urban areas.