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UN report: Lesotho’s human rights crisis demands urgent reforms

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Editorial Comment

The United Nations (UN) unequivocal condemnation of Lesotho’s human rights handling during the Covid-19 pandemic serves as a stark reckoning, demanding immediate and decisive action from the government.

The blistering report delivered by the UN Human Rights Committee portrays a haunting image of Lesotho’s disregard for its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The findings are a resounding call for urgent reforms and corrective measures to rectify the nation’s transgressions.

The litany of concerns outlined in the report spans a distressing array of human rights violations, ranging from discrimination and gender inequality to violence against women, termination of pregnancy, and chilling instances of torture.

The UN’s reproach zeroes in on Lesotho’s Constitutional provision—Section 21(1)—permitting derogations of rights, questioning its validity under Article 4 of the Covenant.

Such derogations, lacking adequate safeguards against discrimination and proportionality, raise alarming doubts about Lesotho’s commitment to fundamental human rights.

The scathing critique extends to Lesotho’s 1984 Internal Security (General) Act, granting excessive discretionary powers to the Prime Minister, a move starkly misaligned with Covenant provisions and susceptible to potential abuses, as highlighted by the Committee.

The urgency highlighted by the UN underscores the imperative for Lesotho to synchronise its laws governing states of emergency with international standards, particularly in the pandemic context.

The recommendations set forth by the Committee not only demand rectification of legislative deficiencies but also a resolute and thorough approach towards investigations, prosecution of perpetrators, and just penalties, while ensuring full reparations and safeguarding victims.

The report’s key takeaways mirror a dire need for critical reforms in Lesotho’s human rights landscape:

  • National Human Rights Institution: The prolonged process in establishing a human rights commission has raised concerns, highlighting a necessity for accelerated enactment and compliance with the Paris Principles, ensuring adequate resources for effective functioning.
  • Past Human Rights Violations and Impunity: The lack of information regarding truth, reparations for victims of past violations, and the absence of accountability pose a substantial challenge. Addressing this requires establishing a truth and reconciliation process, investigating violations, and holding those responsible accountable.
  • Independence of the Judiciary: Concerns about executive influence in judiciary appointments, prolonged trials in high-profile cases, and intimidation faced by legal practitioners spotlight the urgent need for transparent and impartial appointment procedures, ensuring independence of the judiciary and prosecuting interference or corruption within the legal system.

The UN’s report serves as a clarion call for Lesotho to reevaluate its approach to human rights, emphasizing the urgent need for institutional reforms, ensuring accountability, and upholding the rights enshrined in the ICCPR.

Lesotho stands at a crossroads, where immediate and resolute actions are imperative to uphold the fundamental principles of justice, equality, and human rights.

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