MASERU – Lesotho has made huge strides towards establishing the long-awaited National Human Rights Commission. This was revealed in part by Minister of Justice and Law of Lesotho, Professor Nqosa Mahao, at the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council High Level Segment this week.
“I would now like to turn to the state of play and measures undertaken in promoting and protecting human rights in Lesotho. I would like to recognize the government’s efforts towards operationalisation of the National Human Rights Commission – an independent institution constitutionally mandated to promote, protect and enforce human rights in the country.
I am pleased to report that the Amendment Bill to its enabling legislation is ready to be tabled before the National Assembly for deliberations. Awareness and educational campaigns on the Commission and its work, were held in the three regions of the country where relevant stakeholders such as District Administrators, Principal and area chiefs, Heads of Departments, Councilors from all the ten districts were represented,” he said. “The Government remains committed to setting up a Commission that will be in line with the Paris Principles.”
Lesotho is among countries that reaffirmed their commitment to the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to promote and protect human rights and be the voice of the voiceless. On the challenges Lesotho is currently facing, Mahao said the worsening food deficit was caused by the decline in agricultural production as a result of the deteriorating rangeland conditions, soil erosion and periodic droughts and, as a food importer, this contributed a lot to widening poverty and food insecurity.
Mahao also highlighted the issue of increases in Basotho nationals working abroad and the drop in remittances accompanied by high unemployment and increasing poverty. The global financial crisis has also affected Lesotho’s economy, while high HIV/AIDS prevalence has increased child mortality and affected maternal health badly, he added.
“Despite the above challenges that affect civil, political and socio-economic rights, Lesotho shall continue to implement her obligations under international law to the best of her ability,” he said. He also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has become not only a public health emergency but also a human rights crisis.
Lesotho adopted the call to set up a Human Rights Commission through a cabinet decision in 1995, and in 2011 the Commission was established through the sixth amendment to the constitution. The Human Rights Commission Act of 2016 was enacted to operationalize the Commission, and ensure enhanced compliance with the Paris Principles, the Act has been subject of further consultations and amendments; amendments done through the technical support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society organisations and the UNDP.
Lesotho’s decision was informed by 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which encouraged the establishment and strengthening of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level. Human rights provide a common framework of universally recognized values and norms and set out State obligations to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts. They are an important tool to hold States, and increasingly non-state actors, accountable for violations and abuses respectively.