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Government to set up rights watchdog

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — The government will soon establish a human rights commission to monitor and investigate human rights violations in Lesotho, according to a sixth constitutional amendment being considered by parliament.

If established the commission will be tasked with educating the public about issues of human rights as well as monitoring the human rights situation of detainees.

It will also be responsible for probing any rights violations as well as instituting proceedings against rights violators in the courts.

The commission will be an independent body free from interference and subject “only to the Lesotho constitution and any other law”.

These proposals are part of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2010 that was presented to the National Assembly by Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla last week.

The Bill’s statement of objects and reasons says it will be the obligation of the commission to develop and deliver educational and training programmes to the general public.

“The commission shall submit opinions, recommendations, propositions and reports to public institutions on human rights issues using the media and other means,” reads section 133F (1)(f) of the Bill.

Section 133 (F) (h) of the Bill states that the commission shall advocate the ratification of “international and regional human rights instruments”.

“The commission shall promote and monitor the harmonisation of national laws and practices with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Lesotho,” reads the Bill.

“The commission shall also work on co-operation with the United Nations, regional mechanisms, national human rights institutions of other countries, in the areas of promotion and protection of human rights.”

The Bill also says the commission shall consist of a chairman and two other members to be appointed by the King on the “advice of the Judicial Service Commission”.

“A member of the commission shall be of high moral character and integrity, possessing such qualities of mind as to enable him to discharge his duties impartially, fairly and free from bias or prejudice,” the Bill reads.

“A member shall also be an individual who does not take part in politics or political activities.”

Each member’s tenure of office, according to the Bill, shall be five years but will be terminated in the event that one “becomes a public officer”.

The Bill also proposes to amend section 31 of the constitution of Lesotho regarding the treatment of victims of crime.

“Lesotho shall adopt policies designed to make provision for victims of crime support services including mechanisms to ensure compensation for victims of crime, and assist vulnerable groups of victims such as victims of sexual offences, arson and abused orphans.”

The Bill also recommends that the current title of “assistant minister” should be abolished and replaced with that of “deputy minister” who shall act in the office of a minister.

“Whenever a minister is absent from Lesotho, is on leave or is by reason of illness unable to exercise the functions conferred on him or her by this constitution, those functions shall be exercised by the deputy minister,” says section 6 (3) of the Bill.

The current position is that assistant ministers cannot act in the capacity of ministers in the absence of substantive ministers unless they have been assigned those duties by the ministers they work under.

Speaking to the Sunday Express on Thursday, Lehohla said the human rights commission was “a constitutional requirement”.

“Our constitution dictates that there should be measures applied to protect human rights. We therefore have to put it into practice by establishing a commission to that effect,” Lehohla said.

“We have in the past been asked complex questions by Amnesty International regarding human rights issues.

“The establishment of the human rights commission is a way of improving our services and to achieve certain constitutional requirements and strive for transparency.”

On the changing of the title of “assistant minister” to that of “deputy minister”, the deputy prime minister said it was to enable junior ministers to continue with work “in the absence of substantive ministers”.

“The motive behind the change is so that deputy ministers can be assigned more duties and responsibilities,” Lehohla said.

“It is also a way of ensuring deputy ministers are involved more directly in the day-to-day running of their respective ministries.”

Lehohla however said the change will not empower deputy ministers to attend cabinet meetings “because they are not full ministers”.

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