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Rights commission under spotlight


Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Law, Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa on Tuesday said he welcomed civil society’s scrutiny of the Human Rights Commission Bill.

Mr Letsosa made the remarks after rights groups, Development for Peace Education (DPE) and Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), tabled their concerns before Senate’s Legislation Committee regarding the proposed law.

The civic groups argued some sections of the Bill compromised the independence of the proposed Human Rights Commission.

The Bill is currently being discussed before the Senate after it was passed in the National Assembly in December last year.

The Commission, according to the Bill, would consist of a chairman and two other members “who shall be appointed by the King acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister”.

Among other functions, the Commission would promote and monitor the harmonisation of national laws and practices with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Lesotho.

“If necessary”, the Commission would also be responsible for instituting proceedings against human rights violations in the courts of law.

However, TRC and DPE representatives, Tšoeu Petlane and Sofonea Shale respectively, told Senate’s Legislation Committee that the scope of the Commission should not be limited to the constitution and laws of Lesotho and regional and international human rights conventions, “but rather, the international customary law rule should apply”.

Mr Shale argued the constitution, for instance, legitimised the discrimination of females on the basis of tradition and endorsed capital punishment.

He also challenged the appointment of commissioners, arguing this should not be the prerogative of politicians “because that may lead to bias which could erode its much-needed independence”.

The selection, Mr Shale continued, should be made on merit.

According to Mr Shale, the DPE had wanted to address the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Law and Public Safety on the issue, but repeated efforts to do so failed.

Mr Shale added the DPE had since petitioned the National Assembly regarding the matter but there hadn’t been any response.

“We then held a meeting with Minister Letsosa and discussed issues we wanted revised in the Bill,” Mr Shale said.

“This meeting was very successful as both parties agreed on almost all the issues raised except the scope of the Commission. Instead of the Commission dealing with human rights as defined by regional and international conventions to which Lesotho is a state party as proposed in the Bill, the DPE wanted that to remain regional and international human rights conventions irrespective of whether Lesotho is a state party or not.”

He indicated a public dialogue was then held where people appreciated what the Commission is and how it would function.

Each clause of the Bill, he said, was presented to citizens’ scrutiny in the form of a questionnaire.

“This has been done in a total of 32 constituencies and 1677 people have expressed their views,” he said.

He further indicated that the DPE, together with TRC, came up with proposed amendments on the basis of community voices were now seeking Senate’s help in having them considered before the Bill is passed into law.

The rights groups further want the establishment of the Commission to be in line with the Paris Principles.

Mr Petlane said: “In terms of the Paris Principles, there are six main standards used to determine credible, legitimate and therefore internationally accepted human rights institutions, which are purpose, mandate and competence, autonomy from government, independence, pluralism, adequate resources and powers of investigation.

“The institution may be accredited A, B or C status. The A status is awarded institutions that are fully compliant with Paris Principles and have the right to participate in regional and international meetings of national institutions with full voting rights, right to hold office at Bureau of International Coordinating Committee (ICC) and elected to its sub-committees, as well as speak in the sessions of the Human Rights Council.

“The B status is awarded to institutions that are not fully compliant and may not participate in the international and regional work and meetings of national institutions unless as observers. They cannot vote or hold office within the Bureau or in its sub-committees.

“The C status is for institutions that are completely far from the Paris Principles. They have no rights or privileges with the ICC or in United Nations rights forums. They may not attend meetings, including those of the ICC, unless it is by invitation.”

Mr Petlane indicated though recognition was done by the ICC’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation, “each country determines the status it wants for its national human rights institution by establishing a desired and compliant institution through laws it puts in place. Lesotho is not an exception in this regard”.

On Wednesday Mr Letsosa addressed the same Senate Committee on the issue, and said the civic groups’ input was “procedural.”

He said: “This is in line with the procedure of parliament. Civil society’s scrutiny, and of-course that of the general public, is welcome at this stage because the Bill has not yet been enacted into law. Senate is the Upper House of Parliament and any significant scrutiny can result in sections of the Bill being revised.”



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