Resettlement and Relocation: The psychosocial traumas that come with large infrastructure development projects.

Dam constructions have wide-ranging effects such as displacement, resettlement, relocation and rehabilitation which involves physical transfer of communities to a new location. One of the rarely acknowledged impacts of projects such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is the psychological trauma experienced by communities.

Community members of the village of Ha Phohla, in the Polihali Dam area in Mokhotlong, were informed as far back as 2012 that they would be resettled as a result of construction of the Dam. In 2018 the community was informed by the project implementing authority, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), that the village would not be resettled after all. Two years later the community was told that the village would, in fact, be partially resettled.

The community has since not received any development initiatives that other communities get because of the impending resettlement. They were discouraged from undertaking any developments for themselves such as building of houses. The community not only lives in anxiety of facing partial relocation but also experience the frustration of not having any developments been effected in the village.

Involuntary resettlement should be conceived as an opportunity for improving the livelihoods of the affected people and undertaken accordingly. All people affected by involuntary resettlement should be consulted and involved in resettlement planning to ensure that the mitigation of adverse effects as well as the benefits of resettlement are appropriate and sustainable. This should incorporate psychosocial support to communities, especially those facing involuntary resettlement.

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Lesotho: Joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee by ICJ and partners highlights numerous human rights concerns

n advance of the upcoming examination of Lesotho’s human rights record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in July, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), The People’s Matrix Association (PM), Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC) and the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD) made a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee. The document draws the Committee’s attention to the human rights impact of inevitable failures by Lesotho to comply with its obligations under the ICCPR. It makes a number of recommendations to address those failures.

The submission details several concerns arising from Lesotho’s failure to comply with its obligations under the ICCPR, including:

  • the failure to enact a legal framework allowing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons to access legal documentation, or alter such legal documentation, to correctly reflect their self-identified gender/sex;
  • the denial of access to justice because of restricted access to legal aid services in Lesotho;
  • the denial of the rights to freedoms of assembly and expression of individuals and groups seeking to undertake lawful protests to secure their rights; and
  • the discrimination suffered by persons with disabilities in areas such as sexual autonomy, voting rights, access to justice, institutionalization, and failures to provide reasonable accommodations.

In addition, the ICJ, PM, SLC, and LNFOD are concerned, as set out in their joint submission, that, even though Lesotho’s legislation guarantees equal treatment of men and women, women are discriminated against when they try to access compensation from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

In particular, the organizations’ joint submission to the Committee describes human rights concerns with respect to the following topics, making recommendations on how such concerns could be addressed:

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

  • discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation;
  • the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity;
  • failure to ensure legal gender/ sex recognition;

Administration of Justice

  • limited access to State-provided legal aid and restrictions on NGOs in providing legal aid services;
  • denial of the right to peaceful assembly (in the context of protests);
  • discriminatory denial of compensation to women affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

The rights of persons with disabilities

  • failure to implement the Persons with Disability Equity Act and establish the Persons with Disability Advisory Council;
  • failure to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities to access courts and legal services;
  • laws rendering persons with disabilities incompetent to give evidence;
  • the indefinite institutionalization of persons determined to be “insane” or “mentally incapacitated” due to a denial of support to enable them to exercise their legal capacity;
  • failure to provide quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities in the general education system in community schools;
  • laws denying the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to consent to sexual intercourse;
  • the denial of persons with disabilities of their right to vote.

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ICJ, PM, SLC & LNFOD Joint Submission on Lesotho to the UN Human Rights Committee

Background

On 2 April 2019, at its 125th session, the Human Rights Committee issued a List of issues prior to the submission of the second periodic report of Lesotho, and requested in Part B, specific information on the implementation of articles 1 to 27 of the Covenant, including regarding previous recommendations of the Committee.

On 31 March 2020, Lesotho submitted to the Human Rights Committee its second periodic report under Article 40 of the Covenant pursuant to the optional reporting procedure. The report was published on 22 April 2020.

In view of the Committee’s review of Lesotho’s record under the ICCPR, the ICJ, The People’s Matrix Association, Seinoli Legal Centre, and the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled they have made a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee on Lesotho’s State Party report.

The UN Human Rights Committee will review Lesotho’s implementation of the list of issues during its 138th session, between 26 June and 28 July 2023.

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Calling all advocates for human rights!

We are thrilled to inform you about the ongoing Human Rights Defenders Training Workshop in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. 🌍

The displacement of rural communities and the violation of their land rights due to projects like the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) have prompted us to take action. We believe in empowering communities to fight for their rights! 💪✊

Did you know that many people are unaware of the laws designed to protect them from such injustices? Limited access to legal assistance further marginalizes these communities. Together, we can make a difference! 🌟

That’s why the Seinoli Legal Centre, in collaboration with the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, is hosting the first-ever local community HRDs training for those affected by LHWP Phase II. Our goal is to enhance oversight and strengthen the role of HRDs in monitoring and responding to human rights violations.

From June 12th to 14th, 2023, community members will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to be powerful advocates for their rights. Together, we can bring about positive change! 🤝

Join us in raising awareness and supporting these courageous individuals fighting for justice. Together, we can build a better future!

#HumanRightsDefenders #CommunityEmpowerment 

#LesothoHighlandsWaterProject #Advocacy #JusticeForAll

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Open Letter to President Ramaphosa on the Occasion of SOD Turning of LHWP Phase II Main works on 23rd May 2023

The Presidency

Union Buildings

Government Avenue,

Pretoria

Private Bag X1000,

Pretoria,

0001

19th May 2023

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa,

Your visit to Polihali, Mokhotlong, to officially launch full-scale construction work of Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP II) on the 23rd of May 2023, is highly welcomed.

Mr. President, when this project was concluded under the 1986 LHWP Treaty, it was celebrated for the immense economic returns that would accrue to both Lesotho and South Africa including sustainable development for local affected communities. South Africa and Lesotho made an undertaking, in the Treaty, “to take all reasonable measures to ensure that the implementation, operation, and maintenance of the Project are compatible with the protection of the existing quality of the environment and, in particular, shall pay due regard to the maintenance of the welfare of persons and communities immediately affected by the project.” The reality for communities, however, is in stark contrast to this undertaking.

As you know, Phase I of this project, which involved the construction of Katse Dam (under Phase IA) and Mohale Dam (under Phase IB) was inaugurated in 2004. Over 20 000 people were directly affected by this first phase of LHWP. Thousands remain without compensation for the adverse impacts of the project on their lives and no efforts were made to actively ensure that communities get direct economic benefits. Communities living in the vicinity of both the Katse and Mohale Dams endure consistent violations of their right to access to clean water, as access to natural springs and other water sources was impacted by the dams. Mr. President, communities are not allowed to access water from the dams to drink their animals or to irrigate their crops. Women within LHWP Phase II affected communities are already marginalized as a result of cultural stereotypes which prevent women from owning land and benefiting from compensation for land rights that get affected by LHWP. Lack of access to water further marginalizes them and exacerbates their inability to break free of poverty.

While there is a responsibility for the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority to uphold the agreement, there is a significant perception among communities affected that impacts the image of South Africa negatively. This fundamentally detracts from South Africa’s Africa Agenda and desire to be a partner to Africans. Moreover, affected communities are likely to seek further economic opportunities in South Africa.

Mr. President, you may recall that the LHWP Treaty was signed during the apartheid government in South Africa and a military regime in Lesotho. It was concluded during a period when both governments had no regard for human rights and the dictates of democracy and good governance. In fact, no consultations were undertaken at all with the people of Lesotho in general and the affected communities. Any dissent expressed against this project was thwarted with threats and violence. It is therefore not surprising Mr. President that the Treaty has failed to promote, respect, and protect the human rights of people immediately affected by the project.

When South Africa decided to implement Phase II following prolonged negotiations and signed the agreement to that effect in 2011, it was in the context of these residual issues which remain outstanding to date. This occasion of your visit to the Polihali Dam project site presents an opportunity to ensure that this phase does not repeat the same mistakes, and guarantee that the communities who have given way to this dam are placed at the center of this project. 

Mr. President, the further implementation of advanced infrastructure works to pave the way for the construction of LHWP II, known as the Polihali Dam has already had an adverse impact on the livelihoods of communities affected by this component of the project. Land and other natural resources which are the basis of the communities’ livelihoods have been expropriated by the project without payment and compensation. The transition into the next component of LHWP II, marked by the occasion of your visit on the 23rd of May 2023, will lead to the renewed physical and economic displacement of families. The LHWP Phase II feasibility studies have estimated that about 16 villages will require to be relocated or resettled due to close proximity to the dam and/or significantly impeded access in the event of floods. And again, thousands will be economically displaced as a result of the acquisition and inundation of their agricultural land, grazing land, including natural resources. The result is imminent food insecurity, impoverishment, and the breakdown of social networks and culture.

Climate change and the growing South African population and economy dictate that South Africa will increasingly rely on water from Lesotho. The role and importance of LHWP and the anticipated phases beyond the Polihali Dam, necessitate that great care be taken to secure ownership and buy-in of communities who have hitherto remained dissatisfied with this project. The challenge, Mr. President, for this occasion and for the government of South Africa is to address South Africa’s interests in keeping this bilateral project more significant to both countries without losing sight of the longer-term sustainable development of local communities.

We, therefore, call upon you to:

1) Review, as a matter of urgency, the LHWP Treaty to align it with the international human rights standards for better protection and promotion of the rights of affected communities.

2) Devote your time whilst in Lesotho to meet with Civil Society Organisations and the communities affected to hear their concerns regarding the implementation of LHWP Phase II first-hand.

3) Engage the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and LHWP’s implementing authorities on the challenges facing communities affected by Phase I and Phase II of the LHWP, address human rights violations of communities, and ensure their right to development and restore their livelihoods.

4) Assist the Kingdom of Lesotho and Lesotho Highlands Development Authority to overhaul the entire LHWP Legal and Compensation Framework, to ensure fair and adequate compensation for communities.

5) Support the Kingdom of Lesotho and Lesotho Highlands Development Authority to formulate as a matter of urgency, Livelihoods Restoration Policy, which is in line with best international standards, to ensure that affected communities’ livelihoods are improved.

6) Undertake, as a matter of urgency, a forensic audit of all compensation funds intended for the affected people.

Respectfully,

Signed: 

1. Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC)

2. Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD)

3. Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP)

4. Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)

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The Justice Gap, Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality

The Justice Gap, Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality

In line with this year’s theme for International Women’s Rights Day, the SLC recognizes the rights of women being affected by large development projects.

Despite the potential benefits of large-scale hydro projects, these projects inevitably have a considerable impact on women and their ability to support their families. In addition to challenges that are presented by patriarchy and cultural stereotypes that perpetuate gender inequality, women’s ability to obtain legal services and obtain access to justice and redress for losses they incur as a result of the projects remains a big challenge. Access to the internet, mobile phones, and stable connectivity constitute a great opportunity for women and organizations working towards supporting them to close the gender justice gap. With mobile devices and access to the internet, communities would be able to gather on-the-ground real-time data including recording the key resources in their areas and specific impact activities that would provide evidence that could support they are seeking formal justice in court.

In Lesotho, especially in the rural highlands where most communities affected by such projects are located, there is no access to electricity as a basic condition to even use a mobile device. In addition, very few people have mobile devices as the costs of these devices and data are restrictive and out of reach for many communities. This requires major and swift changes at the government policy level; in the first instance, Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) and Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme (L-BWT) and other such projects in the country should provide communities with electricity. Connectivity is also a major issue within these areas even for those people that do have access to the internet. Action must be taken to ensure connectivity and improved network access. This will require partnerships and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders, but it is also mostly an issue of political will.

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Communities in the Dark: Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme Threatens Livelihoods and Cultural Practices

This week Seinoli Legal Centre continues to visit the remaining communities in Makhaleng which form part of those that will be affected by the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme, by providing legal Education and assisting the communities to establish community leadership structures that will enable them to effectively engage with project implementers and ensure that the rights and interests of the community are protected.

This project will take away the communities’ different means of livelihood such as fields, pastures, medicinal plants, and other important natural resources, and also affect their cultural practices and traditions.

It should be noted that these communities did not know about this project until Seinoli conducted awareness-raising campaigns in 2021. The communities claim they were completely in the dark regarding any information about this project as they’ve only seen groups of people and vehicles going in and out of the villages conducting what seems like surveys.

The communities requested that since their lives are at stake, they should be provided with all the necessary information concerning the project and informed about the dam processes.

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This year’s Human Rights Day slogan is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All” and the call to action is #StandUp4Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) highlights the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC) is cognisant of the fact that economic cooperation with transnational companies and developmental projects such as construction of commercial dams under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHDA) and the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer project (L-BWT) constitute a source of revenue representing a substantial part of foreign direct investment which, if managed in a viable, sustainable and transparent manner respectful of human rights, can contribute immensely to socio-economic development. However, with the exponential increase of large developmental projects in Lesotho, there are major risks of the occurrence of human rights violations including:

• Dispossession of land and displacement of communities;
• Lack of communities’ participation in key decision-making processes affecting them (Free, Prior, Informed Decision);
• Lack of adequate compensations for those affected;
• Environmental degradation;
• Lack of developmental projects, corporate social responsibility and livelihoods restoration for affected communities.

Based on this year’s Human Rights Day slogan which provides for dignity, freedom and justice for all, and in line with the SLC’s mandate of using the rule of law as a tool to protect communities affected by large projects in Lesotho, SLC calls upon the Government of Lesotho to fulfil its duty to protect human rights by ensuring that:

• It sets out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in Lesotho or within its jurisdiction respect human rights throughout their operations;
• It exercises adequate oversight under the LHWP and L-BWT project, when it contracts with or legislates for, business enterprises to provide services that may impact upon the enjoyment of individuals’ and communities’ rights.
• It enforces laws that are aimed at, or have the effect of, requiring business enterprises to respect individuals and communities’ rights, and periodically to assess the adequacy of such laws and address any gaps, in particular, the provisions of the LHDA Order of 1986.
• It formulates as a matter of urgency a National Compensation Policy to ensure fair and adequate compensations for affected individuals and communities.
• It enacts, the Public Participation Act to ensure that the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent is respected when dealing with communities.
• It takes appropriate steps to ensure the effectiveness of judicial mechanisms when addressing business-related human rights abuses, including reducing legal, practical and other relevant barriers that lead to a denial of access to remedy such as a legal requirement for a locus standi in judicio. (non-recognition of public interest litigation and judicial activism).
SLC further calls upon the business enterprises to fulfill their corporate responsibility to respect human rights by:
• Avoiding at all costs infringing on the rights of individuals and communities and address adverse human rights impact with which they are involved.
• Preventing or mitigating adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations.
• Having in place policies on human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impact on human rights, and make such policies publicly available and accessible to communities.
• Enhancing the socio-economic status of affected communities through social corporate responsibility and other developmental projects within communities as well as communities’ livelihoods restoration.

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Potential impacts of the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme.

The Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer (L-BWTS) Scheme is being conducted in terms of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed in 2017 between the governments of Lesotho, Botswana, and South Africa. In terms of this agreement, a dam will be constructed along the Makhaleng river in the southern lowlands of Lesotho. The project shall supply Botswana with water through a conveyance water pipeline going through South Africa. It will further provide the three countries with electricity to complement the system power needs of the local towns in the countries.
Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC), a public interest law centre that protects the rights of communities affected by the construction of dams and large infrastructure in Lesotho, has consulted the 21 would-be-affected communities to determine their awareness of the L-BWT project and the impact thereof. No official information or communication has been made to the communities regarding the project which indicates that the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) has not been applied to communities to be affected by the project. The standards of living and livelihoods of communities living along the river will be greatly affected, as they will be forced to resettle to make way for the dam and their land and natural resources will be lost to the dam. These communities have a right to be informed and consulted about decisions which affect their lives.
The SLC calls on the project authorities, in particular ORASECOM which is the executing body to ensure that members of communities to be affected are put at the center of this project and that their rights and interests are respected.
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Botswana set to draw water from Lesotho: Is Lesotho ready to venture into another water development?

Lesotho has approved to venture into a water scheme with Botswana and South Africa. The $2.3 million Mega dam project funded by the African Development Bank (ADB) was agreed on by the three countries in 2013. Makhaleng river has been identified as a suitable site for the construction of the dam and the proposed project is currently at its feasibility study phase. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) were signed by the concerned parties to undertake the feasibility studies for the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme, however, none of the host communities identified to be directly affected by this dam have any information pertaining to this project nor activities underpinning the feasibility.
The below article illustrates the potential impact the water scheme poses if proper procedures are not followed by the implementing authorities.
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Untold stories of the Katse dam

From a distance, the Katse dam is a spectacle of engineering. It has been constructed to the highest engineering standards in the world and various parts of the project have won international recognised awards.

The dam has nonetheless caused untold suffering amongst the 20, 000 people whose livelihoods have been affected by construction of the dam.
The communities living around the Katse dam have suffered numerous setbacks as a result of the dam. One of the most critical setbacks has been the decline in food security as their arable lands were inundated. LHDA put in place a compensation plan for the lost fields but the compensation has fallen far short of the expectations of local communities as they say they are receiving paltry payments which have condemned the villagers to poverty and starvation.

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