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.


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


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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Bearing the costs of construction and the price of water.

Katse Dam is the first Phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which was constructed in 1991 and completed in 1998 on the Malibamats’o River, a tributary of the Orange Senqu River. The communities living around the dam area have experienced several adverse consequences including social disarticulation, dispossession of livelihoods, and cultural alienation to name but a few. One of the glaring issues concerning this project is how the communities no longer have access to water. This past week, the world celebrated international water day, yet the communities in Katse claim not to have access to clean running water. The communities also have to walk long distances to the limited water sources which have been availed to them after losing their natural water resources.

The communities’ natural springs and wells have dried up as a result of the project, which has resulted in perplexing life changes amongst the communities. For 16 years, the village of Mapeleng lacked access to clean drinking water. During the inundation of the Katse dam, the community’s natural springs dried up. The community literally drank from ponds containing unclean water and the entire village suffered from waterborne diseases. 20 years later, the communities that sacrificed to make way for the dam project, continue to suffer immensely.

There is an urgent need to flip the lens towards the needs of communities so as to close the justice gap and safeguard the rights and sustainable livelihoods of communities being affected by large development projects. Project implementors must ensure access to water and sanitation as a preventive measure and a prerequisite for an adequate standard of living.

Water is a critical dimension of sustainable development as articulated in SDG-6 ( Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) which states that by 2030 that there should be equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations and the Water Act 2008 justifies that water is one of the most important resources.

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Relocation of Graves: A Cultural Dilemma for Basotho Community

Mr Samuel Molomo expressed concerns over the issue of relocation of graves. He questioned this process from cultural view point. He also considers it very traumatising to families and entire community. When the process is carried-out, the project should be sensitive to traditional practises and customs of Basotho where reinterment ceremonies are concerned.

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Communities’ Right to Free Prior and Informed Consent Ignored in Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme

Today we are at Ha Maphonkoane. We have been discussing the communities’ rights to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). They have a right to participate and to be consulted in all processes and decisions related to the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme.

They have expressed a sense of shock and anxiety at the thought of losing their lands and livelihoods as a result of this project. They are concerned that no official communication has come from the project official. Only 2 villages thus far have reported having visits from L-BWT officials of the 21 villages consulted by Seinoli.

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There are currently 9 communities in Mokhotlong that are affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II

Out of 9 communities, 4 are facing involuntary resettlement. Members of these communities during interviews by Seinoli Legal Centre expressed their concerns regarding the project which is just at its initial stage.

Mr. Maqebo Tsietsi from Mapholaneng opines that the compensation that communities are receiving is not fair and adequate. He states that the 86 cent/square metre compensation rate has been arbitrarily decided and has no basis compared to the harvest he gets from his fields. Communities are also complaining about the 50-year compensation period, claiming that the Land Act 2010 provides the right to use the land for 99 years. Therefore, they find the 50-year compensation plan baseless hence they reject it.

Community members pointed out that as a result of the project, they no longer have access to natural resources which formed an essential part of their livelihoods. They further expressed their concerns over LHDA’s unreasonable delay in disbursing compensation funds. Despite the fact that compensations are already inadequate, delays in disbursements further aggravate the chilling effect on communities.

The LHDA order of 1986 states that the Authority has the primary duty to ensure that the standard of living of the affected communities does not deteriorate, but rather is maintained or improved. The Order, read together with the Land Act of 2010 provides for prompt compensation even before entry into the property. This means that communities being affected are entitled to fair and adequate compensation.

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A different dimension of the food security issue

A different dimension of the food security issue is addressed by the story of Malehloa Sefao of Ha Rafanyane. Sefao narrated that compensation was calculated and delivered by the LHDA, ultimately cheated them as affected households. The bags of maize that they were offered by LHDA at the beginning of the construction of the dam were far bigger than what they are now being offered. The size of the bag of food supplies they were given has reduced. The bags are far smaller than they used to as illustrated in the picture below. The villagers were first given 50kg bag of maize and now it has been reduced to 25 kg.

Sefao then further noted that three women from the village by the names of Mateboho Motsamai, Mathabiso Mohobane and Manyatso Seafo used to run a gardening project but their garden was swallowed by the dam. These women supplied freshly grown vegetables from their garden which villagers now have to travel longer distance to purchase.

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Nkhono Manthabiseng Boi 

Nkhono Manthabiseng Boi is a 90 year old resident of Ha Lesaoana. Prior to the construction of the dam, she had fields from which she harvested several crops including maize, pumpkin, beans and peas. On average she harvested six bags of maize annually and now she is only receiving 2 bags of maize for her lost fields which she says no longer sustains her and the family throughout the year.

Nkhono Manthabiseng said she ultimately opted for cash compensation thinking it would change her situation for the better. Sadly, this did not help her situation at all as the M2, 000 she now receives as cash compensation still falls far short of meeting the food needs of her entire family for a whole year.

The famous and beautiful white gold of the mountain kingdom has left many landless and in great poverty wondering what tomorrow holds for them (hopeless).

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