Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. In recent years, the army’s involvement in the country’s already fragile politics has resulted in political instability and a security crisis. Corruption remains a challenge. Customary practice and law restrict women’s rights in areas such as property, inheritance, and marriage and divorce.
- The stability of the coalition government was threatened throughout the year by factionalism within the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), and in December, the ABC attempted to replace Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. Majoro refused to resign without a parliamentary vote of no confidence and remained in office at year’s end.
- A governance reform project facilitated by the South African Development Community (SADC) continued throughout the year, leading to several legal reforms, including the December adoption of legislation intended to enhance media freedom in the country. However, the reform process was jeopardized by the withdrawal of the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party in December after its leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, was charged with treason and murder.
- In May, over 40,000 garment workers participated in a national strike to demand higher wages and improved working conditions. Security forces responded to the protests with excessive force, injuring a number of striking workers and resulting in the deaths of two others.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. King Letsie III serves as the ceremonial head of state. The prime minister is head of government; the head of the majority party or coalition automatically becomes prime minister following elections, making the prime minister’s legitimacy largely dependent on the conduct of the polls. In May 2020, the ABC-led coalition government collapsed when then prime minister Thomas Thabane, who was being investigated for the 2017 murder of his estranged former wife, resigned after months of political uncertainty and increasing pressure from within the ABC and among coalition partners calling for his resignation. The ABC and opposition Democratic Congress (DC) formed a new coalition government with Moeketsi Majoro of the ABC as prime minister later that month.
The prime minister can advise the king to dissolve Parliament and call a new election, but members of the lower house voted to restrict this ability by constitutional amendment in October 2019. In May 2020, the king assented to the law, effectively limiting the powers of the prime minister. Unsuccessful attempts to topple the coalition government in 2021 left Majoro’s position in government tenuous; in December, the ABC recalled Majoro, intending to install cabinet minister Nkaku Kabi as prime minister. Majoro refused to resign, arguing that only Parliament can remove him through a vote of no confidence. He remained in office at year’s end.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, has 120 seats; 80 are filled through first-past-the-post constituency votes, and the remaining 40 through proportional representation. The Senate—the upper house of Parliament—consists of 22 principal chiefs who wield considerable authority in rural areas and whose membership is hereditary, along with 11 other members appointed by the king and acting on the advice of the Council of State. Members of both chambers serve five-year terms.
In 2017, the DC-led coalition government lost a no-confidence vote, triggering the third legislative election since 2012. Election observers declared the contest peaceful, generally well administered, and competitive. However, isolated instances of political violence were noted, as was a heavy security presence at many polling places, which electoral officials said intimidated some voters. The ABC won a plurality of seats and formed a coalition government.
In May 2020, the coalition government collapsed after Thabane’s resignation, and the ABC formed a new coalition with the DC later in the month. The current coalition government has faced continuous threats to its existence since its creation, largely due to infighting within the ruling ABC and tensions between coalition partners.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Although the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) faces capacity constraints, and the credibility of the voters’ roll has been questioned in the past, the IEC has been commended for its independence and its efforts to uphold electoral laws and oversee credible elections. International observers broadly commended the IEC’s administration of the 2017 snap poll but noted deficiencies they linked to a lack of capacity, including late disbursement of campaign funds to political parties. A lack of funds prevented the IEC from carrying out critical operations in 2021, including its work on demarcating constituencies, and resulted in the cancellation of planned by-elections. In December, the IEC reported that the lack of funding was affecting its preparations for the 2022 general elections.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties may form freely and are allocated funding by the IEC, and 27 parties contested the 2017 election. However, politics have been unstable since a failed 2014 coup. In recent years, the country has seen politically motivated assassinations and assassination attempts, and political leaders operate within the country at some risk to their personal safety.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections, and power has rotated frequently between DC- and ABC-led coalitions. However, political instability and associated violence and intimidation has at times prompted opposition leaders to flee the country. The SADC facilitated a governance reform process to address these concerns, culminating in the creation of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) in August 2019. The 59 members of the NRA were sworn into office in February 2020 and are expected to complete their work by April 2022. However, the NRA has faced obstacles to its work, including financial challenges and COVID-19-related restrictions. In December 2021, the opposition LCD pulled out of the SADC discussions after its leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, was charged with treason and murder related to his participation in the 2014 coup attempt, jeopardizing the stability of the process.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho has a long history of political instability largely related to disputes among factions of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the politicization of security agencies in general. Although the heavy military presence at voting stations during the 2017 election was questioned, no reports of voter interference surfaced. However, in June 2019, then defense minister Tefo Mapesela claimed that senior police officers threatened him after he criticized an army commander and a senior intelligence official in a phone conversation.
Principal chiefs wield some political influence over their rural subjects.
In 2018, Lesotho-based Chinese businessman Yan Xie claimed that he heavily donated to most of Lesotho’s political parties. Critics argued that Yan’s financial clout gave him considerable influence over the country’s political elites, exemplified by his 2017 appointment as a “head of special projects” and special trade envoy. In June 2020, Yan reportedly fled to Australia after learning that he was being investigated for corruption. In a February 2021 interview, Yan implied that he remained in contact with the prime minister, though Majoro has denied having any such contact with Yan.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees political rights for all. However, societal norms discourage women from running for office, and no parliamentary or party-list gender quota exists to ensure their representation. After the 2017 election, only 23 percent of seats in Parliament were held by women, down from 25 percent before the contest. Women’s involvement in local government has also declined; women held 49 percent of local positions in 2011, but only 40 percent in 2017. The inaccessibility of some polling stations to persons living with disabilities was raised as a concern during the 2017 election. LGBT+ individuals generally face societal discrimination, and this discourages them from advocating for their rights in the political sphere. In 2021, the NRA held stakeholder engagement meetings to discuss increasing the number of parliamentary seats elected through proportional representation, which proponents say will increase the representation of women and members of other underrepresented groups in Parliament.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
While elections are held without delays and representatives are duly seated, persistent political instability disrupts normal government operations. The stability of the governing coalition was undermined by disagreements between coalition partners and factionalism within the ruling ABC throughout 2021, including several unsuccessful attempts made within the coalition to oust Prime Minister Majoro. Despite the political turmoil associated with the instability of the governing coalition, Parliament was able to operate without undue interference throughout the year.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Official corruption and impunity remain significant problems. The main anticorruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offence (DCEO), lacks full prosecutorial powers and faces capacity and funding challenges. The Asset Forfeiture Unit, which was established in 2016 to recover property connected to corruption cases, is largely ineffective. In July 2020, then DCEO Director General Mahlomola Manyokole reported that Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase had approved plans for the establishment of a specialized anticorruption court. That same month, Parliament amended the DCEO Act to grant the agency powers to investigate money-laundering crimes beyond Lesotho’s borders. Anticorruption officials have claimed that individuals and companies have used state capture tactics to obtain immunity for corrupt dealings.
In January 2021, Prime Minister Majoro suspended Manyokole from his position as DCEO head for alleged incompetence. Manyokole was charged with money laundering, corruption, and abuse of power the following month; he has denied all allegations against him, saying that he was suspended for pursuing corruption investigations into high-level officials, including Majoro.
The DCEO has taken few corruption cases to court in recent years. However, in May 2021, the agency successfully brought Motena Tšolo, a former finance ministry official, to court on corruption charges in connection with her role in a 2018 high-profile procurement scandal; the case had not been resolved by year’s end.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho has no access-to-information law, and responses to information requests are not guaranteed. Though reports on public debt are publicly available, the management of public finances is generally shrouded in secrecy. Government procurement decisions and tenders typically cannot be accessed online. Although high-level government and elected officials are required to disclose their assets and business interests—which Prime Minister Majoro and his cabinet did in June 2020—these declarations are not made public. Enforcement of the rules is limited by resource constraints.
The appointment process for judges lacks transparency. However, in September 2021, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) publicly interviewed candidates for High Court appointments, and in December, announced plans to conduct further public interviews of judicial candidates in 2022.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of the press is only indirectly protected under constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. Journalists are subject to threats and intimidation from the authorities and private citizens. State and private media outlets have also been accused of open bias.
Journalists additionally face statutory barriers that interfere in their work, including criminal code provisions that bar sedition and offenses against the “dignity of the royal family.” The Penal Code, adopted in 2010, allows police officers to force journalists to reveal their sources.
In November 2021, journalists from two private radio stations, 357 FM and People's Choice FM (PCFM), were subjected to arbitrary arrest, harassment, and alleged physical assault by police for reporting on missing police guns; police later stormed the PCFM’s office and questioned the station’s employees about the reports. The same month, the state media regulator, the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), suspended 357 FM’s license for allegedly failing to comply with LCA directives.
Parliament passed new legislation establishing a national media policy in December; the policy was developed by the NRA and has been praised by local media rights activists, who say it will enhance media freedom in the country.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides legal protections for freedom of religion and prohibits religious discrimination, and religious freedom is generally upheld in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected in practice, though the government does interfere in the administration of institutions of higher education. In September 2019, National University of Lesotho (NUL) officials warned that the institution risked closure due to government funding cuts.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution provides legal protections for freedom of expression. However, political violence in recent years has discouraged open political debate. In October 2020, the LCA proposed regulations for online content that would require users with at least 100 followers or a reach of at least 100 to register as internet broadcasters and obtain a certificate from the regulatory body, which has the authority to investigate and order the removal of posts that do not comply with Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (Broadcasting) Rules of 2004.
In March 2021, the government presented Parliament with two bills proposing new cybersecurity and communications regulations, which included provisions allowing the government to monitor private communications between citizens. The bills were widely condemned by local rights groups, including the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho, which said that the legislation would violate citizens’ privacy rights and unduly suppress free expression. In September, a parliamentary committee rejected both draft laws, returning the bills to the executive with instructions to “reassess” the legislation.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Protests and demonstrations are permitted, but organizers must seek a permit seven days in advance. Demonstrations take place each year and are sometimes violently dispersed by police. Many COVID-19-related restrictions on gatherings remained in place throughout 2021, including a ban on “strikes, protests, and social gatherings.” Political rallies were permitted, though participation was limited by COVID-19-related regulations. Despite the ban on gatherings, numerous protests took place throughout 2021, including demonstrations by young people protesting the “lucrative allowances” granted to members of Parliament. Police responded violently to protests throughout the year, resulting in the deaths of two striking factory workers in May and the arrests of several protesters.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
NGOs generally operate without restrictions. However, some civil society groups act cautiously when working on politically sensitive issues. In addition, government rules on registering NGOs are strict; those who are accused of neglecting to register their organization risk a five-year prison sentence. No NGOs have been held to account for failure to register in recent years.
In August 2021, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a local rights NGO, asked the High Court to deregister all 41 of Lesotho’s political parties, accusing the parties of failing to adhere to the country’s electoral laws. The TRC’s petition, which government officials and the IEC called a “malicious” attempt to provoke a constitutional crisis, had not been ruled on by year’s end.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
While labor and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed, the union movement is weak and highly fragmented, and these challenges have undermined unions’ ability to advance the rights of workers. The government has previously been accused of undermining bodies like the National Advisory Committee on Labour (NACOLA), Wages Advisory Board, and Industrial Relations Council. In July 2021, the labor minister announced plans to review the existing labor code and to establish a bargaining council intended to regulate and oversee employment conditions in the country.
Many employees in the textile sector—Lesotho’s largest formal employer—face obstacles when attempting to join unions. Despite the COVID-19-related ban on industrial action, in May, over 40,000 garment workers participated in a national strike to demand higher wages and improved working conditions. Security forces responded to the protests with excessive force, injuring a number of striking workers and resulting in the deaths of two others. In December, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) signed an agreement with Hippo Knitting to help “ensure safe working conditions” in the garment factory, where numerous workers have reported facing serious abuses.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution protects judicial independence, but the judiciary lacks resources and faces a shortage of judicial officers. The Lesotho Times reported in October 2020 that the judicial system was on the verge of collapse due to a lack of funds and infrastructural disrepair. The judiciary was reportedly allocated M11 million ($687,000) to fund all judicial operations in 2021, less than half of the M25 million ($1.5 million) budget that some judges say is required. Though the JSC interviewed candidates for seven vacant judicial positions on the High Court in September, only two judges were appointed due to financial constraints.
Judges do rule against the government, including on politically sensitive issues. In May 2020, Prime Minister Majoro admitted that factional battles within the ruling ABC had eroded the independence of the judiciary. The SADC and the government decided in 2018 to engage foreign judges on high-profile and politically sensitive cases. Only one of the three foreign judges appointed to the High Court remained by September 2021, following the resignations of the other two judges in May 2020 and August 2021, respectively.
The judicial appointment process lacks transparency, and members of the JSC at times act without proper oversight. However, in September 2021, the JSC publicly interviewed candidates for High Court appointments for the first time.
High Court judges often fail to provide justification for their decisions; in April, Kananelo Mosito, the president of the Court of Appeal, asked the Chief Justice to address the problem, which Mosito says undermines public confidence in the judiciary.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
While the courts generally uphold due process, a large backlog of cases has left individuals subject to trial delays and lengthy pretrial detention. Judicial vacancies often go unfilled due to a lack of funds, reducing the judiciary’s capacity to address the backlog and creating further delays. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated issues within the judicial system, though the Court of Appeal operated during the lockdown period in 2020, holding remote hearings.
In September 2021, Chief Justice Sakoane ordered the courts to ensure that individuals accused of a crime are tried within two months of their original arrest date, unless the court is able to provide written evidence showing “compelling reasons” to act otherwise.
In the first eight months of 2019, the government appointed three foreign judges to preside over high-profile criminal cases that were affected by the ongoing backlog; two of the three judges had resigned by August 2021, reportedly due in part to “frustration” over persistent trial delays. Numerous high-profile trials, including that of former army commander Tlali Kamoli on charges of attempted murder, have been subjected to repeated delays in recent years. Kamoli’s trial was postponed several times in 2021, and had not started by year’s end.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho faced years of violence related to factional disputes within the army; the SADC appointed a facilitation team to create a reform process that would partially focus on the security sector. The SADC’s work culminated in the creation of the NRA, which began operating in February 2020.
The constitution provides legal protections against torture, but allegations of torture have been levied against police forces, the LDF, and prison authorities. In September 2021, the family of Tšeliso Sekonyela, who died earlier that month while in police custody, reported that he appeared to have been severely tortured. Three police officers were suspended in relation to Sekonyela's death, which remained under investigation at year’s end.
Lesotho does not have an independent administrative body to investigate human rights abuses.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Rights are restricted for some groups. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, though same-sex marriage remains prohibited. LGBT+ individuals face societal discrimination and challenges accessing services, like health care. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not prohibited by law. Customary laws and other social norms discriminate against women. For example, women are considered minors under the guardianship of their fathers before marriage and their husbands after marriage. Schools often lack facilities for students with disabilities. In March 2021, Parliament passed the Persons with Disability Equity Act into law, bringing the country’s laws into accord with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which it is a signatory. Under the new law, the government introduced a disability grant program in July for those living with disabilities in Lesotho.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution protects freedom of movement, which is generally upheld. In recent years, a high incidence of rape on a path near the Ha Lebona and Ha Koeshe villages has prompted some women to reduce travel in the area.
COVID-19 regulations in 2020 restricted free movement in order to curtail the spread of the virus. Some restrictions were lifted in October 2021, including on international travel.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution protects property rights, though related laws are inconsistently upheld. Women’s rights are restricted in areas such as property and inheritance, including chieftainships, which can only be inherited by men. Expropriation is provided for in the constitution but is uncommon and subject to fair compensation. Government instability and the country’s volatile politics hamper normal business activity. In November 2020, Parliament adopted new regulations that will reserve a list of 47 business activities for the Basotho ethnic group. Foreigners can only participate in these activities as minority shareholders. In September 2021, the government suspended the regulations in order to revise the law.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Prominent social norms and harmful patriarchal attitudes negatively affect women. Women’s rights are restricted in marriage and divorce, and violence against women is high. In April 2021, the government introduced legislation intended to establish mechanisms to combat domestic violence; the bill remained under consideration in Parliament at year’s end. Forced and child marriages remain an ongoing problem. In September 2020, the Commonwealth Secretariat reported that one in three women in Lesotho had experienced physical or sexual violence, often at the hands of their partners. Accountability for the perpetrators of gender-based violence is not consistent.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Human trafficking remains an ongoing challenge for Lesotho. Although the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report acknowledges that the government has made significant efforts in fighting the problem, it found that Lesotho authorities did not fully meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. In September 2021, the government introduced new visa requirements intended to further combat human trafficking in the country.
Child labor and forced labor for both men and women remains a problem. In August, the government announced that it had requested an independent assessment of the child labor situation in Lesotho.
In December 2020, the DC party leader and deputy prime minister Mathibeli Mokhothu was reportedly linked in a court case to Rana Qamar, a Pakistani national well-known for human trafficking. Qamar has been accused of using two cabinet ministers, including Mokhothu, to pressure an immigration official into letting two Pakistanis into Lesotho without visas.
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Global Freedom Score63 100 partly free