Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Drought has plagued Lesotho for over a decade, leading to food shortages for as many as 725,000 people, although conditions improved somewhat in 2013. Lesotho suffers an adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of approximately 23 percent, one of the world’s highest. The government offers free HIV testing to all citizens, but only about 25 percent of the country’s infected citizens receive antiretroviral treatment.
In 2013, two senior politicians were indicted on corruption charges. Water Minister Timothy Thahane became the first cabinet minister to be dismissed due to corruption.
Political Rights: 31 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 10 / 12
King Letsie III serves as ceremonial head of state. The lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, is comprised of 120 seats; 80 are filled through first-past-the-post constituency votes and 40 through proportional representation. Members serve five-year terms, and the leader of the majority party becomes the prime minister. The Senate—the upper house of Parliament—consists of Lesotho’s 22 traditional principal chiefs, who wield considerable authority in rural areas, and 11 other members appointed on the advice of the prime minister.
Despite pre-election violence and a deeply divided result, the May 2012 parliamentary elections were free and fair. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s newly formed Democratic Congress (DC) won the most votes and 48 seats in the National Assembly but was unable to form a government. A few days later, All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Tom Thabane—whose party won 30 seats—announced a 65-seat coalition with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), which had captured 26 seats, and the Basotho National Party, which claimed 5. Despite fears that the results would be contested and that Mosisili and his supporters would refuse to hand over power, Thabane peacefully took over as prime minister in June.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16
Lesotho was dominated by the LCD until the 2012 election, when an ABC-led coalition took power for the first time. The DC, which won the most seats, was formed after 45 members of Parliament broke off from the LCD before the 2012 election. More than 15 parties and several independent candidates contested the 2012 elections, and 12 gained representation.
C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12
While the government has aggressively prosecuted cases of graft, political corruption remains a problem. According to the African Peer Review Mechanism, corruption is rife in all sectors of government and public services, and cronyism is prevalent in state bidding procedures. Since 2012, all government officials must declare their financial interests as a condition of office, though implementation was spotty in 2013. The anticorruption watchdog, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offenses (DCEO)—which became autonomous in 2012—indicted two senior politicians on corruption charges in 2013. In February, DC deputy leader and former minister of natural resources Monyane Moleleki was charged with fraud and corruption over the alleged diversion of $1.6 million in state resources to electrify villages in his constituency. In October, Thahane, the minister of energy, meteorology, and water affairs, became the first cabinet minister to be sacked for corruption after the DCEO indicted him for illegally benefiting from loans intended for farmers while he was finance minister in 2010. Lesotho was ranked 55 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 41 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16
Freedoms of speech and the press are generally respected, and independent newspapers and radio stations routinely criticize the government. However, state-owned print and broadcast media tend to reflect the views of the ruling party, and the state controls Lesotho’s largest radio station and its only television station. Critical media outlets and journalists face severe libel and defamation penalties, and reporters are occasionally harassed, threatened, and attacked. While media coverage of the May 2012 election was more professional and expansive than during previous elections, the state-run Lesotho Broadcasting Service allocated more radio and television airtime to the DC party; private broadcast coverage favored opposition parties. The government does not restrict internet access, though access is restricted by socio-economic constraints.
Lesotho is a predominantly Christian country, and freedom of religion is widely observed. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected, though demonstrations are sometimes broken up violently. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without restrictions. While labor rights are constitutionally guaranteed, the union movement is weak and fragmented. Many employers in the textile sector—Lesotho’s largest formal employer—do not allow union activity.
F. Rule of Law: 11 / 16
Courts are nominally independent, but higher courts are subject to outside influence. The large backlog of cases often leads to trial delays and lengthy pretrial detention. Mistreatment of civilians by security forces reportedly continues. Prisons are dilapidated, severely overcrowded, and lack essential health services; instances of torture and use of excessive force have been reported. The police were accused of committing several extrajudicial killings in 2013, and 3 suspects died in custody, including one under investigation at year’s end. An independent ombudsman’s office is tasked with protecting citizens’ rights, but its enforcement powers are weak. In 2013, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service launched a course on management skills to prevent human rights violations.
Tensions between the Basotho and the community of Chinese migrant traders have grown in recent years as Chinese-owned small businesses have become more successful.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16
The constitution bars gender-based discrimination, but customary practice and law still restrict women’s rights in the areas of property and inheritance. While their husbands are alive, women married under customary law have the status of minors in civil courts and may not enter into binding contracts. Nonetheless, women are prevalent in senior political and economic positions in Lesotho, including in government and senior management. Domestic violence is reportedly widespread. “Sodomy” is illegal but reportedly the law is not enforced. Still, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals face societal discrimination. Lesotho saw its first-ever gay pride march in May, organized by a local gay rights advocacy organization that first registered in 2010.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year