THE European Union (EU) has awarded a combined M15 million to three civil society organisations to implement projects meant to foster the development of human rights issues in the country.
Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) are set to implement the projects over the course of two years.
Addressing guests during the launch of the projects, EU Ambassador to Lesotho, Dr Michael Doyle, they called for project proposals on 22 June 2015 under the “European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights Country Based Support Scheme”.
“The key objectives of this thematic funding instrument of the EU, which supports many actions around the world, are to enhance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform,” he said.
The envoy said they received 18 applications, with 16 from organisations in Lesotho, while two were international organisations.
Dr Doyle said following a robust and competitive selection process, “the projects proposed by three civil society organisations from Lesotho were awarded grant funding”.
“This demonstrates that Lesotho has strong civil society organisations (CSOs) which can perform well when competing with international organisations for funding. As such I would urge CSOs in Lesotho to apply for global call for proposals.”
He said some of the human rights issues the projects would address included public education and awareness raising on rights; institutionalisation of a human rights culture; protection of the rights of marginalised and vulnerable members of society; and strengthening of the civil society sector’s participation and capacity in human rights matters.
LCN Director Seabata Motsamai, said the focus of their project, titled “Civil society engagement towards fostering the rule of law and accountability”, was to strengthen the capacity of local civil society organisations and other stakeholders “to pursue the promotion of human rights principles, related accountability of public institutions and the democratisation process.”
TRC’s Tšoeu Petlane said their project dubbed “Advocacy for the establishment and governance of a fully-fledged Human Rights Commission” supported advocacy for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission which is complaint with the UN Paris Principles.
For its part, WLSA’s project named “Real talk real action: Preventing and eliminating early marriages, discrimination on inheritance and violence against LGBTI persons as a strategy to attain gender equality in Lesotho focused on the prevention and elimination of early marriages, discrimination on inheritance of girl children and violence against LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex)people.
In his remarks, Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa, said the launch came at an opportune time when Lesotho had just enacted a law that operationalised the Human Rights Commission of Lesotho.
Mr Letsosa indicated numerous meetings between the ministry and other stakeholders took place until the passing of Human Rights Commission Act 2016 on 3 June 2016.
However, he said he was aware that after the passing of the Act by parliament there had been concerns the law did not conform to the Paris Principles, “especially pertaining to appointment procedures and dismissal of the commissioners”.
“These claims were sponsored by some civil society organisations. I have no doubt that these organisations know better: In the context of Lesotho most laws can effectively be operational when they are backed by regulations. So this law is one of those. I said this many times but those organisations did not want to listen. I am glad that this prolonged argument is about to come to an end,” said Mr Letsosa.
“It will be recalled that the Paris Principles’ cornerstones are competence and responsibilities, composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism, methods of operation, and additional principles concerning the status of commissions with quasi-jurisdictional competence.
“We should bear in mind that when the principles were formulated, the intention was basically to provide governments with an idea or benchmark that they should use to set up national institutions and it has become the ‘maximum programme that is hardly met by any national institution in the world’ – not a single national institution can claim that it is 100 percent Paris Principles compliant.”
He said the Human Rights Commission was “sitting at the crossroads between government and civil society” adding it was neither a classic government agency nor an non-governmental organisation.
“So it is a public entity with government element and civil society flavour but serving ordinary Basotho. The Human Right Commission of Lesotho is going to be just that!,” Mr Letsosa said.
“Government is working hard to level the ground for appointment of commissioners and to make sure that the commission starts its work. What I can confirm is that it will not be long before all these logistics are done. So I call upon all the stakeholders in human rights matters to give necessary support to the commission once it is in operation.”