Human rights body on the cards



TRC Human Rights Advocacy Officer, Lepeli Moeketsi
TRC Human Rights Advocacy Officer, Lepeli Moeketsi

. . . amid outcry from civil society

Billy Ntaote

LESOTHO will soon have its first Human Rights Commission (HRC) after the recent publication of regulations announcing the selection process for commissioners by the Minister of Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights, Motlalentoa Letsosa.

The regulations appeared as Legal notice No. 111 of 2016 in the government gazette Volume 61 of 26 August 2016 titled: “Human Rights Commission (Selection Process for Members) Regulations, 2016”.

They were published pursuant to section 38 (1) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2016.

Mr Letsosa this week tabled the regulations before the National Assembly and said his ministry was ready to go ahead with the facilitation of the selection process in line with the provisions of the HRC regulations.

The regulations were tabled despite a High Court challenge in August by the Development for Peace Education (DPE) Transformation Resources Centre (TRC) challenging the legality of the Human Rights Commission Act No. 2 of 2016.

The civil society groups argue the decision by the Clerk of the National Assembly, King’s Counsel (KC) Fine Maema, to recall the HRC Bill (2015) before it was passed or rejected by Senate was inconsistent with Lesotho’s Constitution.

DPE and TRC seeks the court to declare the National Assembly and its Portfolio Committee on Law and Public Safety failed in their constitutional duty to facilitate proper public participation before passing the HRC Act No. 2 of 2016, with the failure rendering the law invalid.

They also argue the HRC Act compromises the independence of the commission because commissioners are solely appointed by the prime minister.

According to the regulations, public officers are ineligible for appointment as commissioners and a person can only be appointed if the prime minister is satisfied they have “extensive experience in human rights and related disciplines; is of high moral character and integrity and possesses such qualities of mind as to enable him to discharge his duties impartially, fairly and free from bias or prejudice”.

Additionally, a person can only be appointed on condition they do “not take an active part in party politics or has since retired from active party politics”.

The regulations further provide that the HCR shall be appointed through a competitive and transparent process which involves the submission of written applications, interviews, assessment and evaluation of candidates by a selections panel.

The regulations also state the HRC selection panel should be chaired by a representative of the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs while a representative of the Office of the Prime Minister should be secretary.

The Judicial Service Commission, Ministry of Justice, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, Christian Council of Lesotho and Ministry of Gender and Youth must each have a representative on the selection panel as well.

The terms of reference for the selection panel include receiving applications, interviewing and shortlisting six names of the best candidates “for consideration by the Prime Minister in advising the King under 133B of the Constitution”.

The selection panel has the added responsibility of making recommendations to the prime minister by way of a report on the selection of the three commissioners required for the HRC.

However, the publication of the regulations has not gone down well with the TRC. Its Human Rights Officer Lepeli Moeketsi said the decision by the Ministry to disregard their court application was “a shocking development”.

“We are still challenging the validity of the law establishing the HRC and it is therefore a shocking development for a minister to disregard a sub judice rule,” he said.

He said the establishment and composition of the selection panel should have been provided for in the Act and rather than be considered in the regulations as this compromised the independence of the HRC.

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