Lesotho submits human trafficking report

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Herbert Moyo

HOME Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa says the government has submitted its report to the United States (US) government detailing the measures it has taken to address the latter’s concerns about alleged rampant human trafficking.

Mr Letsosa said the report was submitted to the US embassy in Maseru on Friday. This was just a couple of days shy of the 1 February 2021 deadline the US government had given for the submission of the report, failing which Lesotho would have automatically lost its eligibility for US development assistance and preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), among other things.

“We submitted the report on Friday,” Mr Letsosa told the Lesotho Times yesterday.

“It would not have been possible for the US government to immediately respond but we expect that they will do so in due course. It is now up to the US government to decide whether or not Lesotho has done enough to remain eligible for US development assistance, Mr Letsosa added.

However, the minister refused to say whether they had begun investigating and prosecuting high profile people including senior government officials for alleged involvement in trafficking activities as demanded by the US government.

The minister acknowledged that the US government had demanded the probe and prosecutions but he said all these issues had been captured in the report they submitted to the US government on Friday.

Mr Letsosa’s remarks come against the background of a warning two weeks ago by the US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, that unless it addressed human trafficking concerns by 1 February 2021, Lesotho risked losing billions of maloti in funding under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) second compact as well as eligibility for AGOA on which the entire local textiles sector is anchored.

The AGOA law allows Lesotho to export textile products to the US duty-free, making them highly competitive.   It was on the basis of AGOA that many Taiwanese and Chinese entrepreneurs descended on Lesotho in the 2000s to establish large textile factories that now employ about 45 000 Basotho. But those jobs are now at risk due to the government’s failure to address the US government’s concerns of official complicity in human trafficking.  Without AGOA’s duty free status, Lesotho’s textile exports into the US cannot compete with those from well-established and competitive textile manufacturers like Vietnam, Bangladesh and China.

Ms Gonzales further warned that Lesotho also risked losing out on health funding under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which had helped the country make substantial strides in containing the deadly HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In addition, the country will also lose out vital security sector assistance programmes, such as police and military training events and exchanges, which are crucial to Lesotho’s plans of implementing security sector reforms in line with the 2016 recommendations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Lesotho was placed in Tier 3, the lowest ranking in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020.

Normally, a country in Tier 3 automatically loses all forms of US assistance but Ms Gonzales revealed that she had recommended a waiver of any punishment against Lesotho to enable Dr Majoro to act on the issue since he had only assumed office as recently as 20 May 2020.

A fortnight ago Ms Gonzales said Lesotho had to take concrete actions to retain its eligibility for development assistance which included making substantive progress in its investigations of “credible allegations of official complicity in human trafficking, arresting suspects and prosecuting them in the courts of law”.

Ironically, Mr Letsosa is deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC) party whose senior officials have been accused of involvement in human trafficking activities.

Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli leads the DC, the second biggest party in the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party.

Messrs Letsosa and Mokhothu have both denied allegations implicating their party in trafficking activities. They have dismissed the allegations as the work of their detractors bent on tarnishing their image to scupper their chances of winning next year’s crucial general elections.

Meanwhile, the US embassy yesterday confirmed receiving the Lesotho government’s report.

“The US embassy confirms that it has received the Government of Lesotho’s response to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report,” embassy spokesperson, Jasmine White, said in a brief interview with the Lesotho Times. Ms White did not elaborate on what would happen next.

 

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