By Nat Molomo
MASERU — A High Court judge says civil society and the state should complement each other in upholding human rights and promoting the rule of law.
Justice Semapo Peete was speaking at a two-day workshop on human rights organised by the Sadc Lawyers Association and the Law Society of Lesotho.
Justice Peete spoke on the theme “Observing human rights and promoting the rule of law: are the roles of the state and civil society competing or complementary?”
Justice Peete said the “observance and protection of human rights and freedoms are vital in any democratic governance founded on constitutionalism, legality and the rule of law”.
“The judiciary and the legal profession play a very crucial role in the enforcement of law and in the protection of human rights and freedoms,” Justice Peete said.
“It is generally accepted today that human rights should be given an “expansive” interpretation and that all laws having the effect of attenuating or abridging human rights and freedoms are to be given a “restrictive” interpretation.”
Justice Peete said a vigilant civil society can help keep all organs of state in check and hold them accountable.
He said civil society should always voice its concerns in a peaceful manner over situations about rule of law and human rights and the government should be responsive and act accordingly within the parameters of the law.
“Once the government treats civil society as part of the opposition or as anything but subversive, an illusory climate of tranquility is brought about whilst discontent and disaffection broils, with disastrous consequences,” he said.
Justice Peete said in discharging their role the courts should always “demonstrate courage and activism within the parameters of the law and of the Constitution”.
The judge bemoaned the absence of a concrete human rights culture in Lesotho adding that there are very few legal practitioners who were devoting their energies to taking up cases involving human rights.
Justice Peete said while Lesotho had set up a Human Rights Commission there had been concerns over the “political nature of the appointment of the Human Rights Commissioners”.
He said it is expected that the proposed Bill on Human Rights Commission will empower the commission and give it more independence in administering its resources.
Justice Peete said lawyers can play a critical role in defending the poor and downtrodden.
He said law enforcement agencies such as the police and army should be sensitized “about the parameters of their authority and about the scope and nature of people’s rights and freedoms”.
The judge’s comments come in the wake of several lawsuits filed against the police.
The High Court has in the past awarded huge damages to people who sued the police after they were tortured while in police custody.
The workshop which began on Tuesday dealt with subjects such as basic human rights principles, the rights of women, children and people with disabilities and access to justice as well as the role of the legal profession in promoting human rights and the rule of law in Lesotho.