A BILL seeking to operationalise the Human Rights Commission was tabled in the National Assembly on Monday.
The Human Rights Commission Bill 2015 was presented before parliament by Human Rights, Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa.
According to the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons, it would provide for the administration and regulation of the activities of the commission.
“The mandate of the Human Rights Commission as set out in the Constitution is, among others, to investigate complaints of violations and abuses of human rights and make binding decisions,” says the statement.
“This is a mandate which is lacking in already existing institutions such as the Police Complaints Authority, Ombudsman and the Police Inspectorate.”
The Human Rights Commission’s main objectives would be to “promote, protect, monitor and sustain human rights in accordance with the constitution and other laws of Lesotho and regional and international human rights instruments to which Lesotho is a state party”.
The commission, says the bill, would be headquartered in Maseru and “shall be independent and impartial in the performance of its functions and exercise of its powers”. The appointment of its members would be “gender sensitive” with a chairperson, deputy chairperson who would act in the absence of the chairperson and commissioners. The appointees would be people with “extensive experience in human rights and related disciplines” and would be made by the King acting on the advice of the prime minister.
Among the functions of the commission would be to:
- Monitor the state of human rights throughout Lesotho;
- Monitor the human rights situation of detainees;
- Investigate violations of human rights and, if necessary, be responsible for instituting proceedings against such violations in the courts of law;
- Sensitise the public on its work, the nature and meaning of human rights;
- Develop and deliver education and training programmes as necessary to the general public;
- Submit opinions, recommendations, propositions and reports to the public institutions on human rights issues, using the media and other means;
- Advocate for ratification, and recommend the domestication, of international and regional human rights instruments;
- Promote and monitor the harmonisation of national laws and practices with international and regional rights instruments to which Lesotho is a state party;
- Develop and maintain working relations with organisations and representatives of civil society in Lesotho;
- Work in cooperation with the United Nations, regional mechanisms, national human rights institutions of other countries in the areas of the promotion and protection of human rights; and
- Undertake any other activities or responsibilities that are consistent with the spirit of the promotion and protection of human rights.
Upon receipt of a complaint, the Human Rights Commission would determine its admissibility. The bill restricts the Commission from handling complaints that have been decided by a court of law; that will at the time be before any court of law; on a matter involving or dealing with the government of Lesotho and the government of another country or an international organisation. It would also not intervene on a matter relating to the “exercise of the prerogative of mercy”.
“In all cases in which the commission decided not to intervene or end an intervention, the commission shall, within 30 days of making the decision, notify a complainant of other potential remedies available and of how they may be accessed,” it says.
The bill also states that the commission may also not inquire on a matter if it is deemed “trivial or vexatious or the alleged violation of human rights is manifestly unfounded”. It would also not investigate the matter if the person making the request “has insufficient interest in the matter”.
The deliberate hindering or obstruction of the commission’s duties and exercise of its powers would elicit a fine not exceeding M10 000 or one year imprisonment. Among the actions that would constitute obstruction would be refusing to cooperate in an investigation, providing testimony in bad faith and refusing to provide objects or documents requested by the commission.
The draft law also states that the High Court would sit as a Human Rights Court to handle matters of violations of human rights as they may be referred by the commission.
The commission would have the responsibility of monitoring the human rights situation of detainees by inspecting their places of detention.
Said the bill: “The commission shall have powers to enter a place of detention freely and without advance notice; examine all documents necessary to establish the actual situation in the place of detention, including prison registries; see all detainees freely, if necessary in private.”
Following its first tabling and reading by the house, the bill was referred to the parliamentary portfolio committee on Law and Public Safety by National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai.