LNFOD Executive Director Advocate Nkhasi Sefuthi says persons with disabilities experience serious inequalities in terms of access to justice due to attitudinal and environmental barriers facing them when trying to access justice sector services.
Advocate Sefuthi during a lecture on access to Justice for people with disability at a local hotel on Monday said LNFOD realized that there are barriers after they conducted a study in 2015 that was intended to determine the extent to which Lesotho was complying with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in terms of removing and amending laws which restrict people with disabilities to exercise the right to access court as a fundamental human right since its ratification in 2008.
“For example, Section 219 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence act of 1981 prohibits people with mental disabilities from becoming witnesses in the proceedings on the basis that, they cannot understand the proceedings of the Courts. This section does not take into account the degree of disability which one may have and it does not distinguish between people with disabilities and those with mental illnesses,” Advocate Sefuthi said.
“As a result, people with intellectual disabilities particularly women and girls continue to be the victims of sexual offences on a very high scale because the perpetrators raise the defence envisaged by section 219 of the fore mentioned Act,” Advocate Sefuthi said.
“Lesotho became a signatory to the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities on the 02 December 2008. Lesotho is therefore under the obligation to domesticate This Convention in order to promote proper protection and enforcement of the rights of people with disabilities within the Lesotho judicial system. Article 4 of the Convention requires all member states to review, modify, amend, and eliminate all laws, policies and practices which constitute discrimination on persons with disabilities on the basis of their disability. Seven years after the Ratification,” Advocate Sefuthi said.
Advocate Sefuthi added: “the Police have difficulties when investigating cases involving people with disabilities because of the lack of expertise from the investigations’ department to communicate with the Deaf or people with intellectual disabilities. In a nutshell, access to justice and to Courts remains a huge challenge to people with disabilities due to the institutionalized unfair discrimination, lack of Sign Language Interpreters at the Courts of law and lack of accessible information for the visually impaired persons.”
He said persons with disabilities have the right to personal assistance whose costs should be borne by the institution mandated to provide such services to all.
“LNFOD is therefore calling upon the relevant Ministries in the administration of justice to reconsider their position towards people with disabilities by amending the laws which constitutes unfair discrimination against people with disabilities. In order to address the challenges aforementioned, LNFOD has approached the main stakeholders in the justice sector with the aim of finding solutions to the challenges aforesaid,” he said.
Advocate Sefuthi said they have then introduced the concept of strategic litigation in their programs in which the aim is to litigate the human rights violations perpetrated against people with disabilities in order to influence the human rights based jurisprudence of the Courts of Lesotho around the protection of disability rights.
In his remarks Deputy Commissioner Correctional Service Akim Phamotse said everybody has some form of disability within them and if that is so everyone as long as its human being they have to have access to justice.
Mr Phamotse said if it’s the justice system of Lesotho that’s being financed with the resources of Basotho then it means the disabled also need to be included since they are also human.
“The way I look at justice it’s a wheel that needs to revolve. It does not only have to start at the courts but it has to start from the home and take a coherent process of then going at village level, police stations , to the prosecution, the courts of law and then to the correctional services,” Mr Phamotse said.
“The other thing that comes with all this is that our children need to be afforded justices starting from the families at home because we are all born of inherent dignity, and as long as you are a human being you deserve dignity,” Mr Phamotse said.
He further said her argument again will be based on the bible where god created man with his image and that image of god within every one of us needs to be respected.
Asked what is his take on people with disability not having access to justice, he said: “We need to admit that people with disability still lack services on a number of fields its not only justice although we are making efforts to ensure that we reach to a point where we all equal.”
“What we have done to improve services that also include people with disability might be just a drop in the sea but we are certain that one day we will get there especially during a period when the government will be working on reforms in the constitution, as well as the human rights commission’s completion can protect us all. Although there is still a long way to go,” Mr Phamotse said.