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LESOTHO 2021

No one was brought to justice for the murder of Lipolelo Thabane and the attempted murder of Thato Sebolla in 2017. The Appeal Court awarded damages to a man who had been tortured by the police in 2015. The Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in gender-based violence. It had a devastating effect on the healthcare system and led to greater economic hardship for many.

Impunity

Former prime minister Thomas Thabane was charged for the 2017 murders of Lipolelo Thabane, his estranged wife, and the attempted murder of her acquaintance, Thato Sebolla. He was informed of the charges by the high court on 30 November. He and his current wife, and former First Lady Maesaiah Thabane, are the main suspects in the case. In February 2020, Maesaiah Thabane was charged with murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. The high court in Maseru, the capital, granted her bail but in July 2020 she was re-arrested when her bail was revoked and released again on bail of LSL10,000 (around US$700). In February 2020, Thomas Thabane had sought immunity from prosecution as a sitting prime minister but the case was abandoned when he stood down the following May. In August 2021, Nqosa Mahao, who had been removed from his post as law and justice minister in April, revealed that, following police investigations during his tenure, enough evidence had been gathered to arrest and charge Thomas Thabane with his late wife’s murder. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to pursue the charges. In September, police sources told the Lesotho Times newspaper that political interference and other forms of obstruction of justice continued to hinder progress.

Freedom of assembly

The government used Covid-19 as a justification for its ban on protests, denying people their right to peaceful assembly.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In May, the Court of Appeal awarded LSL250,000 (about US$17,500) in damages to Tšolo Tjela for the torture he was subjected to in police custody in Mafeteng city in 2015. According to the judgment, the compensation covered “shock and suffering, contumelia and medical expenses”. The Court said the torture of suspects by police officers was responsible for making “the country… lawless” and blamed the Police Commissioner for failing to prevent such crimes. In November 2020, the Chief Justice in the high court had awarded Tšolo Tjela LSL400,090 (around US$28,000) which was reduced by the appeal court.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence, including domestic violence, continued to rise in the context of Covid-19, especially in rural areas where more women and girls lost their jobs and had to rely on their male partners for survival. Access to legal remedies for women in these areas was limited, partly owing to lack of information. In March, UNAIDS reported that one in three women had been abused by an intimate partner, and less than 40% of women who experienced violence reported it or sought help.

Economic, social and cultural rights

According to an economic survey carried out by the World Bank, Covid-19 lockdown measures resulted in job and income losses affecting people in urban and rural areas. The global economic slowdown led to a reduction of remittances sent home by Basotho who worked abroad, especially in South Africa where many were employed as domestic workers or in mining. This resulted in increasing economic hardship.

Right to health

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to put the already inadequate healthcare system under strain. Early in the year, Lesotho emerged from a second wave of infections. Vaccines were still in short supply by mid-year, and the vaccination drive struggled to gain momentum. By the end of the year, only 30.2% of the population had been fully vaccinated while around 30.5% had received one dose; 31,106 Covid-19 cases and 683 related deaths had been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic. Sinopharm in China, foreign corporate companies and multinational corporations continued to donate Covid-19 vaccines and PPE to Lesotho.