Whither the human rights commission?
Several calls have been made by civil society organisations in lesotho, development partners and the international organisations on lesotho government to establish a National Human rights Commission. The obvious reaction to the presentation of Human rights Commission Bill in the National assembly should have been rise in applause by human rights defenders in appreciation of the end of the decade’s long journey. Instead, all with the exception of Portfolio Committee on law and Public Safety, Ministry of law, Human rights and Constitutional affairs and their disciples are amazed at the rushed tabling. The civil society organisations have used various ways to impress upon government to establish a Human rights Commission including but not limited to popularisation of the idea among Basotho and holding public and policy makers dialogues. Transformation Resource Centre has received financial assistance from the eu to carry out these activities. lesotho Council of NGOS has had a number of advocacy activities including compilation of lesotho Human rights shadow report and presentation of the same to the Universal Periodic review mechanism of the Human rights Council of United Nations.
at the UPR in 2010 where lesotho civil society was represented by LCN and DPE in Geneva Switzerland the government promised to establish the institution soonest but the country was subjected to the next periodic review in 2015 without the Commission. Development for Peace education has in this innovative Matšoaboli Snapshot of Key Demands to the first Coalition in the first hundred days in office put establishment of human rights commission, resuscitation of national AIDS Commission, formation of national Planning Board, enactment of Public participation Law and fiscal decentralisation as priorities.
In the other citizen –government fora such a call has been repeated. The need for human rights commission has been expressed by many other organisations inclusive of but not limited to FIDA, Wlsa, CCJP, lawyers for Human rights, law Society and LNDFOD to name few. all the calls have been for an independent and vibrant commission that is not incapacitated by the over control by government in other words commission of the highest status. Now this has been so rushed through parliament the question is “Which status for lesotho Human rights Commission?” Human rights Commission is an institution that protects human rights, monitors observance of such by other government and non-governmental institutions and promotes respect for all and by all.
While countries are entitled to formulate laws in ways they so wish, there are Paris Principles to be followed in establishing such Commissions without which these institutions can just be extension of influence of executive and perpetuation of rights abuse under cover. “Which status for lesotho Human rights Commission?”
These principles provide guidance on the selection and appointment of commissioners and the secretariat of the commissions. Issues of transparency, broadening scope for maximum participation in terms of expression of interest to serve etc. They also provide guidance on how the tenure of office of commissioners and those who work for it should be secured. It would be putting independence of Commission in danger if the appointing authority may as well have unfettered right to dismiss or control dismissal mechanism.
The role of civil society organisations is critical in the establishment and functioning of human rights Commission. While the Commission may be a country’s focal point for human rights, it must acknowledge role played by civil society in supporting the promotion and protection of human rights and not treat the sector like its junior partner. The relation of Commission with civil society forms part of principles that even translate into grading criteria.
Undermining, or ridiculing civil society in the platforms where they could not be able to respond does not make lesotho any good but simply exposes the calibre of leadership driving the human rights commission process. every Human rights Commission that is established in the country which is party to the Paris declaration like lesotho has to be subjected to scrutiny and appropriate grading. The International Coordinating Committee’s Sub-committee on accreditation of the International Criminal Court of Justice which allocates statuses to the Commissions predominantly on the basis of an extent to which they comply with Paris Principles is a gate keeper.
Those given “a” status fully comply with Paris Principles and that categorisation gives them right to par¬ticipate fully in the international and regional work and meetings of national institutions as voting members and participate in sessions of the Human rights Council and take the floor under any agenda item.
The “B” status grants human rights commission to participate as observer in the international and regional work and meetings of national institutions without right to vote in subcommittees and has limited access to deliberations.
The “C” status is for those institutions that are not compliant with Paris Principles and have no right to participate in the meetings of International Coordinating Committee Sub-committee on accreditation albeit exceptional invitations. “Which status for lesotho Human rights Commission?”
The National assembly of the parliament of the Kingdom of lesotho has just processed at the unprecedented speed the Human rights Commission Bill. The over speeding has caused the portfolio Committee on law and Public Safety to “decide against seeking inputs from stakeholders to avoid a duplication of efforts.”
This is premised on the understanding that the Ministry had already held extensive consultations with the stakeholders that include civil society organisations. What the Portfolio Committee report does not say is what inputs these stakeholders are said to have given, nor is the reaction of the committee on such reflected in the report put before National assembly.
While it may not be known to the author what could have necessitated such a speed to derail the committee from its mandate as contained in the Section 76 of the National assembly Standing Orders which obliges the National assembly to facilitate public participation in its legislative functions and in particular Section 76(b) which makes it mandatory for the National assembly to conduct public hearings as and when necessary, the act is horrible and undemocratic. Followed to its logical conclusion this Standing Order and its subsections gives means to and operationslises the Section 20(1) of the lesotho constitution which guarantees right of every citizen to participate in governance either directly or through freely chosen representatives.