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The European Union (EU) released its annual report on global human rights and democracy for 2018 and it provides a snapshot of EU activities undertaken throughout the world to promote and protect human rights. On 13 May 2019, the Council adopted the report. It shows that even though 2018 also marked the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the landscape has become more volatile and unpredictable. The 2018 report shows that the geopolitical landscape is changing rapidly with threats and violations against journalists and other media workers increasing throughout the world, among other human rights violations. Similar trends can be found in Lesotho where, although there are some positive developments in this area, there are some worrying trends affecting human rights.
Overview of the human rights and democracy situation
In Lesotho a number of areas raise concern, despite positive prospects provided by a National Dialogue which has the potential to foster popular reforms. In the course of 2018, Lesotho has seen important developments in its national reform process, following the national assembly elections of June 2017 and the formation of the third coalition government, the so-called "4x4". From 26 to 28 November 2018 the First Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue (MSND) plenary meeting was held. The Dialogue counted a large number of participants, including the self-exiled opposition leader Mothejoa Metsing. The first MSND was focused on defining the post-dialogue structure needed to oversee the implementation of reforms. The second MSND is planned to be held in the first semester of 2019. It is therefore too early to assess whether the political transition will impact the human rights situation in a lasting way. On the negative side, Lesotho witnessed a disturbing escalation in reports of police violence and the mistreatment of detainees during 2018. Police brutality has emerged as a major theme on social media and radio. The EU, together with other international partners concerned with the human rights situation, continued to carefully monitor this issue. The right to freedom of expression remained restricted in 2018: in August, some journalists reported having received death threats from LCD supporters within the context of the investigation into corruption allegations against the former Deputy Prime Minister. Moreover, a local radio station was closed by authorities for 72 hours and its owner was also detained.
EU action – key focus areas
EU's objectives on human rights and democracy in the framework of its relations with Lesotho focus on the issues of women´s participation, social protection, LGBTI rights and strengthening of local human rights organisations. Other priorities identified within EU instruments are focused on the reinforcement of the justice system and on improving transparency and accountability in decision-making.
EU financial engagement
In 2018, the EU continued to provide financial support to projects funded through the European Development Fund (EDF) and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The EU Country Based Support Scheme (CBSS) in Lesotho has provided substantial support under EIDHR in line with the EU priorities.
In line with the EU commitment to supporting establishment of Human Rights Commissions abiding by the Paris Principles, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) is implementing an EIDHR grant. The TRC is a social hub that advocates for justice, peace and participatory development. It has been instrumental in raising human rights issues in Lesotho, and continued to do so during 2018.
The EU continues promoting stronger partnership with CSOs, such as the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN) through an EIDHR grant as well as a direct grant under the 11th EDF since 2018, or the Participatory Initiative on Social Accountability (PISA) under the 11th EDF and in partnership with the German government. In the framework of PISA, dialogue platforms for issues of gender based violence and women´s participation have been developed. Among other important activities, the EU promoted LGTBI rights through the Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) organisation, also under the EIDHR scheme.
On 24 September 2018, the EU, together with the Ministry of Social Development and UNICEF, signed an addendum to a Financing Agreement for the Support of Social Protection in Lesotho. In this way, the EU reinforced its commitment to a comprehensive and integrated social protection system in the country, increasing its contribution to the social protection programme by EUR 6.4 million. Prior to the commencement of the current project in 2015 the EU has worked in this area in partnership with UNICEF since 2009.
EU bilateral political engagement
No EU Member States are represented in Lesotho. The Article 8 Political Dialogue on 26 April 2018 was however attended by visiting representatives of several accredited EU Member States represented in Pretoria. A temporary six months moratorium, which would encourage exiled leaders of the opposition to participate in dialogue, was discussed during the Political Dialogue. The national dialogue and reforms process are the principal concerns for the EU Delegation, which is actively engaged with Government, opposition politicians and civil society organisations (CSOs) on this matter.
Lesotho has signed and ratified almost all of the major UN and AU instruments including conventions and protocols for the protection of human rights, with the exceptions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. However, only a few of these instruments have been codified into national law. Lesotho ratified the ICC Rome Statute on September 2000 and it remains a member. The last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) took place in 2015, with different stakeholders engaged in the preparations. Out of a total of 170 recommendations, the Government of Lesotho accepted 124 and 32 were noted. Those recommendations effectively rejected were mainly addressing matters such as LGTBI rights or the abolition of the death penalty. The next UPR will be held in October 2019.