On 17 and 18 April 2023, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the People’s Matrix Association held a workshop with the Lesotho judiciary where a range of human rights issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) were discussed. The workshop took place in Maseru, the country’s capital, and was aimed at facilitating exchanges among participants, including judges and magistrates, with a view to enhancing everyone’s understanding of the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons in Lesotho and the challenges they face in accessing justice and effective remedies for violations of their human rights. It was a follow-up to the initial half-day judicial engagement workshop co-hosted by ICJ and OutRight International at the request of Lesotho’s judiciary in October 2022.
In his opening and concluding remarks, the country’s Acting Chief Justice, Tšeliso Monapathi, underscored that, in his opinion, there was a significant need for judges, magistrates and Lesotho’s society as a whole to be sensitized on the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons. Indeed, at the October 2022 judicial engagement workshop, participating members of the judiciary had expressed an interest in deepening their knowledge about the personal experiences of LGBTIQ+ persons in Lesotho in accessing justice through the courts.
“It is encouraging to see that the Lesotho judiciary continues to take SOGIE issues seriously, and that they are willing to learn more about the challenges preventing the LGBTIQ+ community in Lesotho from exercising their human rights,” Ratalane said.
“This is a positive step towards improving access to justice for LGBTIQ+ persons. Members of the People’s Matrix and those who we engage from the LGBTIQ+ community continue to be subjected to varying forms of discrimination and violence on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Many report struggling to access courts and significant challenges with a range of justice actors including police officers, prosecutors, correctional services personnel and healthcare workers.” she added.
In Lesotho, discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons manifests in various forms including: violence and abuse against the LGBTIQ+ individuals, such as killings, forced initiations to purportedly “convert” a person from their real or imputed same-sex sexual orientation to a heterosexual one or “restore” transgender persons to a cisgender identity; rape and other forms of sexual assault, intimidation and harassment; bullying; denial of access to healthcare services, such as gender affirming care; and other forms of social exclusion, such as rejection of LGBTIQ+ children by family members. While there has been some legislative progress in protecting the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons, including the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct in 2010, human rights violations and abuses against LGBTIQ+ individuals continue to be reported.
Judges and magistrates present at the workshop discussed ways in which the judiciary could ensure equal access to justice for LGBTIQ+ people. For instance, as Ratalane noted during her presentation at the event, this may entail being sensitive to the needs of LGBTIQ+ persons appearing before them so as to better enable them to participate in court proceedings more effectively. The workshop discussed how judges could also continue to make progress by interpreting existing laws in Lesotho in a manner consistent with the country’s international human rights law obligations.
ICJ Africa’s Legal and Communications Associate Officer, Mulesa Lumina, emphasized the importance of making available to judicial officers tools, information and resources that would enable them to adjudicate matters involving the human rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Lesotho in ways that strive to ensure compliance with the country’s international human rights law obligations:
“Lesotho is a State Party to a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and, as such, is obliged to prevent abuse, attacks and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons by third parties. It is also bound to proactively address barriers to the enjoyment of human rights,” she said.
“The ICJ remains committed to working with a wide range of stakeholders promoting the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people in Lesotho, including their rights to equality and freedom from violence and discrimination, and to ensuring the country’s compliance with its international law obligations. Judges have a vital role to play in ensuring that the human rights of everyone, regardless of their real or imputed SOGIESC be upheld,” she added.
Mulesa Lumina, Legal and Communications Associate Officer (Africa Regional Programme), e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director (Africa Regional Programme), e: email@example.com
High court judges and magistrates convened for the workshop facilitated by ICJ and the People’s Matrix to discuss a range of human rights issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In particular, facilitators unpacked the obstacles to the realization of the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons in Lesotho, including their rights to freedom from discrimination, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In terms of its international human rights obligations, Lesotho must ensure that LGBTIQ+ persons are protected from discrimination and violence and that their dignity and right to equality be upheld. Lesotho is a State Party to a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 are an authoritative affirmation that the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons are human rights and a guide on the obligations of States as regards the application of international human rights law and standards in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. In addition, the landmark Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Protection against Violence and other Human Rights violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity reiterates that the Africa Charter protects the human rights of all persons, including LGBTIQ+ persons, to non-discrimination, equality, life, dignity and freedom from torture. The resolution also calls on all States to put in place measures that will put a stop to violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons. Most recently, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also released Resolution 552 on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Intersex Persons in Africa, the first resolution from Africa on the human rights of intersex persons, calling on States to promote and protect the human rights of intersex persons on the African continent.NewsWeb stories