LESOTHO: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included providing financial support to an NGO partner who provided protection services to all identified victims, conducting awareness-raising activities in partnership with an international organization and a local NGO, and updating the 2014 national action plan. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not investigate or prosecute any potential trafficking cases and did not convict any traffickers for the third consecutive year. Despite serious concerns of official complicity in trafficking crimes, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for such acts, which appeared to restrict all law enforcement actions during the year. The government identified fewer victims, and did not finalize standard operating procedures on victim identification or the national referral mechanism for the third consecutive year. The government did not allocate funding for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund for the eighth consecutive year or fund the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), responsible for handling trafficking cases within Lesotho law enforcement. The government did not train front-line responders, which often resulted in law enforcement re-traumatizing potential victims. The government did not address issues in its legal framework for human trafficking, which did not criminalize all forms of forced labor and sex trafficking and included penalties that were not sufficiently stringent to deter the crime. Therefore Lesotho was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers through independent and fair trials, including officials complicit in trafficking crimes. • Finalize and implement guidelines for proactive victim identification and standard operating procedures for referring identified victims to care, in line with the anti-trafficking act regulations. • Provide trafficking-specific training to police investigators, prosecutors, judges, and social service personnel. • Adequately fund the CGPU and establish a CGPU focal point in all 10 districts of Lesotho to ensure effective responsiveness to all potential trafficking cases. • Amend the anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment and remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense. • Allocate funds for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund and implement procedures for administering the funds. • Allocate funding to support operation of the multi-agency anti-trafficking task force. • Amend the anti-trafficking and child welfare laws so that force, fraud, or coercion are not required for cases involving children younger than age 18 to be considered trafficking crimes. • Fix jurisdictional issues that prevent magistrate courts from issuing the maximum penalty for trafficking crimes. • Provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel. • Increase efforts to systematically collect and analyze anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection data. • Increase oversight of labor recruitment agencies licensed in Lesotho.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts, and the human trafficking law remained inconsistent with international law. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1 million maloti ($69,690) for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment or a fine of 2 million maloti ($139,370) for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 77 of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act criminalized child sex trafficking offenses without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion, but prescribed penalties of a fine not to exceed 30,000 maloti ($2,090) or 30 months’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.

During the reporting period, the government did not investigate any potential trafficking cases and did not prosecute any suspected traffickers, despite many cases being reported to the police. In comparison, during the previous reporting period, the government investigated one case of sex and labor trafficking and prosecuted 10 cases. For the third consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. The CGPU, a specialized anti-trafficking unit within the Lesotho Mounted Police, was operational but did not receive adequate financial or political backing to effectively investigate potential cases of trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns and appeared to inhibit all law enforcement action during the year. For example, while experts reported the significant case backlog dating back at least six years was the result of the government officials never prosecuting such cases due to corruption; rather, authorities commonly postponed cases until the court dropped or removed them from the docket following payment from alleged traffickers. Although the government was aware of an organized crime syndicate operating a brothel in South Africa where sex trafficking of Basotho women occurred, efforts to liaise with South African officials did not yield tangible results, such as arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of the traffickers involved. Observers reported the lack of progress over several years to disrupt the suspected traffickers was due to official complicity of both Basotho and South African officials closely linked to the brothel. Observers alleged Basotho diplomats in South Africa were involved with facilitating fraudulent documents to support illegal migration during the reporting period, which may have involved trafficking victims. Many law enforcement officials had limited understanding of trafficking, how to protect victims from potential intimidation from traffickers, and often did not demonstrate a victim-centered approach.

Many front-line officials believed trafficking to be a movement-based crime and did not screen for trafficking among vulnerable groups, including migrants. Border points between Lesotho and South Africa were extremely porous, immigration officials did not screen for trafficking indicators, and law enforcement officials were allegedly complicit with traffickers regularly operating at the Maseru Bridge border crossing. Moreover, senior immigration officials acknowledged that people regularly cross the borders in plain sight illegally, including with children, without repercussion. Front-line responders regularly conflated gender-based violence and trafficking and some police officers exhibited extreme insensitivity towards child victims of sexual abuse, including potential trafficking victims. Observers noted that reporting potential trafficking cases to the police made child victims more vulnerable. Despite the significant need for training across all agencies, the government did not train front-line officials during the reporting period. There was a lack of coordination between law enforcement officers and prosecutors, which sometimes resulted in acquittals if police did not collect proper evidence, prosecutors were unable to charge a suspect for trafficking, and magistrates could not amend the charge once it reached them. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable: the magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes.

The government decreased efforts to identify and protect victims. The CGPU identified seven victims of labor trafficking, while five victims either self-identified or were identified by family members. In comparison, during the previous reporting period, the CGPU identified 12 victims. The CGPU referred the seven victims it identified to an NGO that provided counseling and assistance, while victims who self-identified referred themselves to the same NGO. The CGPU had limited capacity to respond to potential cases in Lesotho’s ten districts because it operated centrally from Maseru, the capital, and could only provide guidance at a distance to other police units who were less capable of responding to trafficking cases. Furthermore, the government did not provide a budget line item to fund the CGPU or its anti-trafficking activities for the CGPU; limited resources restricted its effectiveness assisting victims. Observers reported government social workers often did not respond to requests to certify victims or respond to potential cases. The government continued to provide 168,000 maloti ($11,710) for rent and 15,000 maloti ($1,050) for utilities at an NGO-run shelter that cared for all identified victims throughout the reporting period; however, funding was consistently delayed and, as a result, the NGO was many months behind on paying rent for the shelter. There were no shelters equipped to provide protective services for male victims. For foreign victims, provision of care beyond a 60-day reflection period was dependent on their cooperation with law enforcement; authorities repatriated victims who did not cooperate with law enforcement after the reflection period. The government did not allocate funding for the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund for the eighth consecutive year, which it had established to ensure consistent provision of protective services and to provide restitution for victims. The government did not finalize standard operating procedures for victim identification or the national referral mechanism for the third consecutive year.

The anti-trafficking act and its implementing regulations prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, afforded foreign victims permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal, and encouraged victims to assist in the investigation of traffickers; however, the government did not implement these provisions during the reporting period. In the case of a victim whose travel documents were missing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the responsibility to coordinate with the victim’s home country for the issuance of travel documents within 60 days of victim identification. In the case of one Nigerian labor trafficking victim, however, various government officials intentionally impeded his efforts to obtain a new Nigerian passport, issuing him only an exit visa for Lesotho to travel to the Nigerian embassy in South Africa. When the victim expressed his concerns that the authorities would not let him re-enter Lesotho, they refused to issue him a visa allowing his return. Government officials responsible for anti-trafficking efforts publicly expressed doubt about his legitimate status as a victim, despite clear trafficking indicators and being a certified victim, and refused to grant him immigration relief or allow him to see his family in Nigeria despite the protracted, five-year wait for his case to be tried.

The government decreased its efforts to prevent trafficking. The multi-sectoral committee (MSC) met four times, and its member ministries, in partnership with an international organization and a local NGO, conducted public awareness activities in two previously neglected regions, Mafeteng and Qacha’s Nek, which both share a border crossing with South Africa. These activities targeted 5,000 students, included five radio spots, and posting and distribution of printed material in public areas. The MSC lacked formal processes, including administrative procedures, to determine action items and track progress against national anti-trafficking goals; it lacked coordination among members and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office did not regularly attend. Senior government officials did not support and appeared to impede efforts made by the MSC. Moreover, the MSC did not invite NGOs to participate in its meetings, which reduced transparency and efficacy of its national anti-trafficking efforts. In coordination with an international organization, the government began updating the 2014 national action plan, set to be finalized by the end of 2018; however, the draft remained pending completion at the close of the reporting period. The government continued to participate in the Southern African Development Community regional data collection tool by uploading information on trafficking cases, victim and trafficker profiles, and sharing information with countries in the region. The government drafted a national labor migration policy in 2018, but did not provide information on its efforts to regulate and oversee labor recruitment. The government had an agreement with the Government of South Africa that aimed to increase protections for Basotho workers, including domestic workers, employed in South Africa, by authorizing the issuance of long-term work permits, requiring signed employment contracts, and allowing Basotho to register for unemployment insurance in South Africa; it is unclear if this agreement resulted in tangible progress to reduce vulnerability of such Basotho vulnerable to trafficking. The government made no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The regulations for the anti-trafficking act directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel, but it did not conduct such training during the reporting period.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Lesotho, and traffickers exploit victims from Lesotho abroad. In Lesotho, traffickers exploit Basotho children in domestic servitude and animal herding; traffickers increasingly exploit children, especially orphans who migrate to urban areas, in sex trafficking. Basotho women and girls seeking work voluntarily migrate to South Africa, where traffickers detain some in prison-like conditions and exploit others in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, although illegally and often without identity documents, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining in forced labor; many work for weeks or months before their employers turn them over to South African authorities for deportation on immigration violations to avoid paying them. Traffickers connected to organized crime syndicates operating in South Africa exploit and sometimes kill Basotho men by depriving victims of oxygen in derelict mines. Traffickers also compel Basotho into committing crimes in South Africa, including theft, drug trafficking, and smuggling under threat of violence or through forced drug use. Foreign nationals, including Chinese, subject their compatriots to sex trafficking in Lesotho.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future