The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, although serious allegations of official complicity in trafficking remained significant. The 2011 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, as amended, criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government initiated 10 investigations into potential human trafficking—five for labor trafficking and five for unspecified exploitation— and continued three investigations from previous reporting periods, compared with four investigations initiated during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted 16 trafficking cases, compared with four previously, and convicted one trafficker, which is the same as the previous reporting period. Of the 16 prosecutions, six cases involved forced labor, and 10 cases involved sex trafficking, all of which involved Basotho victims. The government convicted and sentenced one trafficker to 10 years in prison and a fine for forced labor; however, the sentence was suspended on the condition that the trafficker return to their home country within two months of release. The government appealed the suspended sentence; however, the appeal did not proceed since the trafficker returned to their home country. In 2020, South African officials deported a Nigerian victim of labor trafficking exploited in Lesotho. The trafficker was permitted to continue operating his business in Lesotho for two years with impunity; however, during the reporting period, the government opened an investigation and arrested the trafficker, who was released on bail. The case remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
For the seventh consecutive year, the government did not address a jurisdictional issue impeding efforts to hold traffickers accountable, although officials drafted and submitted to parliament an amendment to the Subordinate Court Act, which would address the issue, but it remained pending approval at the end of the reporting period. The magistrate courts, which are the court of first instance for trafficking cases, lacked authority to impose the maximum penalties allowed in trafficking crimes. For a majority of the reporting period, courts adopted an abbreviated schedule due to pandemic-related public health restrictions; however, they continued to hear cases and introduced online hearings to continue deliberations without physical attendance at court houses. Additionally, due to a shortage of magistrates and a large backlog of criminal cases, only three magistrates were assigned to hear trafficking cases. However, 10 magistrates received training during the reporting period to hear trafficking cases in their respective jurisdictions. The government appointed seven high court judges to ameliorate the backlog of criminal cases.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Control (ATMC) Unit was responsible for all trafficking-related investigations. The ATMC Unit added four new specialized trafficking in persons focal points, comprised of three to four investigators, in Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, and Mohale’s Hoek, in addition to one already established in Maseru. The ATMC focal points received some logistical and administrative support from LMPS; however, they lacked a dedicated budget. Members of each focal point received basic training on trafficking in persons but lacked specialized training on victim identification, trauma-informed interviewing, and investigating human trafficking. The ATMC Unit held monthly meetings with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to conduct joint case reviews and facilitate prosecution-led investigations. The LMPS, Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with support from an international organization, formed a joint task force to conduct joint inspections targeting forced labor; the task force identified several cases involving potential foreign national victims. The LMPS developed relationships and informal platforms to enable coordination between LMPS and the South African Police Service to expedite investigations and prosecutions; however, LMPS reported difficulty engaging with their South African counterparts due to strict border restrictions and corruption. Lesotho and South African governments collaborated on the ongoing prosecution of two trafficking cases involving Basotho victims in South Africa.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. Two investigations into officials allegedly complicit in trafficking-related offenses, initiated in the previous reporting period, remained ongoing. In one case, a senior government official allegedly assisted third-country nationals with illegal entry into South Africa via Lesotho by circumventing South African entrance requirements. The case was investigated as a trafficking crime, but elements of human trafficking could not be established to prosecute under the human trafficking law. The official was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The LMPS also initiated an investigation into the potential trafficking of a child transported to South Africa under the promise of employment with implications of official complicity. The government implemented a rotational system for immigration officials to deter participation in illicit activities, including human trafficking. In an effort to enforce accountability, observers reported law enforcement required training on appropriate conduct and mechanisms to ensure victims are treated respectfully during investigations.