On the back of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s recommendations for a national dialogue and reforms process to address the Lesotho Justice Sector weaknesses, UNDP Lesotho in partnership with the Delegation of the European Union (EU) and the government of Lesotho undertook the Support to Implementation of the Justice Sector Reforms Project from 1st May 2020. Implementation of this Project was predicated on the prevailing cyclic instability, political volatility and security disturbances which have worsened socio-economic indicators. Additionally, the justice sector is the core arm of democracy in which unfortunately in the case of Lesotho has been the area which has demonstrated underperformance, inefficiency and inability to meet the justice needs of Basotho. All this is mainly due to the lack of separation of powers and resource constraints; weak internal institutional safeguards leading to negative public perception; and a lack of external institutional support exacerbated by a hostile political environment.
A comprehensive national dialogue was undertaken, resulting in a consensus on the reforms content and an institutional framework for their implementation. An immediate justice sector intervention was the cause to end impunity and stabilise the security sector through the execution of impartial investigations and fair trial of high-profile security sector related crimes. In this case, foreign judges were deployed to resolve criminal trials speedily and efficiently.
This Project is grounded on the following principles: United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) outcome 1; Country Programme Document (CPD) outcome 1; Country Programme Document (CPD) output 1 - Capacities of government and national stakeholders strengthened to undertake and sustain gender-responsive, inclusive and participatory institutional governance reforms processes; and UNDP Strategic Plan outcome 2 - Accelerated structural transformations for sustainable development. Almost two years later, the Project has made many strides. UNDP Lesotho and the EU have given support to the Judiciary in the technical and operational, communications and visibility areas. In the technical and operational support, the Judiciary received working tools such as stationery, laptops, printers and shredders to advance the mandate. With regards to visibility, the Judiciary was supported in the development of the Strategic Plan, and the development of the Judiciary website which is in the initial stages of development (read more about the development of the Case Management System. Consultations with the concerned IT consulting company have taken off smoothly. Additionally, support of a communications company which is involved in the design and publishing of visibility material has also been received, and the process has been concluded.
Tthe trial of the eight identified cases of the Project; one of the cases has been completed at the High Court and has been referred to the Magistrate court for inquest. Two cases are proceeding. One case is yet to hear a presentation of evidence. Three cases have been allocated to local judges after the resignation of some of the foreign judges who were deployed. Those cases are proceeding smoothly. With the development of the Case Management System, the high-profile cases can effectively be documented, resolved speedily and fairly.
The expected Project outputs for the Justice Sector Reforms are:
1) the operationalisation of the National Reforms Authority (NRA);
2) the Implementation of the immediate reforms to give a foundation to long-term reforms;
3) enhanced citizen participation and enhancement of the national reforms process, 4) enhanced communication; and
5) effective and efficient project management.
For output 1, the NRA Plenary, Sub-committees and Secretariate have been constituted. The regulation guidelines which operationalise the NRA have been developed, and the Secretariate has been operationalised through the development of instruments for operationalisation and the appointment of the Ombudsman. Thirty-one NRA staff have also been recruited.
Output 2 , the goal was to improve democratic governance and implementation through the process of foundational activities, specifically the absorption of the reforms into Parliament and other arms of government. The output targets were achieved where thirty-six (36) pieces of legislation and constitutional amendments were processed by the NRA, submitted to the Minister of Law and Justice, approved by cabinet and tabled in parliament through the Omnibus Bill.
Output 3, it was envisioned to inform and get participation of at least 15% of Basotho in the reforms process. In this quest, UNDP was able to engage with civil society organisations to garner participation, albeit it has been minimal due to a lack of pre-funding in the initial stages of the Reforms Project. Therefore, a phased plan of community engagement forums in 10 districts has been developed.
Output 4, initial designs of communications materials have been undertaken, there have been several radio and television programmes surrounding disseminating information to Basotho. Under output 5, the project has been formulated with three (3) project staff who are working together with the NRA mobilized, resources have been mobilized with 80% delivery on funding used and high-level meetings have been held with a clear direction on the way forward.
Additionally, 36% of the project budget supported activities which contribute to gender equality and women empowerment; 60% of the 49 proposed amendments in the Omnibus bill also contribute to gender equality; interlocutors that will enhance women participation in implementation of the national reforms were identified through the mapping of women led CSOs; and project activities such as Security Sector Policy Formulation Roadmap, National Conference on Peacebuilding and National Cohesion ensured that female participation was at least 40%.
The Justice Sector Reforms Project is essential for Lesotho to achieve resilient governance mechanisms which can withstand future pressures such as conflict and political instability. Surely, by UNDP Lesotho in collaboration with the EU supporting the government of Lesotho to reach these milestones while also embracing gender equality, the Justice Sector can provide the democratic services which Basotho need while also begetting peace.